The Dutch have a love-love relationship with Indonesian cuisine stretching back to colonial days. The Rijsttafel, literally meaning rice table, is a colonial invention, putting together all the specialities of the Indian archipelago into a single menu.
The darker side of this tale is the ‘Chin. Ind.’ restaurant, the fusion of Chinese entrepreneurship and kitchen with Indonesian food and Dutch boorish taste. The result is a type of take-away restaurant where lacklustre personnel serve you sweet and fat food in a setting that must have stopped looking stylish in China 50 years ago, but that persists here because it is what the owners think the Dutch working class perceive as authentically Chinese.
If you want to enjoy the genuine Indonesian kitchen—disregarding for a moment that that is an imperialistic product that only truly exists in the imperialist fantasies of those Javanese who think they own the country—you should therefore steer away from the Chin. Ind. nightmare, the Dutch equivalent of the ‘Paki,’ and look for restaurants that bill themselves as Indonesian only.
Kantjil & de Tijger is such a restaurant. Whenever you walk past it on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam, it looks warm and cosy and filled with people having a good time, and their take-away has a hip name, Kantjil To Go, and uses an abstract red and white styling to kill any lingering fears about the ‘classic’ Chin. Ind. take-aways. It’s the sort of place you expect the account managers, advertising execs and stock brokers of the city to pop by when too busy to cook for themselves.
Unfortunately when I tried it, the rice was fried dry, and the rendang meat was chewy. Considering that Kantjil To Go only serve 8 or 9 relatively simple dishes, they simply should not even manage to mess these up. Kantjil To Go is therefore an experience I am not going to repeat.
So where do you eat good Indonesian food in Amsterdam? I am afraid I still do not know. I associate good Indonesian food with the meals the mothers of the ‘Indo’ girl-friends of my brothers used to cook, but unfortunately my brothers have long since started dating outside the Emerald Chain.
Don’t walk away, run
Last month around this time I was having a heavy cold that wouldn’t go away, with a fever and a headache and a general under-the-weatherness that made me fall asleep every four hours or so. The past few days I had stayed home and done my own cooking, but by the third day I had run out of ingredients and I either had go to the store, which I did not feel up to, or order out. The latter it was. When I am sick I tend to try and eat healthy, which is hard to do if you order out, so I settled on sushi.
Using an online ordering service, I settled on a menu from Sushi World on the Stadionweg in Amsterdam, which is a two minute walk from my house. I wasn’t entirely sure whether the order had gone through, so I decided to call the restaurant to make sure. An ominous tape message told me that this number had been disconnected, but why not try this mobile number instead. Which I duly did. The person on the other side of the phone confirmed my order, and when I asked him how long it would take, he said fifty minutes.
Fifty minutes! Add that to the ten I had already been waiting and I would have to wait 60 minutes for some bloke to take a couple of makis and nigiris from the cooler, put them in a bag with some soy sauce, wasabe and ginger, and walk all the way up to my house, the whole 300 meter.
I don’t know whether it was the absurdity of this idea or me being high from the fever, but I couldn’t get angry about the long delivery time. All I could do was giggle.
So, 65 minutes after I had ordered my food somebody rings at my door. I answer the house phone, ask who’s there, and when the guy says “delivery” I press the button to open the door. While I am still pressing the button I hear him say “it’s broken.” I press again, and the guy repeats his claim. I have since tested the door opener several times, and it worked every time. So I walked the three floors down, as calmly as possible, and collected my food from a bored teenager.
Of course my adventures with Sushi World wouldn’t be complete if I had actually gotten what I had ordered. Actually, of the four items I had asked for they only got one wrong: instead of a spinach salad I got some kind of bean salad. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I had ordered either. For this delight I paid a little under 18 euro. Just enough to nourish a sick man.
The Dutch word for service is “service.” That’s no coincidence: we just don’t have our own word, because we barely understand the concept, and Amsterdam is particularly bad in this respect. Nevertheless, Sushi World’s service, rather lack thereof, ranks amongst the worst I’ve witnessed in the 9 years I’ve lived here.
I am giving this 1 star instead of 0 or 0.5, simply because the food itself was OK.
So, if this took place a month ago, what’s with the instant karma? Well, a little after I finished the meal I got an e-mail from the online ordering service asking me if I would like to review the restaurant for their website. Oh boy, did I!