Europe Echelon: Amsterdam – Leidseplein

See see, look look.

If Amsterdam Centraal is the lifeline of the city, Leidseplein must surely be its playground. This square, located in the centre of the city, marks the end, or beginning (depending which direction you’re looking at) of the canal-lined streets and gambrel-roofed houses that we’ve come to associate Amsterdam with. A modern urban worm wriggles through the thoroughfare of Leidseplein – ah, trams, the fictitious solution to congestion back home. Or so the “experts” – professors from NUS and NTU would claim. The nightlife district clamors for notoriety and energy, but it never quite attains what it wants to achieve – al fresco salons lay, for the most part, empty.

Bad food side-by-side.

Note blue words, “The Bulldog” in the centre of the image. It’s a coffeeshop.

In the midst of this neon ghost alley, a handful attract like bees to honey, not that the honey is good or anything. One of the well-heeled is the disrepute generic put-it-together-yourself burger fast food chain. From the hearsay of gossip papers and travel forums: stories of rat-trodden kitchens and lice-infested patties, the reviews everywhere aren’t favorable. Another popular spot, centrally located on the square, the coffeeshop. You won’t find a single cup of jo’ here. Instead, these shacks are actually the product of the Netherlands’ liberal drug policy. The city’s wild nightlife, which I’m eventually told (or at least, argued) is still as seedy, slanderous and vilifying, but is increasingly becoming out-of-bounds by law, for foreigners. I want to, but without a local referral, it’s against the law. Besides, it’s not a cheap trip.

This is the Staddsschouwburg, the most recognizable landmark in Leidseplein. The neo-Reconaissance building, built in 1894, is a theatre, and was home to the Dutch National Ballet and Opera. These days, it stages work specifically by Dutch writers.

Finding food is easy. Finding good, affordable food, and a restaurant that’ll accept a table for one is a whole different story altogether. I had come to Leidseplein on a mission. It being my first night, I wanted to have something Dutch. However, I discovered that Dutch cuisine never had the scope of the French, or German. I did eventually stumble onto a location whilst web searching, and armed with the address, I proceeded to locate it in Leidseplein.

It wasn’t there.

I was on the right street, facing the right address, and it wasn’t it. I’m at a loss. “Avoid the steakhouses”, advises Trip Advisor, but it’s hard. It’s a tourist trap – with touts eager to lure any unsuspecting and those who don’t know better. It’s either that, or the fast food restaurants, but the crowds packing those stands put me off anyway. With the clock ticking, and the choices literally closing in on me, I brave the alleys, and look closely. In the midst of all the physical jostle for attention, I find a quaint, well-served, restaurant. “Zorba”, it calls itself, and there’s no mistaking the azure blue and white decor juxtaposing a homely Mediterranean vista – it’s a Greek restaurant. The prices are reasonable, the staff warmly accept me into their fold, I’m in.

Greek has catapulted into one of my favorite cuisines ever since I attended Greek cosmetic brand Apivita’s media launch and luncheon at Blu Kouzina, reputedly one of the best restaurants (not just Greek) in Singapore. The flavors focus on the natural, and the food’s always so fresh – seafood done so simple, but so good. And Zorba reinforces my preconceptions about Greek food. I order a feta cheese salad (Feta Saganiki), and immediately impress the Dutch Greek restaurant manager by actually managing to finish it; and a main course of trout (Pestrofa Scharas). There were other fish, but I just had to have trout, because it seems to be so loved in the Western world, and where I come from, in the East, there are no trout. I’ve to say, it doesn’t taste much, but the simple grill and the seasoning of salt and pepper makes for a really good fish.

Feta Saganiki

Pestrofa Scharas

I want to walk more, and I do, but the call of the night arouses my slumber. It has been a long day, and I need rest.

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