See the original publication of this article at Urban Adventures
Amsterdam is a bright city. I am not talking about its iconic housing along the canals, rather than the people that occupy them, its locals. Despite its relatively low population as a capital city, it is home to over 180 nationalities making this one diverse city and a cultural melting pot. To make your quest to explore the impact of Amsterdam’s cultural diversity, grab your compass and head out to the suburbs.
To see some of the extent of Amsterdam’s cultural mix, one can simply walk around the up-and-coming neighbourhood, Indische Buurt located in Amsterdam Oost (East). The popular bar and restaurant strip Javastraat, located between Amsterdam’s first public park Oosterpark and Flevopark (home to an old Jewish cemetery, closed to the public) is a great example of the district’s ethnic mash-up. Like with many districts in Amsterdam, this area is currently undergoing gentrification with the emergence of trendy cafes and bars alongside long-standing multicultural shop-fronts. This picturesque boulevard hosts many community events throughout the year including food festivals, which give residents a taste of its own world kitchen, and a glimpse into cultural celebrations through music and dance. This is certainly a strip that heightens the senses!
Remaining at the core of this area is the unique fusion of Middle Eastern, Surinamese, Moroccan and Turkish influences reflecting the demographic of local residents in the area. Forget low carb diets as your nose will catch onto the pleasant smells of the freshly prepared baked goods wafting from one of the many Turkish bakeries. Snack on a Turkish pizza or get your hands around a Simit (Turkish pretzel) costing just lose change. An eye-catching array of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables are on display outside its many small international convenience stalls that also stock a variety of foodstuffs from the Middle East and beyond. The exotic flavours are not just for the taste buds to enjoy with the strip also home to Moroccan dressmakers shimmering up shop-fronts with their unique gold and silver beads and accessories. Many of Javastraats’ exotic stores are well-loved amongst locals who will make the trek here just to purchase their speciality items that have been so carefully sourced to bring the unique tastes of afar to Amsterdam.
Wandering the streets of Indische Buurt, aptly named after former Dutch colony, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) is easy as you will spot many family-run eateries bringing their essences of home to the tables of Amsterdam. Locals travel from far and wide to go to no-thrills takeout Roopram Roti. Showcasing the best of Suriname cuisines, it usually draws a crowd come night time for its hearty, home cooked curries. This former Dutch colony is a culture that itself has been draws from Chinese, African and Indonesian influences as well as the Caribbean so you could only imagine what a food adventure you will have!
Time to see the mashup of ethnic backgrounds in action at the popular Dappermarkt located on Dapperstraat. Home to hundreds of street stalls, this colourful yet slow paced global street market is immensely popular with locals due to variety of clothes, wares, trinkets and food stuff on offer at reasonably cheap prices. From Turkish tapenades to Greek Dolmatas to flavours of the Far East, this market offers a really glimpse the influences of its cultural diversity at play. Closer to home, the tastes of Dutch cuisine are ever so prominent with cheeses, stroopwafels, broodjes (sandwiches) and freshly cooked up fish snacks on offer – my ‘catch of the day’ is kibbeling (small bits of deep-fried fish) with mayonnaise garlic sauce, one bite and you will be hooked!
To understand the influences of Amsterdam’s diverse culture, one must look into its past and how Amsterdam is helping to shape the future for some of its new residents. A short stroll away (or bike ride I should say) is Amsterdam’s former Jewish Quarter which gives off no hint of its previous occupation. Ondertussen (translated to Meanwhile) is a collective of artists and creative types which supports newcomers to Amsterdam, particularly those coming from war-torn countries and with a refugee background. The organization’s aim is to bridge the gap between people of all ethnic backgrounds and organizations and allow people to come together to share their entrepreneurial and artistic skillset. Situated above the new National Holocaust Museum, the building itself has an extraordinary history as a former Jewish Daycare centre turn safe haven for hundreds of children during of World War II.
The Netherlands is a liberal nation and it is here in Amsterdam where you can really see the openness and tolerance of its locals and newcomers to cultures around the world. Forget the plane ticket, who knew that you could travel the world with pedal power?