Two friends, same roots, one mission. Nghia La and Nghia Huynh are determined to ‘wow’ their clients with the food they grew up with: the famous Vietnamese pho bo (beef noodle soup), sweet-sour-spicy salads, raw spring rolls with lettuce, mint and meat or shrimps. Unlike most other Asians the Vietnamese have a crush on bread too – an inheritance of the French colonization. We’re talking baguettes here and not just average ones, but versions with a memorable exotic twist. One example is the banh mi dac biet pork ofNghia N Nghia, a meat lovers’ dream with lemon mayonnaise, cucumber, cilantro, pickled daikon (a Japanese plant with a sharp, radishy flavour), carrots and triple x-meat. Picture smooth homemade chicken pâté, a mortadella-like Vietnamese sausageand – oh la la – caramelized pork. Less than two months in business and the two thirty-somethings already have a notable amount of fans. In the future they will expand the menu of their restaurant and takeaway. Hope they will serve the exquisite squid cured in lime juice I ate on the isle of Phu Quoc. Or the divine appetizer I had in Dalat: chao tom, shrimp paste on sugar cane. Vietnam food rocks, that’s for sure.
Nghia N Nghia Banh mi dac biet pork, one, €7.00
Rozengracht 106-112, City Centre
+31 (0) 20 624 57 52
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11am-5pm
Welcome to the pleasure dome! That is if you like all things smoked. Be it tofu, organic chicken, wild boar, mussels, wild Alaska Salmon or shrimps. The minute you enter Frank’s Smokehouse you are struck by the scent of smouldering hickory, a North American tree of the walnut family. This fragrance whirls from a room just behind the counter: the smokehouse where Frank – originally from Baltimore, raised in a Jewish family of delicatessen owners – creates almost all his high quality stuff. His big smoked shrimps with a bite are not to be missed if you serve fruity (citrus) white wine: a New Zealand Chardonnay or Frank’s house wine, a Viognier made by Domaine Gayda. These unsealed cooked beauties have been marinated in olive oil before they ‘went up in smoke’. They have a full and slightly salty taste. Once you get started, you’re hooked. Frank’s place comes highly recommended for lunch too. A king crab legg (200 grams) with toast and mayonnaise, a salmon cake with mango chutney, a fish soup with halibut, scallops and shrimps. It’s not your cheapest ticket to heaven, but hey, c’mon you’re worth it!
I finally found the perfect way to finish an Asian meal: the ginger ice cream of PepperMango, a nice place oozing with good vibes. This ice-cream parlour, chocolate shop and coffee spot sells home made ice cream without colourants, fragrances and flavourings. It’s made on a daily basis and sold all year round. On one fine day the chef of Indonesian restaurant Long Pura crossed the street and proposed the owner of PepperMango to work on a special type of ice cream. The result of this co-operation? Velvety vanilla ice cream with an adorable aromatic, pungent and spicy twist. Thanks to the bits of fresh ginger. At first this ice cream was exclusively served at Long Pura, but after a while it ‘went public’. Right now it’s one of the bestsellers of PepperMango; a must for hard-core ginger fans like myself. I especially like to serve it after a Thai meal, in particular one with tom yamkoeng (a spicy soup with shrimps) and a red curry with grilled duck, cherry tomatoes, pineapple and litchi. Ginger ice cream has enough character not to be overruled by powerful Asian flavours. Can you stand the heat?
Ginger ice cream, one scoop, €1.75
Rozengracht 35, City Centre
+31 (0) 20 623 98 25
Opening hours: Monday noon-10pm, Tuesday-Saturday 10am-10pm, Sunday 1pm-10pm
My uncle Herbert (81) would fit in a fairy tale. This mini man has bright blue-grey eyes, some hair and a high voice. He always has three euro’s in his pocket – just in case he meets someone who needs money. This Dutch-Indonesian man loves to explain in detail how I should prepare a goat, create telor asin (extremely salty duck eggs) or make sambal tomaat, a mix of sambal oelek – ‘home-made, of course’ – and cherry tomatoes. This fresh chilli based paste is made to match with the martabak of Toko Bandung, an Indonesian takeaway (est. 1962) on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Some say the martabak was born in Yemen, others say this stuffed pancake originated in Saudi-Arabia. Anyway, after Arabia this snack conquered India and Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Indonesia. There are sweet and savoury martabaks. Right now I’m talking about a perfect savoury one: an ultra thin ‘crêpe’ made of eggs filled with minced beef, onion, leak, egg and curry powder. Toko Bandung also sells lovely sweet snacks (banana-coconut pudding) and one of the most challenging dishes I know: a salty, bitter and bloody spicy combination of papaya leaves and tiny fishes.
Toko Bandung Martabak, one, €1.35
Pieter Calandlaan 333-335, New West (Osdorp)
+31 (0) 20 619 91 03
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 9.30am-6.30pm, Saturday 9am-5pm