Friday, October 25, 2019

Rijsttafel anyone? Dutch specialty nods to Indonesian connection

As artfully designed Blue Pepper opens for the evening, Cookie pauses with staff to survey the Amsterdam restaurant.

Awaiting the first course at Blue Pepper, Cookie smiles.


IF YOU DESIRE a truly memorable dinner while visiting Amsterdam -- one that will linger long in the memory, with smells, tastes and colors you recall for years --  choose a rijsttafel feast at Blue Pepper Restaurant.
I've been a fan of this complex and satisfying dish since the late 1960s when as young adventure seekers, my teen-aged girlfriends and I ordered rijsttafel at a small Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam.
Delicately cooked scallop with a tasty orange sauce: delicious.

Our eyes widened as dish after dish arrived at our table, magnificent meats, fish, vegetables, chicken, pickles, skewers of delicacies all seasoned with an amalgam of spices we struggled to identify.
Since then, I've spent more than a half-century sampling rijsttafel wherever and whenever I can, even enticing a dear friend of Dutch and Indonesian heritage to invite us to rijsttafel at her home.
She did! Thank you, Ragna, and your excellent mama.  You two fine cooks worked  for several days on the meal and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
THE MEAL is often served with beer, but Blue Pepper offers the courses with interesting wine pairings, which I sampled. (My husband savored a fruity but not too sweet non-alcoholic specialty drink).  Several non-alcoholic beers would also pair nicely with the feast, which includes rice if you like.
A trio of satay -- each different, and each in its own sauce --
is a must at Blue Pepper, where subtlety, variety, flavor reign.
Rijsttafel is spelled several ways. (This one most common.)

A delightful specialty drink can be served
with or without alcohol. The libation's
quality matches that of the fine food.
THE TASTY DISHES that comprise a rijsttafel meal have been around hundreds of years in Indonesia.  The Dutch brought the dish to Europe in the 1600s, when they were a significant presence in the region. In fact, the Dutch ruled in Indonesia from 1602 to 1945, almost 350 years, most of the time referring to it as the East Indies.
Wonderfully attentive service from waiter
Terenzio Gnoni is part of Blue Pepper's charm.
The name, “rijsttafel” is Dutch in origin and means literally “rice table.” Dutch plantation owners liked the array of dishes and desired to sample a mix of them at one sitting.  In restaurants or at a large catered party, guests often find rijsttafel on a buffet or the center of the table and are not expected to sample every offering.  Blue Pepper kicks it up a notch, serving the meal in small appealing courses.  We sampled a six-part extravaganza ranging from tender succulent scallops with macadamia nuts and orange, to scrumptious deep-fried eggplant, a marvelous jack fruit and peanut satay with soy and lime and a medley of pickles, prawns, steamed vegetables and a dessert both scrumptious and pretty.
Dessert for the birthday boy.  Keller's dessert
medley was a beautifully arranged boat of
delicacies -- chocolate, berries, petit fours.
THERE ARE dozens of offerings and Blue Pepper's knowledgeable and friendly waiters will help you narrow the field based on your preferences. Our delightful waiter, Terenzio, patiently and with aplomb offered personal  recommendations: a pulled-goose fried spring roll with a fragrant cloves and cinnamon sauce; a refreshing fruit dish of pineapple, mango and cucumber with a tasty sauce; a spicy guinea-fowl curry unlike anything we'd sampled in other rifsttafel haunts.
IF YOU want to learn a few words before you select your meal, bone up on these: ayam means chicken; ikan means fish; daging means meat; sayur means veggies with broth and maybe a bit of meat; sate is barbecued meat or fish on skewers; sambal goreng is spicy vegetables; sambal goreng kering is spicy and stands alone; sambal is a chili condiment (go easy!) and rudjak is fresh fruit with spicy sweet sauce. We recommend the fried side dishes, goreng, and don't be shy to try a zingy pickled veggie relish, acar. Krupuk (with a long u) is a deep fried chip similar to India's papadum.
Blue Pepper's delightful menu is served both in a beautifully designed
Amsterdam restaurant and in a canal cruise, served tableside.
Since Amsterdam is built on canals, the Blue Pepper's candlelight dinner cruise is another option, a wonderfully decadent way to gild the lily. Combine fine dining with some of the world's most varied waterways with rijstaffel, champagnes and wines served at your table.
 WHY NOT experience both the canal cruise and the restaurant.  If you come to Blue Pepper and dine early or late, (avoiding the busy 6:30-9 p.m. when it is packed,) you'll enjoy a welcome prosecco or signature cocktail on the house.
We've tried a half-dozen other restaurants serving unique Indonesian food in Amsterdam, but none compare to the flair, quality and detail of  Blue Pepper.

Daniel Ramos, Jose Bales, Salomon Maya in "Bad Hombres,
Good Wives" encounter one another at San Diego Repertory Theatre. 
UP NEXT We'll be back to Europe for more adventure soon -- in the English countryside, aboard British trains and into northern Europe and the Baltic. But first, a segue: come with us to southern California where our San Diego theater season is heating up for an autumn bonanza of comedy, drama, spoofs and more. We'll preview a few of our favorites in what looks to be a stellar line-up of quality work. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fun, fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, romance, food, family and more.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Eating Europe: Munch your way through history with fun food, guides

Trained historians and knowledgeable graduate students and professionals lead interested tourists to a series of both well
   known and undiscovered food and beverage haunts in "Eating Europe," located in a growing number of European cities. Here Alexander Nallin shares facts, fun and fanciful stories with a group of international foodies and tourists in London.  

Photographer Bruce Keller, left, and Cookie (Christene
Meyers) sample fish and chips at Poppies, a legendary
London eatery where Poppie himself sometimes appears. 



COMBINE TWO favorite past times: sampling food and soaking up history in a new city.
Delicious cheeses from various European countries were offered at one stop.

What do you call it?  "Eating Europe."
The delightful brainchild was designed to bring great cities to life through a combined experience of cultural immersion and culinary sampling, two mainstays in a visit anywhere.
Guides are carefully chosen to have an interest in both the city's history and the foods served in all types of pubs, eateries, shops, bistros, cafes and more. The food stops are thoughtfully chosen to illustrate variety in each city.
OUR GUIDE, Alexander, brought London's east end to life, regaling us with anecdotes and insights into kings, queens, scoundrels, lords, ladies and ladies of the evening.
We began our combined gastronomic-history adventure near one of London's oldest and best known pubs, "Ten Bells."  There, in 1881, Jack the Ripper hung out and lured his victims, all prostitutes, to their grim deaths.
The tour was capped with a tasty
wedge of rich chocolate pie
served with cream and tea. 
London's restaurants, pubs and cafes serve up a medley,
here a sandwich from Beigel Bake, a legendary restaurant is
typical of Eating Europe's varied haunts: quality, history, fun.
Our seven tasty and filling treat stops offered a pleasant mix, from a melt-in-the-mouth bacon sandwich, to a satisfying warm bread and butter pudding, nicely varied cheese plate, delicious fish and chips, a spicy curry trio, bagel with tender brisket and a wedge of sinfully delicious chocolate pie served with clotted cream and steaming Earl Grey tea.

Eating Europe guide Alexander takes ten foodies and culture
 buffs through London's engaging and varied east end. The
tour included schools, churches, businesses, charities and
of course the food stops. Alex's stories enhanced the dining.

OUR DINING companions were an interesting, international mix of professionals, students, retired folks, and a pair of honeymooners, celebrating their recent wedding in Ireland.
We agreed that all the samplings were delightful
and the itinerary well conceived. The order of the dishes fell comfortably into Alexander's lively comments.  His scope ranged from the city's Roman days, when the first villas were constructed, to Henry VIII stories -- he built a military camp here -- to modern times and the neighborhoods' gentrification.
Fabulous lamb curry was served along with a vegetarian 
offering and chicken dish at one of Eating Europe's nine 
East London food stops on colorful Brick Lane.
Through Alexander, east London came to life -- it's his stomping ground -- and his free-wheeling commentary about theater, soup kitchens, churches, schools and neighborhoods was engaging. His territory is indeed rich with history.
SINCE 2013, more than 25,000 guests have sampled  Londo's Eating Europe tour. The fun walking-eating tours have been sampled by more than 150,000 people in the program's other cities. (Amsterdam's is on a canal boat!! Next for us.)
We couldn't see everything in this huge London region known for its ethnic variety and tapestry of cultures. But we got a time-travel sampling, admiring trendy new neighborhoods, lively street art, brick offices, churches and an occasional mansion built in the silk trade's glory days.
BETWEEN BITES, and cuisine-based conversation over four hours, we enjoyed historic architecture, artful graffiti and Alexander's well told tales. Brisk walking between samples helped us feel less like gourmands and more like gourmets as we visited 
The murals off Brick Lane are part of the tour's fun.
markets, shops, bakeries, pubs and restaurants, usually meeting  the owners or managers, which added to the experience.
We were happy to find the streets uncrowded as we explored hidden alleys, listening to the history of each eatery. One legendary restaurant is famous for its bone marrow, tripe and "nose to tail" eating. We learned that our beloved "bagel" is really spelled "beigel" as Beigel Bake illustrated. Fabulous.
The immersive Eating Europe concept was developed to combine fun dining with a city's traditions and culture. As promised, this was delivered with flair, obvious through Alexander's passion for the city in which he lives. He shared history, architecture, ethnicity
The beauty, art and variety of European bars and eateries
makes the immersive Eating Europe tours a hit.
in a nuanced educated but not preachy fashion.
The food-walking combo makes an enjoyable way to experience a new neighborhood.
Eating Europe blends fun dining with
 lively history in European cities,
with a focus on meeting "food folks."
EATING EUROPE is now in nine cities: Rome, Florence, London, Amsterdam, Prague, Naples, Lisbon, Strasbourg and Paris. Expansion is underway so check out the website for updates on new cities.
Thumbs up, tummies happy, for this marvelous eat-walk-smile touring venture.

Come with us next week to sample rijsttafel, as Cookie is about to,
first in line at Amsterdam's popular Blue Pepper Restaurant.
While we're on the subject of great eating, come with us to sample rijsttafel, that magnificent Indonesian invention which originated in Southeast Asia and spread to Holland. The colorful meal is savored slowly and consists of a selection of spiced rice dishes and succulent small plates. It crossed the seas to the Netherlands because of the long interest of Dutch sailing and enterprise in Indonesia and is considered a specialty dish in Amsterdam. No place makes it better than Blue Pepper Restaurant.  Come enjoy a look at the history and appeal of this intriguing and complex culinary invention. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more.

Friday, October 11, 2019

John and Yoko's peaceful Dutch 'Love In' remembered 50 years later

Remembering the days of yore, Christene "Cookie" Meyers checks out the John and Yoko suite at Amsterdam Hilton. 


The hotel is a smart, stylish property and the suite pays homage to
the famous couple's peaceful protest there 50 years ago.


"You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us,
And the world will live as one."
-- from 'Imagine', on its 48th anniversary
Stylish architecture and plush amenities are offered
for those who wish to pay $2,000-plus a night.

WE ALL REMEMBER the photos.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono in bed, surrounded by flowers, signs and musical instruments.
It was 1969 and the Vietnam War was raging.
The famous couple staged two week-long Bed-Ins for Peace, one at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam and one at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.
We visited the first hotel on a recent trip to the Netherlands, spending a week in this quiet, peaceful corner of Amsterdam.
"Peaceful" is the key word here for the two hotel visits were intended to be nonviolent protests against wars and experimental tests of new ways to promote peace.
Our host for a tour of the famous suite was the hotel's delightful public relations specialist, Anastasija, who is too young to remember the time in which the non-violent events occurred.
Photographer Eric Koch faked a press card to gain
entrance to the famous "Bed In" and the couple
preferred his photos to others taken that week.
She smiled as she told the stories, though, including comments from journalists covering the event. "They remarked that the two were welcoming to visitors and the press, but that the room began to smell a bit toward the end of the week. As part of the protest, they did not bathe."
The Amsterdam property has enlarged the original John and Yoko room into a small suite which is in high demand at $2,090 a night (1899 Euros). The guestbook boasts signatures of happy couples from Japan to Australia, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. The couple had recently married in Gibraltar and many honeymooners stay there now.
Bruce Keller and Christene Meyers in the John and Yoko
suite, Amsterdam Hilton, overlooking a lovely canal.
THE BATHROOM  of 50 years ago was not as plush as today's expanded room with its large oval bathtub, separate walk-in shower, plush bathrobes and slippers, plus other VIP amenities.
  The idea for the 1969 event derived from the era's popular "sit ins" when protesters seated themselves in front of or inside an establishment until they were evicted, arrested, or had their demands met.
THERE ARE IRONIES and anecdotes to the famous visit.  The Hilton was not the first choice of the couple, but accepted their reservation knowing that the visit might attract international attention.  "We have certainly benefited from the event," Anastasija commented. And, she agreed, the other Dutch hotel which declined to host the couple has probably had regrets.
A sketch made by the pair is now used in advertising the suite which is tastefully decorated
with John and Yoko memorabilia. Among the nostalgic objects are a copy of one of his guitars, many photographs, sketches and notebooks.
A stroll from the hotel takes the tourist past lovely canals and many bikers.
We loved the location of the hotel, a 10-minute walk from  Holland's fabled Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Vondelpark.
If the couple had been hungry they could have feasted at Roberto's, 
or sipped a cocktail at the Half Moon Lounge, an inviting garden terrace with splendid canal views in a luxurious residential area.
INSTEAD, they ate little and when they did, it was a few spoonsful of cold Campbell's soup.
What did the peace-in teach us? Most believe it had little effect on the war, but its artistic contribution lives on.
Says one scholar of the period, "The idea that sitting in bed for a week might have caused Richard Nixon to revise his foreign policy looks a tad hopeful, to say the least."

London's Eating Europe tour offered a delightful
 mix of tastings from spicy curry to sticky pudding
 and fish and chips served in newspaper.
NEXT UP: Next time in Europe, try a delightful "taste and tour" opportunity.  We just did in London and happily recommend Eating Europe Food Tours now in many European cities.  The innovative concept combines eating and touring -- fine food at several stops with lively, expert guides sharing best-kept food and drink secrets with a learned nod to history. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a unique view of travel, the arts, nature, family, food and more.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Appealing Amsterdam: Something for everyone in a lively Dutch city

The canals of Amsterdam are legendary, and much loved and used by tourists and residents alike.


The colorful De Kat  Paint Mill of 1782, is one of the joys of a trip to
Zaanse Schans in The Netherlands, near Amsterdam and the oldest
and best preserved windmill area of the world.

AMSTERDAM is a city of many moods.  It is vibrant and varied, rowdy and rustic, cosmopolitan and contemplative, accepting and non-judgmental.
It is a delightful city to visit and be part of, if only for a few sunny, fun-filled days.
Our recent of many visits was  memorable because autumn was just coming to the Netherlands. We relished the crisp air, evening breezes and changing colors.
A few sights are on everyone's play list: the famous "museum pair" -- the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum and the house where the young Jewish diarist Anne Frank hid during WWII.
The iamsterdam offices offer several varieties of the
 excellent card, for card for one, two, three or
 four-day access and savings. A real deal.

TO NAVIGATE this beautiful city efficiently and economically, we highly recommend the "iamsterdam city card" which saved us more than 50 euros at a variety of  attractions and on the city's fine public transport system.  We didn't begin to touch the range of 70-plus museums, but in earlier visits toured Rembrandt's house, the world class Maritime Museum and the Frank family's touching upstairs apartment where two families hid until they were outed just before the ending of World War II.
Italian born Sergio gave us a lively and brisk three-hour walking
tour of Amsterdam, from the canals and shopping
 areas, smoke houses and the famous Red Light District.
The card also helps take advantage of Amsterdam's excellent bus and tram system and discounts at many shops, restaurants and more. iamsterdam offers convenient offices and pick-up centers for the one, two, three or four day passes. We picked ours up at Schiphol Airport before heading to our hotel, the Amsterdam Hilton.
AMSTERDAM IS a great walking city, but beware of the bikes which come zipping by at often alarming speeds. Bikes rule, too, so look before you begin crossing a street.
Walking in the famed Red Light
District of Amsterdam is safe.
Keller and Cookie relax at the Amsterdam Hilton.
We always take a walking tour in a city, no matter how many times we've been.  This time, we tried and enthusiastically recommend "Freedam Tours," which navigate the city on foot with lively, educated guides.  Ours was Sergio, Italian born and engaging.  He proudly showed us old Amsterdam, its famous coffee shops, historic buildings and his old neighborhood, the Red Light District. "Please treat them with respect."
We saw several of the women in their windows, and Sergio smiled as we admired shops with beautiful cheeses, souvenirs and pastries.  Cannabis is legal in Amsterdam, but it must be
Amsterdam's legendary coffee shops
serve a cannabis inspired menu. 
bought from certified distributors. We took my late mother to a coffee shop 10 years ago where we all chill out and passed a few pleasant hours. Most look like sophisticated bistros. Cannabis can be purchased, along with special brownies, cookies and hashish.
 A pretty little Dutch girl smiles for the photographer from
one of the country's many clean, efficient buses and trams.

THE NETHERLANDS is at the center of northwestern European commerce, home to people from 200 countries with an average life expectancy of 80. Only 17 million live in all of Holland, around three million people in the greater Amsterdam area and eight million in its four major cities.  Amsterdam is the official capital of the Netherlands according to the country's constitution.  But most Dutch consider The Hague the capital, since both the States General and Executive Branch have been situated there since 1588.
A visit to the Anne Frank House is a
moving experience, even multiple times. 
Amsterdam has a long, proud and colorful history dating back to 1275 when it was founded as a fishing village on the Amstel River. The name "Amstelledamme" occurs for the first time in a toll concession of Floris V, Count of Holland, dated Oct. 27, 1275.
 Besides cheese, clogs, canals and bikes, Amsterdam is known for its flat landscape, spring tulips and the world's best preserved windmills.
We took a day trip to Zaanse Schans, a vibrant working community dating to 18th Century Amsterdam.
 A canal trip is the best way to admire Amsterdam's graceful historic buildings, museums, bars and coffee shops.
The Van Gogh Museum is a high-tech institution with
beautiful displays and many of the artist's paintings.
Art is everywhere in the
parks of Amsterdam.
We were also thrilled with the location of our hotel, the lovely Hilton Amsterdam, in a beautiful neighborhood between the museum district and the Station Zuid business district. (More next week on the hotel's famous John and Yoko Suite, which we enjoyed. The couple staged its famous "Bed-in for Peace" at the hotel in 1969.  );;;

UP NEXT: Fifty years ago, John and Yoko Ono staged a  memorable "Love In" also referred to as a "Peace In" and "Bed In" in Amsterdam's Hilton Hotel.  Today, their suite is a popular honeymoon get-away enjoyed by Beatles fans from all over the world.  We visit, too, and take you there. Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays for a fresh take on travel, the arts, nature, family and more. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fun, fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, romance, food, family and more. Check out:, which has an international following.