I bet I’ve told you over and over that my Dutch-Indonesian mother is the best cook alive. But I’m pretty sure that I haven’t told you about her exquisite ajam opor, pieces of chicken soaking in a mild coconut sauce containing lemongrass, lime leaves, roasted candlenuts, ginger and lots of other ingredients. Unfortunately I can’t not properly copy-paste her recipe – missing her magic touch, I suppose – but fortunately I found someone who does a much better job. Where? At Taste of Life! The cook of this Indonesian and Malaysian restaurant and takeaway makes an ajam opor that equals my mother’s: elegantly spiced, succulent meat, a satiny sauce. Inside this modest and friendly place it’s all about authentic food made with dedication. Why don’t you take time to try one of the many rice tables, including the ajam opor? If you savour it in a mindful way, it’s far more relaxing than yoga, trust me.
Taste of Life Ajam opor, one portion, €15.95
Rijnstraat 51, South (Rivierenbuurt)
+31 (0) 20 644 77 86
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 5pm-10pm
Some think it’s cuckoo to put rice in your soup. Well, people from Suriname and my fellow Dutch Indonesians completely disagree. My family pops rice in every soup; in green pea soup, in brown bean soup. A scoop of rice turns a soepie into A Meal. Home-made chicken soup is manna to sick souls. When I was feverish my mother used to serve me saoto ajam (chicken soup), with rice of course. To Dutch Indonesians saoto is the holy grail of soups. The broth of this Javanese soup is powerful, but the flavours of lemon grass, lime leaves, koenjit (turmeric) and ginger make the soup fresh and elegant too. It’s usually served with chopped celery, fried onions, beans sprouts and boiled eggs. Close to where I live is a great Surinamese-Javanese takeaway, Warung SuriKitchen, where I buy my chicken satay and rich saoto mama-style. Based on broth of a real chicken – no way, chicken fillet – including the right spices and the sides the soup deserves. Try it with the yellow paste of Madame Jeanette peppers. It’s about as evil as it looks like.
Warung SuriKitchen Saoto ajam, one big portion, €4.50
Tweede Nassaustraat 38, West (Westerpark)
+31 (0) 20 475 10 21
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-10pm, Sunday 3pm-10pm
Meet Billy! He’s the cute man in the kitchen. The one who chops and stir-fries with a smile. He used to be the cook of Little Thai Prince in Chinatown, but three years ago he opened his own restaurant and takeaway: Billy Thai. It’s hugely popular and this is why: excellent food, friendly service, a cosy decor. Orchids on the windowsill, candlelight, pictures of King Bhumibol, Queen Sirikit and our royal couple on the walls. Have a seat in Billy’s living room, inhale the scent of stir-fried basil, ginger and garlic and let him spoil you with a mix of duck, ginger and mushrooms, king prawns in garlic and pepper sauce or thalee samrod, prawns, squid and fish in a spicy, sweet-and-sour sauce. Get yourself a soup too: tom yam koeng. It has all the hot (red chillies) and sour (lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal) flavours you’d expect and much more. Love the prawns, coriander leaves and mushrooms with a bite. This soup brings back happy memories of the first time I had it. Bangkok, 1996, a food stall near Khao San Road. It was hot and humid, singer-starlet Sabrina sang Boys, Boys, Boys, the soup set my senses on fire. Love at first sight.
Billy Thai Tom yam koeng, one, €6.00
Prinsengracht 358, City Centre
+31 (0) 20 330 42 20
Opening hours: Monday-Sunday 4pm-11pm
On the island of Koh Chang I met a couple who had come to Thailand to sell bratwurst, German pork sausages. They had a motorbike that doubled as a means of transportation and a mobile shop. ‘How ‘bout your target group’, I asked them. ‘We will sell to tourists, but we will also conquer the Thai market. Mind you, there are no other bratwurst sellers in Thailand.’ Guess why, I thought, but I didn’t say that. I didn’t want to be a party pooper. To be honest I thought their business proposition was crap. Why Thailand? Maybe some tourists long for a bratwurst, but locals? It’s not that they despise Western food, but they are just very much in love with their own food. Obvious to see why: it contains lots of superb items. A bratwurst has to compete with local sausages such as sai ua, pork sausages seasoned with finely chopped herbs and galangal (a root with a citrus scent). It also has to compete with snacks like tod man pla, fried fish cakes including four flavours: sweet (palm sugar), sour (lime leaves), salty (fish sauce) and spicy (curry paste). Try one and it’s bye bye bratwurst. Friendly restaurant and takeaway Kratiam Thai in Amsterdam serves similar cakes: perfectly balanced flavours, a firm texture. Eat one, remember the German business proposition and render a verdict.
Kratiam Thai Tod man pla, one portion (3), €5.50
Bos en Lommerweg 199, West (Bos en Lommer)
+31 (0)20 750 81 13
Opening hours: Monday-Sunday 3pm-10pm