Where would Amsterdam be without the cuisine of all those countries under fire from the current wave of anti-immigration politicians? Food writer Vicky Hampton picks her favourite restaurants run by North African and Middle Eastern immigrants – the perfect antidote to PVV populism.
As a British immigrant (just about – I’ve applied for Dutch citizenship in this post-Brexit world), I don’t merit a vote in the upcoming general election in the Netherlands. But all the polls are pointing to one scary reality: yet more blonde-mopped craziness, this time in the form of Geert Wilders. Fearful of the ‘Islamification’ of the country, his solution is to stop Muslim immigrants – partly in the form of a Trump-style blanket ban on migrants from Islamic countries.
As a food writer for over a decade in Amsterdam, I’m more than a little grateful for the Moroccan, Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian (the list goes on) restaurants that spice up the cuisine of the Dutch capital. The same is undoubtedly true of the food in many other cities and towns across the country. Back to a diet of stamppot and kaas broodjes? Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things, but where would we be without hummus, baba ganoush and couscous?
And so, in a direct response to the PVV’s manifesto, I bring you seven of the best Middle Eastern and North African restaurants in Amsterdam – proudly run by Amsterdammers with immigrant backgrounds. They may or may not be Muslim – I doubt it would make much difference to Mr Wilders.
Maydanoz – Turkish restaurant, de Pijp
With stunningly decorated tiles adorning the walls, walking into Maydanoz is already like a little slice of the Eastern Mediterranean in Amsterdam. Their charcoal grill lends excellent flavour to all their grilled meat, and they’re liberal in their use of herbs and spices. (Maydanoz translates as parsley, so that figures.) You can also expect a wide variety of both cold and warm mezze dishes to share: I particularly liked their ispanak: braised spinach with pepper, tomatoes, pine nuts and raisins. Website
Orontes – Turkish restaurant, West and de Pijp
With two locations in Amsterdam, Orontes on the Albert Cuypstraat and Orontes West on the Hugo de Grootplein pay homage to the Antakya region of Turkey. They import hard-to-find products from the area and cook them up into excellent dishes, including succulent lamb skewers, aromatic aubergine dishes, and mixed grills cooked over charcoal. Nesip Can’s wine selection is wonderful, too. Website
Beyrouth – Lebanese restaurant, Oud-West
Its name a riff on the Lebanese capital, Beyrouth has been a favourite Amsterdam restaurant for as long as I can remember (owner Kamal Estephan opened it in 1990 when I was just 10). The range of mezza here is huge – you can pick from separate dishes or order a selection of as many as 10 or 15 – so I usually fill up on those alone. Their tabbouleh is perfect: green and grassy with oodles of fresh herbs. Website
Hummus House – Middle Eastern restaurant, Nieuwmarkt
Just down the road from the Nieuwmarkt, Hummus House serves officially the best hummus in Amsterdam (according to me). The chickpea goodness I tried came with smoky aubergine and a boiled egg – it’s moreishly tasty. Their vine leaves are also meltingly soft, perfectly light, and delicately spiced. Plus, Hummus House even does deliveries. Website
Ali Ocakbasi – Turkish restaurant, Rembrandtplein
With a gorgeously decorated interior and excellent service, Ali Ocakbasi is a classy establishment for a night out. Their selection of starters is brought around in a giant basket from which to make your choice. My favourite is the çiğ köfte: finely minced raw beef with bulgur wheat and chilli, hand moulded into sort of knobbly cylinders. Eat them wrapped in lettuce leaves with a squeeze of lemon. Delicious. Website
Mana Mana – Lebanese and Israeli restaurant, de Pijp
Serving mostly vegetarian dishes, Mana Mana is a hit among food lovers and animal lovers alike. Its cosy, split-level restaurant is a good spot to enjoy not just the food but also good wine and cocktails. Don’t miss their cauliflower with tahini and grapefruit (it’s become something of a signature dish), as well as their legendary hummus. Website
CousCous Club – Moroccan restaurant, de Pijp
Admittedly, chef Wouter Apituley does not appear to have an immigrant bone in his Dutch body. However, he was inspired in his couscous craft by Chez Omar in Paris, so perhaps that counts. He serves just three dishes at the Couscous Club: couscous with vegetables and lentil sauce; couscous with merguez sausages; or ‘royal’ couscous with one merguez sausage, one lamb kebab and beef stew. The hearty, one-pot dishes cost between €9 and €15 (good for those on a budget) and Wouter will even mix you up a tasty mojito if you ask nicely. Website
Vicky Hampton blogs about the capital’s eateries on Amsterdamfoodie.nl.
Please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with your favourite Middle Eastern and North African restaurants for a future compilation.