European Culinary Adventures Part 3: Amsterdam (Updated)

European Culinary Adventures Part 3: Amsterdam

Last weekend I took the train from Leiden to Amsterdam. Leiden, well-known for its old university, is small and idyllic. Going to Amsterdam, which during the summer is crowded with (intoxicated) tourists and fast cyclists, was therefore quite a change. Before facing the hectic masses I took a break at one of my favorite places in Amsterdam, which is conveniently located in the train station itself.

The Grand Café ‘1e Klas’ is located near track 2. However, once you enter the café you completely forget about the racing trains next to it and the hordes of people just outside the station. The café is an oasis of calm. It was built by the Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers (1827-1921), who also built the station (Amsterdam Centraal) and the Rijksmuseum. In addition to that he is well-known for rebuilding an amazing castle) called ‘Kasteel de Haar’ near Utrecht. The interior of the café could be described as Orientalist as it is dominated by colorfully painted wood and wallpaper, china vases, and an adorable living Cockatoo.

I ordered the Dutch equivalent of a café au lait, a koffie verkeerd (lit. coffee the other way round) and a fresh pressed orange juice. After that I was ready to take on the metropolis!

The wonderful thing about spending a Saturday in Amsterdam is that you can visit the weekly market with its many stands selling cheese, flowers, bread, and much more. One small stand captured my interest directly. It was a stand only devoted to mushrooms. A selection of different kinds of mushrooms was beautifully presented on blue kitchen towels.

The sign on the car window says “It is possible to sample!” and this was indeed true. When I talked to the owner while trying to decide which mushrooms to buy, she gave me some mushrooms to taste. I was unfamiliar with many of the sorts she had. Most of my mushrooms I buy in stores, where the selection is very limited. Even at our farmers’ market in Cambridge I have not seen any unknown mushrooms so far. So this was an exciting terra incognita for me.

The coral red mushrooms really drew my attention from the beginning. However, I decided to buy a mustard yellow mushroom sort called ‘Nameko.’ They looked familiar, even though I was not sure where I had eaten them before. The mushrooms had a distinct nutty flavor and as I am in the Netherlands only for a short while and live in a tiny studio with an ill-equipped kitchen (the other renters before me obviously never cooked) I wanted to find a interesting tasting mushroom, which would not need a lot of spices etc to taste pleasant.

On Sunday morning I therefore simply sautéd the mushrooms in butter and added fresh rosemary. Seasoning them just with a little bit of salt and pepper. I then made an omelette with green onions and more fresh rosemary. I chopped up some fresh tomatoes to put on the side and served everything with pumpkin seed bread and goat cheese. Simple, yet delicious or ‘lekker’ as the Dutch would say.

The next day I googled ‘Nameko’ and realized where I had encountered these tasty mushrooms before. I could have also guessed it from the name: They’re from Japan and feature in many Japanese soups or stir-fries. This is the tiny bit of information, which the English wikipedia-article supplies:

“Pholiota nameko, commonly known as Nameko (ナメコ), is a small, amber-brown mushroom with a slightly gelatinous coating that is used as an ingredient in miso soup and nabemono. In some countries this mushroom is available in kit form and can be grown at home. It is one of Japan’s most popular cultivated mushrooms, tasting slightly nutty and is often used in stir-fries.
In China the mushroom is known as huázĭ mó (Chinese: 滑子蘑).
In Russia, it is also consumed widely, and is known as (often sold as) “o-pyo-nok” (опёнок) or plural “o-pya-ta” (опята).
In America, the mushroom is sometimes called a “butterscotch mushroom”.”

The next time I find these mushrooms again I will try to cook a Japanese dish with them. However, even just in a simple meal like this they were wonderful.

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