Doing the typical tourist thing as a six-year-old.
I’ve long blamed my overly nomadic tendencies on my parents. When I was three years old and my primary interests consisted of My Little Pony and turning blobs of Playdough into larger blobs of Playdough, my family whisked me off to a small suburb of the Hague. My parents, who always have been and continue to be travelers at heart, were thrilled at suddenly having easy access to dozens of different countries. The world was at their fingertips and the fact that they had a cranky infant and toddler in tow didn’t remotely slow them down.
Much of the next few years were spent on the go. My brother and I played hide & seek in grand art museums and ordered sauce “on the side” at Parisian bistros, much to the chagrin of the waitstaff. My parents went as far as possible for as long as possible, stretching time, money and resources to see anything and everything we could.
We were, as kids often are, ungrateful at the beginning. And while now I have a tremendous respect for the patience, love and persistence it took for my parents to show us the world, for the first year I mostly would have preferred to stay in the States eating Skippy and watching cartoons. As time passed and we grew a little older though, we began to adapt without quite realizing it. Rainbows of tulips at the Keukenhof became the norm in spring, as did chocolate letters and wooden shoes full of presents (and the country’s bizarre, complicated and controversial tradition of blackface—but that’s a separate issue) in the beginning of December. Weekend trips to the Rijksmuseum actually seemed fun.
When my parents transferred back to the U.S., they found themselves stuck with two kids with a serious case of wanderlust. It’s an itch that’s stuck well into adulthood for both of us and shows no signs of subsiding.
All of this is probably why I get hit with a giant wave of warm fuzzies whenever I go back to any part of this tiny country and why I’ll use any excuse to get there. I’ve been known to deliberately reroute flights for a long layover in Schiphol Airport, which is conveniently connected to the city center via a 10-minute metro ride.
My most recent excursion was a research trip for this Guardian piece, for which I traipsed around the cobblestone streets and four-century-old canals of Amsterdam. And while I spent the majority of my trip exploring the newer additions to the city (more on that later), I couldn’t resist a trip down memory lane for a childhood food: pannenkoeken.
For the uninitiated, pannenkoeken are like crepes on steroids. These steering wheel-sized pancakes are eaten throughout the day and come with either minimalist—lemon and sugar—or maximalist—bacon, cheese and apples—toppings. There are dozens of places selling pannenkoeken throughout the city, but here are three of my personal favorites both as a seven and 27-year-old.
A sliver of a door roughly a third of the width of any normal building leads to a particularly vertiginous staircase, at the top of which patrons will find one of the city’s quirkiest pannenkoeken houses. Decorated with teapots suspended from the ceiling and boasting a mere four tables, this two-man show has been in operation since 1962. It’s worth the upward trek, but be sure not to make the same rookie mistake I did on my most recent visit. With so little space, it’s essential to book ahead, even on weekdays.
This fluorescent-lit diner makes up for what it lacks in ambiance with enormous sweet and savory crepes. International pancakes, including fluffy American-style flapjacks with bacon, are also on the menu, but what you want to order is a spinach pannenkoek doused in garlic oil and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts and pepitas. The whole calorie bomb comes topped with a slab of semi-solid goat cheese.
My favorite new discovery, although it's been in town for ages, this industrial-looking spot not far from the Anne Frank museum boasts especially inventive options and a friendly waitstaff. Seasonal specialties when I was there included pannenkoeken topped with goulash and autumn mushrooms or poffertjes (basically the yeasted, buttery lovechild of a doughnut hole and a pancake) with cinnamon ice cream, poached pears, cranberry compote, Belgian chocolate shavings and whipped cream. Although they’re best known for funky creations such as a Thai curry-topped crepe, I went with the classic apples and raisins.