Technically, a pancake is just a bit of thinly-spread egg-infused batter, baked on an oiled-up griddle, featuring in many cultures. But until you have tasted a pancake, or pannenkoek, in Amsterdam, you won’t have experienced the real thing, if you believe most Amsterdam tour guides. And when you see the extensive list of pancake eateries in Amsterdam, it is easy for this myth to take hold.
True, pannenkoeken are a focal point on the Dutch menu. No child’s birthday will go by without a pancake feast for friends, family and neighbours. The tradition itself is steeped in an even older one – pancakes were a pre-Lent treat for centuries.
However, other European countries have similar pancake customs, making this prominent place the humble pancake has in Dutch cuisine slightly circumspect. After all, if the pancake is allowed to be such an important item on the menu, can you expect much from the remainder of the Netherlands’ kitchen? Is there anything to speak of, besides the potatoes, meatball and vegetable meal Dutch mums fix their families day in day out?
I won’t get into this debate, except for mentioning that the Indonesian dishes you can taste in Amsterdam, and which have left a firm imprint in Dutch cookbooks, are unsurpassed, except for in Indonesia.
Pancakes are mostly for making children happy and I think that if the pulled meat hype that is currently single-handedly lifting the wrap cult to a higher level, could also be a solution for the surprise-me challenged pancake.
That said, the Dutch variety of the basic pancake is a brand of its own in that it is never dry without necessarily being oily. On a thickness scale, it holds the middle between a French crêpe and an American pancake. They are juicy due to the fact that there are many eggs in the batter and relatively little flour.
Dutch pancakes are mostly combined with sweet toppings, but when you go to a special pancake restaurant, you will be able to order savoury pancakes too. It is well worth going to a pancake house at least once – just to get it out of your system and to make up your own mind over whether the hype is justified or not.
These are five fool-proof pancake houses to visit:
1- Pancakes! Amsterdam at Berenstraat 38, is located in a listed building in the centre of Amsterdam. The pancake house is split over two levels, which adds to its authenticity. The cooks at this restaurant pride themselves in using as much local Dutch flour and eggs and organic produce as possible. Make sure you get here early, as no reservations are accepted and as this place is a popular haunt. Opening times daily 10am-9pm.
2- A less touristy place is Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs at the Grimburgwal 2. Be prepared to climb a set of the very steep and narrow stairs that are so typical of most Amsterdam residences, before entering an incredibly charming eatery. The pancakes at this place are some of the best in town.
3- The Pancake Bakery at the Prinsengracht 191, draws in the tourists as it is located closely to the Anne Frank house. But that is no bad thing, as the menu is extensive and as the quality of the pancakes is no less than the pancake places frequented by locals. Apart from satellite dish-sized pancakes, the menu includes poffertjes (tiny pancakes) as well as children’s meals. Salads and omelets here too.
4- Pannenkoekenhuis Candela at Bilderdijkstraat 61 is open at lunch time and you can reserve a table beforehand. The place started off as a chocolate boutique, and its pancake division is popular with the locals. In case you don’t feel like pancakes, just have a perfectly brewed cappuccino in the lovely outside courtyard.
5- In case you have children of playground age, you can venture out to the Pannekoekenhuis Flevopaviljoen, located at Flevopark 15. This eatery is located slap bang in the middle of a park with a huge play area. It is great for spending a relaxed afternoon.
One last tip – despite the cult of pancakes in the Netherlands, no Dutchman will eat them for breakfast. Pancakes are only for lunch or for dinner. So if you see a place filled to the brim with pancake eating individuals before 11 am, assume these are tourists.