Thursday, July 31, 2008

Amsterdam: Pannenkoeken Madness

There are many reasons to visit Amsterdam: serene canal views and public parks, historical landmarks like the Anne Frank House, museums housing unrivaled collections of Van Goghs and Rembrandts, infinitely friendly locals.  

But there is a certain image of tourists who come to Amsterdam, and, as a recent weekend trip to the Dutch capital taught me, there is more than a grain of truth in the stereotype.  Many young American and Western European backpackers come to Amsterdam for only one thing:  the pancakes.

It’s not uncommon along certain stretches of the Singel, the city’s main thoroughfare, to  catch the scent of frying batter wafting up from one of many pancake houses.  Easily recognizable by the word “pannenkoeken” written on a window or awning, these restaurants lure visitors with the promise of cheap, unrestricted hotcakes.  Establishments like the famed and always crowded Pancake Bakery, which blares reggae music in a dark, underground main room decked with pancake paraphernalia, count on a steady clientele of pleasure-seeking tourists. 

Diners can choose between the traditional thin plate-sized flapjack and the silver-dollar fatties known as poffertjes.  Toppings range from pungent and savory (cheese, mushrooms or tuna) to aromatic and sweet (apples, raisins or stewed cherries).  Ice cream is almost always on hand for smoothness, and many restaurants also offer a choice between clean-tasting white flour and a headier whole-wheat blend.  Tables at  Amsterdam pancake houses are invariably stocked with a basket of syrup (stroop to locals), powdered sugar, and ready-rolled forks and knives—tools not unfamiliar to experienced pancake eaters.

While locals take a blasé attitude toward the ready availability of pancakes in Amsterdam, many Americans, who have never before indulged in pancakes outside the privacy of their homes, are unable to approach Amsterdam’s ubiquitous pancake scene with moderation.  Those who have only ever experienced the weak, inconsistent American blend known as Bisquick don’t know their own limits when it comes to inordinately sticky Dutch pannenkoeken.  Many pancake house patrons, giddy from the sheer volume of pancakes available to be consumed in the open, dissolve into giggles as easily as the powdered sugar dissolving into maple syrup on their plates. It is also not uncommon in Amsterdam to see Americans staggering around flower markets or stretched out on boats displaying all the obvious signs of a sugar coma: glassy eyes, a slack jaw, disorientation, sleepiness.

Of course, a wise tourist can safely indulge in pancakes without letting them take over a trip to Amsterdam.  The key is to keep in mind the wide variety of cultural experiences that the city has to offer.  And I hear the cannabis is quite good, too. 

Image © Eric Gevaert |


mCoes said...

My goodness. That is one of the funniest posts I've seen. Thank's I hope to hear more!

Elliot said...

I go for the stroopwaffels.