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.


  1. What a find! We have searched for the best rijstaffel in the world....looks as if you found it. Thank you.

  2. So much fun to read about a favorite city and a favorite meal. I like the leisurely approach -- dish by dish -- rather than all the wonderful stuff at once. Stretches it out nicely -- and such pretty presentation. Will try next visit.

  3. South African ExplorersOctober 26, 2019 at 8:25 AM

    Absolutely gorgeous lead photo -- and a delightful look at Indonesian food, a la Amsterdam. More please.

  4. Love the food stories....keep them coming.

  5. You two were there the evening we were. You shared your card and joie de vivre-- we are thankful to have met you! Love the story and being a small part of it.