Vegan Amsterdam: Bolhoed

September 15, 2009

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On the Prinsengracht, one of Amsterdam’s main canals, cozily hidden behind sheets of trailing ivy, is Bolhoed, a vegan friendly, vegetarian café, staffed by the be-dreaded and tattoed, decorated with knick-knacks your Gran would covet and serving absolutely delicious food in delightfully generous portions.

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Since there’s nothing outwardly declaring it to be a café we would have walked right past, if it hadn’t been for the outdoor seating area and my penchant for staring into other people’s houses (which is how Kat and Lia found it later as well. Staring questioningly into windows is a part of the Amsterdam experience though…) It looked inviting enough, for a start the windows are painted with flowers and the odd cartoon person, and inside beckoned warmly to our soaken selves.

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Inside, it’s more like a café than a house, but only just. The odd knick-knacks, leaf stencils and cat might have you confused for a moment, but the counter with salad bar, coffee machine and customers soon give it away. We trundled in and bagsed the only free table. It wasn’t particularly busy, nevertheless. The other, huge, wooden tables were all occupied by one or two coffee drinking book readers or ladies-what-lunch. Most people in there were of an age, but then it was mid-morning on a Tuesday. By all accounts it’s buzzin’ on the weekend, but while we were there the atmosphere was pretty calm and chilled out.

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We made ourselves comfortable, hanging our wet jackets over the chairs, and perused the menu. Everything is vegetarian, with plenty of vegan options also. I don’t remember most of what they offered because it seemed pretty standard fare; nut roast, sandiwiches, but the ragoutcroissant really stood out. I was completely intrigued by the notion of a croissant containing anything other than chocolate – in this case, leek, seaweed, tofu and curry – that it had to be ordered.

The food did take a little while to come but it’s not as though we had any pressing engagements anywhere and I was too busy enthusing over the ‘real’ apple juice – thick, cloudy and sweet, the kind which fights off infections and Fascists – and trying to get a perfect picture of the cool twisted-wire tree hanging on the wall to count the minutes off.

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When my dinner did arrive though, it would have been worth any wait. It was giant. A giant parcel of folded pastry covered in sesame seeds, which I cut into eagerly. Inside was green mush, my favourite!, with chunks of tofu. I gingerly forked some into my mouth, where the pastry practically melted on my tongue and then the curry had a party with the seaweed. Everyone at the table tried a little bit, then clamoured for more. The side salad was also way more than the usual slice of cucumer and sprinkle of cress, so much so that I thought they were going to try and charge me extra. Not so! They just give you looooads of salad. My friends ordered a salad on its ownsome and were presented with salad, and skewers and a massive dollop of cous-cous. All for the low low price of roughly six euro, same as mine. (Since I’d read that the place was dear, and we were in Amsterdam, I’d expected far higher prices.)

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Bolhoed is a really charming little place, which I highly recommend for good tasty filling food and veg. According to other sources it can get quite busy on the weekends – and I can see why – so the advice is to book ahead. If you have the choice though, go mid-week, either with a paper or close friend, hang out and take your sweet time devouring the giant croissant. Nom nom nom.

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Travelling Vegan: Amsterdam

September 1, 2009

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Amsterdam. City of great culture and architecture, omni-present canals and bikes, the Red Light District and the Rijksmuseum, and food, food, food. Oh, and cheese.

The last few times I’ve visited Amsterdam bakeries and steakhouses beckoned from every corner, waffles glistening with chocolate of every shade and sprinkles of every colour, doused in sugar or steeped in caramel, strawberries adorning their sweet lattices, so I wondered how I’d fare for convenience food what with having to eschew the delicious crisp yet chewy with just the right amount of sugar waffle option. Oh, and cheese.

We camped this time, at Zeeburg, which I recommend most highly, so there was no real option to cook food. As such, we turned to Albert Heijn for succour. There is one on practically every corner, and they must have sprung up in the last year or so, because neither I not Holly (my other Amsterdam frequenter) remember there being quite so many. Still, good for us!

One day, I swear I will travel vegan and attempt to eat properly, but as it is, we all survived on a diet of tigerbread (and they do wholemeal tigerbread in Holland!), hummus and crisps. I also had an apple a day, and popcorn. Lots of delicious popcorn. The Albert Heijn ‘extra puur chocolade’ with 72% cacao mentions nowhere that it contains milk, so I stocked up on that too at 82 cents a bar. As you can see in the photo below, there was also a large array of pre-packed salads. For some reason I didn’t think to buy one, but they’re there, they’re vegan, and they’re convenient.

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As for places to eat, there were plenty. Before I left I checked out Veggie Place and Happy Cow, making a list of around eighteen places that looked good, including a couple of health food shops. While I was there we managed to make it to Bolhoed on the Prinsengracht, which deserves, and will get, its own post. For sheer convenience, there is a Falafel place in every district. There are five Maoz Falafel places in Amsterdam, and having not come across one before, I have to say they’re pretty good. It was 4€ for quite a hefty serving, but the best part is the salad bar. (Isn’t it always?) We didn’t take full advantage, I pushed some cucumber and cous-cous in the nooks between falafel and pita before we rushed for our tram, but there was a couple in there who were clearly experts. They would take a couple of bites of their pita, revealing new crevices which were perfect for spooning a little more taziki into, or tucking some more lettuce around, then sit down, take a couple more bites, and repeat. You probably can’t get away with this so much when it’s busy, but we were there around ten or eleven in the evening.

For breakfast the next day, we ended up at the Soup Kitchen and had Sweet Potato soup. After checking the website just now, I realise that it probably wasn’t even vegetarian, but it came with soft white bread and was damn tasty. Perhaps I should learn to say ‘Is there milk in this?’ as well as ‘Thank you’ when I travel now. (Bedanke, by the way.)

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I think three days is probably an adequate amount of time to survive on hummus and crisp sandwiches, and if you have a little more money than we did (and a tin-opener, or camping stove…) then Amsterdam does cater well to vegetarians, and vegans, alike.

At the end of this month I’m going to Corsica with my family, and I imagine it will be quite interesting to see if they appreciate my vegan input. We are expected, by my Mother, to buy and cook our own food, so I don’t think it will impact too much on the family table, as it were, but they also like us to all eat together. Watch this space!

Amelia