Eating my way through Europe: Herring and Heineken in Amsterdam

My flight made great time and we arrived half an hour early. With no bags and no sleep I was quick off the plane in hopes of getting in a quick nap before sightseeing. No luck though. After a short train ride to the city center I stopped in at the hotel and was told to come back at three. So, time for breakfast!

Amsterdam is small, pretty and very walkable. I had a short list of places I wanted to visit today, and all were in the southern “Museumplein” district at the south end of the city. Departing the hotel I made a beeline for a canal and had a lovely (and very quiet) morning stroll to my first stop: the Albert Cuypstraat Saturday market.

Markets were a huge part of our life when we lived in Paris. I miss shopping like this. The food is always so nicely laid out, and the vendors range from hawkers – who always have a deal on something – to afficiandos – who insist on knowing what you are cooking so they can find just the right piece. (Once, after telling a French butcher what I intended to do with a piece of meat, he outright refused to sell it to me.)

My first acquisition of the day was a giant Stroopwaffle – two thin waffles stuck together with syrup. This was a perfect snack to tide me over while I went searching for the real treasure, raw herring.

The “raw” part of raw herring is a bit of a misnomer. After being plucked from the North Sea, the herring is flash frozen (to prevent parasites) and then gutted, deboned, skinned and laid on salt for a bit. So less raw than sushi but more raw than ceviche. Traditionally it’s served with onions, sweet pickles and a tiny Dutch flag. I gather the idea is to use the toothpick to pick up the herring pieces, roll them in onion, and have a pickle chaser. 
I lucked out and stepped just outside of the market in search of coffee and found a small shop that seemed to be to fish what a deli is to pigs. I’ll make a note here so I can come back next time I’m in town. 

Mission accomplished, I left the market with a belly full of herring and wandered my way up and down the side streets of de pjip neighborhood until I found Museumplein.

Museumplein is home to several of the city’s art museums. I’d been here on my last trip to see Van Gough and taste genevar at the House of Bols. This time, I wanted to check out the Banksy exhibit at the Moco modern art museum. More on that later. 
Following the museum adventure I grabbed a crummy cup of coffee from a locale cafe and got horribly lost en route to my final destination, and only repeat visit, the Heineken Experience.

Heineken is a local brewery that grew up on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The museum has a typical brewery tour experience to it, but with a few extras that come with being a global brand. I appreciate the sections dedicated to post-prohibition growth, and the bits explaining that the founder was a chemical engineer and one of the pioneers of beer science. Previously, brewing was thought of as more similar to baking or cooking. The best part though is the view from the roof top bar at the end of the tour. 

After the tour I took the scenic route back home, passing locals relaxing in the sun all up and down the canals. I stopped in for a few snacks along the way, to keep my strength up. Amsterdam has no shortage of snacks, I suspect in part because of the local cannabis tourism. What came first, the munchies or the chorizo-manchego macarone?

On the way home I passed a Maoz Vegetarian, a falafel stop that we used to frequent when we lived in Paris. I figured I could go for some falafel, and so that made dinner for me. For dessert, Dutch apple pie. ūüôā followed by a very early bedtime and a glorious 11 hour slumber. 

Eating my way through Europe: Calgary Layover

I’m heading to a week long meeting in Zurich, and it’s totally for work!! Really!

But with all of the work comes a bit of free time, and with that free time I will be eating my way through the best the Netherlands and Switzerland have to offer. What better way to see a city than with my stomach? ūüėČ

My first stop wasn’t in Europe though. I have a short layover in Calgary where I’m enjoying exotic Canadian food.

That’s right. A teen burger, poutine and A&W Root Beer with sugar. None of which is available south of the border.

So good! But also, two days worth of calories in under ten minutes. Let the food coma commence in 3…2…zzzz….

Cooked Tuna Sushi

When we lived in Sydney, one of Xavier’s favorite snacks was sushi. Specifically, cooked tuna hand rolls. 

The hand roll part may be unfamiliar to folks; this is when the chef rolls a full maki style roll, and then cuts it in half instead of 6-10 pieces. It’s something I haven’t seen done often, but it’s a really convenient way to eat on the go. 

The cooked tuna thing should be familiar, but maybe not in Sushi. By cooked tuna, I mean tinned tuna, usually mixed with a bit of mayo. For whatever reason this turns out to be something you can get only in Australia. I don’t know why – it’s delicious. You all are missing out. 

Since emigrating, X keeps asking for sushi but all we can offer is kappa maki rolls instead. He’s let us know that America is letting him down, and I can’t say I blame him. 

After some long and hard searching we have finally found a place that will fill the gap. There is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, Blue C Sushi, in Kirkland that is a fun place to visit AND will custom roll cooked tuna hand rolls for X. They also have tasty cupcakes on the conveyor belt. ūüćį

I’m hoping that if we take him once a fortnight that he’ll take “one way ticket to Sydney Harbour” off of his Christmas list.


A side effect of living in the burbs is that there’s very little to go and do writhing walking distance. In fact, the only things within a mile of my front door are a convenience store, a forest and a butcher. 

I’ve been making friends over meat. 

For the first year or so we were here the local butcher was a stereotypically friendly Turkish fella, who always threw in a little extra something when you chatted him up. He did the butchering and his wife cooked halal friendly side dishes… Typical dips and salads. 

Something changed recently and my Turkish buddy was traded in for three bearded hipsters. I’m sad my buddy is gone. But the hipsters spit roast lamb once a week. Yummy, yummy lamb. 

They stick a sign up on lamb day letting you know when to come and collect the carvings. If you’re smart, you call ahead. Our first night trying it out we waited an extra forty minutes for our cut, but it was worth it. When we told Xavier we were eating lamb, he asked if it was dead. 

“Yes Xavier. The lamb is dead before it was cooked.”

“Aww… poor lamb.” He said while chewing on some shoulder. 

The next week we took the above photo. Again to the tune of “aww, poor lamb” followed by “can we eat it for dinner?”

Birthday Party!


Last weekend we hosted Xavier’s second birthday party in the park near our house. It was an awesome day outside, even for the dead of winter, and we got super lucky with both weather and location.

For his second Birthday, Mom baked up a storm – there were owl cupcakes and special cookies shaped like buttons (both for the Giggle and Hoot theme), fairy bread, sandwiches, a sausage sizzle, and drinks galore. Unfortunately, most of his guests don’t have teeth yet, so a lot of the bits ended up being extra towards the end. On the up side, Sarah was heading out to meet up with some friends from the local uni afterwards, and as everyone knows, grad students will eat anything, so nothing went to waste.

In addition to spoiling him with food, he was also spoiled rotten in terms of gifts. But I think that’s ok – we don’t buy him too many things on account of having only a little bit of place to put stuff, and so he was about due for a ‘things’ and toy refresh. My favourite new addition was a great new duvet and duvet cover from our friends Tom and Alex. He’s been sleeping so much better now that he doesn’t get cold at night.

All in all he had a blast – he spent the afternoon playing in the sunshine with all of his friends, and running back for ‘cake breaks’ (or maybe just icing breaks) whenever he felt a bit peckish.

That time we found a still in a flower garden

The entrance to the distillery. It just gets nicer after this.
The entrance to the distillery. It just gets nicer after this.

The fourth of six catch-up posts that I hope to get out in February.

One of the fabulous Christmas gifts we received from our chef friends was the Foodies Guide to Sydney. This is not a restaurant guide; I have plenty of those. This is a guide to grocery stores, gardens, markets, bakeries, coffee roasters, and other purveyors of fine foods. Seeing as vacation = food, this was the perfect accessory for our summer excursions.

We consulted the guide on several of our excursions, and on the first day Nick was here we opted to take a short detour through the Central Coast on account of the recommendation of Distillery Botanica – a Gin distillery just outside the city bounds. How could we pass up the opportunity to visit a fully operational distillery, especially one who specialises in Gin, and native botanical liqueurs?

Distillery Botanica ‚ÄĒ recently rebranded from St Fiacre ‚ÄĒ is set in an old gardening centre. The proprietor, Philip Moore, has a long history as a gardener, and after developing an allergy to the liquor of the region (wine) he decided to retool a little and start making spirits. In particular, he wanted to highlight the flavours of the region, and he incorporates local herbs and such into his products whenever possible.

A lot of his inspiration in the production was taken from the London Dry Gin style, and the flavours in the Gin are very familiar. He showed us around the distillery, and took us into the back to show us his two copper stills. The big one had six separate filtration chambers, each one allowing him to refine the taste in his raw alcohol to be a little cleaner than the chamber before.

Copper Pot Still
Copper Pot Still

After the tour, he took as back to the entrance for a tasting. We of course tried the gin (delicious!), but also some of his liqueurs. The raspberry liqueur was a clear crowd favourite. It tastes of purse raspberry with a nice balance of sweet and tart, and no hint of alcohol at all. His other, native flavours included things like Lemon Myrtle, Mountain Pepperberry, and Wild Lime. Each one was delicious as a digestif; but perhaps a little too sweet for my palate under normal circumstances. My favourites were all flavours that had a nice tart or spice to balance the sugar.

After the tasting (and buying) we took a quick trip around the gardens to stretch our legs. Philip told us that the entire area had been lovingly brought back to life using a delicate garden tool (a back hoe) about two years prior. You’d hardly know to look at it though. The path from the car park had a wide variety of flowering plants, and was teeming with small bugs and animals.

A butterfly resting on some white flowers near the entrance of the garden.
A butterfly resting on some white flowers near the entrance of the garden.
Lavender lines the interior courtyard.
Lavender lines the interior courtyard.

8 Great Vegetarian restaurants in Paris

This is another one of those lists that got stuck in my inbox for a while.

When we were living in Paris, we had a disproportionately large number of Vegetarians visit. We were always happy to see our friends, but it was sometimes a little tricky for them to find good eats. The French are not known to have a strong culture of vegetarianism (some of the things I’ve seen them do to vegetables has been downright shocking).

If you’re pescatarian, or at least ovo-lacto, you’ll always be able to find an option. If you find your diet a little more restrictive, then perhaps some of these options might help.

  • Crepes and Falafal were a staple for our veg friends.¬†For Falafal, either¬†L’as du falafal¬†(a tourist staple) in the Marais, or¬†Maoz¬†(our preference) near St Germain. Crepes are pretty common everywhere, but my favourite place is a street facing vendor near Opera Bastille, on the corner of Rue de la Roquette called¬†Le Bastille.
  • Krishna Bhavan¬†in the 10th is a good bet for Indian food.
  • For Chinese, I’d recommend¬†Tien Hiang. I think that it’s a Buddhist restaurant; they do tasty faux-meat if you’re traveling with a carnivore. There are two locations — the one at 14 Rue Bichat, 75010 is a tad sketchy. I’d go to the one at 170 Rue Du Faubourg, Saint Denis instead.
  • I’ve heard great things about¬†Le Grenier de Notre Dame¬†from a few different folk. They were one of the earliest Vegetarian / Macrobiotic restaurants in Paris, and have a good range of food.
  • There’s an organic pizza place on at #8 Rue Cadet, called Green Pizz, that has really good pizza, and plenty of veg options.
  • La Paradise du Fruit¬†is a chain that should be pretty easy to find. They are a themed restaurant, and everything must contain a fruit of some kind. This lends itself well to vegetarian offerings. In addition to the tasty food, they have killer ice cream sundaes. Feel free to bring your carnivores; this is the only place on the list that has hunk-of-meat options.
  • And finally, the best way to eat Vegetarian in Paris: The markets! We spent a lot of nights enjoying delicious produce from the local markets. There’s never a shortage of tasty cheese, baguette, fruit, pistachios and wine.

There are more options on Happy Cow. These are just the ones that I can personally recommend.

A rough guide to Vancouver restaurants, cafe’s and more

Since moving away from Vancouver nearly 5 years ago, I keep meeting people on their way to the city who ask me for tips and places to go/eat/see/etc.

I emailed a bunch of tips for eats and such to a friend a few years back; since then, I’ve forwarded it on to a dozen or more people with a few minor edits here and there. I figure that by posting it here, hopefully it will see a few more eyeballs than it will in my inbox.

Keep in mind that these recomendations aren’t totally up to date, and they are very downtown centric. You’ll get different¬†suggestions if you want to stay in the valley, or near UBC or SFU. (Don’t stay near SFU.)

The food suggestions are a mix bag of cost/quality – everything from street meat to Michelin rated restaurants. Out of all of the places on my list, Burgoo is the one that I always make time for when I’m visiting friends. The line is ridiculous on weekends, but the food is really tasty and not bad on price.

For Food…

  • Local:¬†Raincity Grill¬†‚Äď specializes in regional cuisine. Most of the food comes from the area. This is the best place I can think of to get a taste of Vancouver and was one of our favourite restaurants, despite several less-than-awesome experiences. It has a nice view of the ocean; see if you can time a sunset seating on the patio for a great night. For a cheaper meal, they do a nice takeaway lunch special out the window on the side of the building.
  • Indian:¬†Vij‚Äôs¬†‚Äď this is an incredibly good indian restaurant. They serve upper end dishes, and can have a line. Reservations are¬†recommended. There is a side-restaurant to Vij’s that serves slightly less fancy fare at slightly lower prices – it’s another great choice.
  • Steak:¬†The Keg¬†is a great place to have a delicious steak at a good price. There are better (more expensive) steak houses in Vancouver, but I find that the Keg offers a great cut of beef at an OK price. My favorite location is the one on Burrard and Robson.
  • Thai:¬†Simply thai¬†is my favourite place. The lunch specials are a great deal, and they are located in an interesting shopping neighborhood, Yaletown. Sarah prefers the¬†Thai Chili House¬†under the Burrard street bridge. The food is nice here too, more tropical, and the view is better.
  • Japanese: There are better places, but¬†Tsunami sushi¬†is where I take all of my guests for the first sushi experience. Sit at the bar and pick sushi off of boats as they float past. If you‚Äôd¬†rather do¬†other japanese, Hapa Izakayi is an amazing place as well, but more expensive.
  • Fusion:¬†Guu¬†is a very popular fusion restaurant. They have three locations, each is a little different. The gastown location is my favourite, and they will occasionally do Korean/Mexican fusion (read:¬†bulgogi tacos)
  • Seafood:¬†Joe Fortes¬†is supposed to be great, but is expensive in my mind. There is another restaurant, underneath the bridge on Granville island that I think is better, called Bridges.
  • Breakfast: Oh so many choices. I love breakfast.¬†Provence, in Yaletown,¬†does a fantastic brunch and is a little fancy; they are also the only place I know that makes a Dark and Stormy, quite an interesting cocktail (perhaps not for breakfast though).¬†Sophie‚Äôs cosmic cafe¬†is pretty good as well, but it‚Äôs quite a different experience, very chintzy. For total dive breakfast, you can’t beat Denman street for a $4 special. Finally, some friends have turned us on to¬†The Wallflower Diner¬†– it’s medium/low range in pricing but has a great atmostphere and consistently good food.
  • Canadian/american: By this, I mean Burgers. If you walk down Davie Street towards Denman, and turn right on Denman, you will have passed the three best burger places in the city.¬†Vera‚Äôs Meat Shack¬†is my favourite, but there are lots of others that are great.
  • Irish: The¬†Irish Heather¬†is a great place to grab a beer and a delicious meal. It‚Äôs in Gastown, which is a pretty intersting neighborhood. It‚Äôs historic and touristy by day, it‚Äôs the bar district by night. This is one of my favourite places to get a beer.
  • Beer: If I’m not at the Heather, I’d stop by¬†Steamworks, also in Gastown. The Raspberry beer (Frambozen) is superb, as is the Pumpkin Ale in the fall. For those who don’t drink, they have a nice in-house root beer and cream soda. For relaxing hangouts for those who aren’t into Beer, I’d recomend¬†Chill Winston. And, if Gastown doesn’t work for you, I’ve been recommended to Biercraft, the Whip and Alibi Room for tasty drinks. To be honest though, I haven’t been to those last three so ymmv.
  • Veg:¬†There are tons of good options, include most of the places on this list. However, a standoutish location is definitely¬†the Naam. ¬†They’ve been around for about 45 years, and are a local staple.
  • home cookin:¬†Burgoo¬†is a restaurant on Main that specializes in ‘Comfort food’. Everything here tastes like it was made by someone‚Äôs Mom. And she’s a great cook.
  • Bar-b-q:¬†Memphis Blues¬†is the best restaurant.¬†I used to prefer¬†Dix, because they had better music (blues) and beer, but they’ve sadly shut their doors.
  • Street Meat: Japadog is a really great hot dog experience. They have a location downtown on robson, and a food cart near Robson and Burrard, in front of a hotel. The food cart is definitely the most fun. I hear they opened a place up in NYC about two years back. If you don’t like hot dogs, the Falafal stands on Robson just south-east of the Art Gallery are great.
  • Donuts: Until recently, if you’d asked about donuts I would have said Tim Hortons without hesitation. However, on our last trip our friends introduced us to Cartem’s Donuterie¬†in the DTES. The Bacon&Bourbon donuts, and the Salted Caramel are out of this world. They even have Gluten Free donuts for those who need a fix and have trouble at the normal shops.
  • Other:¬†I don’t know what category this falls into, but I couldn’t finish the list without mentioning the¬†Vancouver Art Gallery. This is really a hidden gem. The food here is very good (albeit microwaved), and very reasonably priced. They also have a lovely patio; if you find yourself downtown on a sunny day, it’s hard to beat a trip to the VAG.

For Coffee…

For me, Coffee is worth a separate category of it’s own. If you are into that sort of thing, you can find a Starbucks everywhere (we used to even have them across the street from each other). If you‚Äôre not a fan of Starbucks, Tim Horton‚Äôs is a good place to go as well. I‚Äôve been told they brew coffee in the German style. A bagel, donut and ‘large double double’ from Tim’s is pretty common Canadian fare.
That said, if you’d like really good coffee, try:
  •¬†for fancy latte‚Äôs and ridiculously fancy drip coffee. (They advertise that they sell the worlds most expensive beans). If you happen to be Australian, go here, you won’t be disappointed.
  • JJ Bean¬†is another popular chain, with solid drip coffee. It’s somewhere between Starbucks and Timmie’s in terms of strength.
  • The¬†Wicked Cafe¬†makes incredible, life changing, americanos. I would go here for sure. My favourite location is on 7th ave, but there is one downtown near the art gallery as well.
  •¬†is an offshoot of Artigiano, and makes really, really good iced coffee. There used to only be one of these, but they now have a few extra locations.

For Arts…

  • The¬†Art‚Äôs Club Theatre¬†is Vancouver‚Äôs premiere mid-range theatre company. I‚Äôve enjoyed every show I‚Äôve seen.
  • The¬†Vancouver Symphony¬†is an incredible orchestra, and tickets are usually very cheap. If you show up within 2 hours of the start of the show you can buy rush seats for <$20.
  • The¬†Vancouver Art Gallery¬†is centrally located downtown. They have a nice general collection of Canadian art on the top floor, and a decent rotating collection as well. A lot of the asian artists¬†they get are very interesting.
  • If you’re into that sort of thing,¬†Ballet BC¬†is really quite good. They’ve always impressed me with their athleticism, and consequently their ability to make difficult moves look graceful.

For Athletics…

Being Sporty:

  • The¬†grouse grind¬†is as Vancouver as you can get. You make your way up to the top of¬†Grouse Mountain (it takes some effort, but it‚Äôs doable by almost everyone), have a beer at the top, and take a gondola back down. This is a good way to spend a morning or afternoon.
  • Skiing is great. The top place for skiing is likely Whistler, but Grouse is a solid alternative if you want something close to the city for a little cheaper.
  • If you want to see whistler, but are visiting in the summer, the zipline courses are supposed to be nice. I hear there’s good mountain biking here too, but you’d have to have a bike.
  • The beach in downtown is very nice. I prefer the beach near Stanley Park (that’s my west end bias talking), most people prefer ‘Second beach’ on the kits side of the water.

Watching Sports:

  • The Canucks (Pro Hockey) and Vancouver Giants (Junior hockey) seasons usually start in October.
  • The¬†Vancouver Canadiens¬†(baseball) runs over for the summer.
  • The BC Lions – American Style Football, but with Canadian rules – runs Summer through Fall. If you go to a Lion‚Äôs game, buy the tickets from a 7/11, they are very cheap and good enough seats and you get a free slurpee.

Places not to go…

First, it’s worth noting that there’s really no where in the city that’s too unsafe. That said, for first time visitors to Vancouver, I would recommend to avoid the following:
  • Don‚Äôt go to China town, it‚Äôs really just not that interesting and is a little shady.
  • Stay away from the 2 blocks surrounding the corner of Hasting‚Äôs and Main. It‚Äôs easy to wander off in that direction if you are down town. There are no unsafe places in Vancouver, but it‚Äôs just not a very nice place to be; this is the poorest neighborhood in the country, and there are a lot of addicts hanging out on the corners. Things have gotten a lot better in recent years, but it’s still not a nice place to stroll.

What’s this? We found a social calendar!

I don’t know when it happened exactly. Some time over the winter we managed to find ourselves with a very active social calendar. Between Mommy Groups, and play groups, and work events, and tourist happenings, and random fun with friends, we are keeping actually quite busy. It’s certainly an improvement over our first few months in France. I’m pretty sure that in Paris by about this point we were just realizing that the few people we had met were about to return to whichever country they had come from as their studies had ended.

I’m going to try my best to keep this site updated with our goings on, but between the active life, work and baby duties, we’ve been tighter than normal – and normally I’m not very quick on the updates.

A couple of weeks back, we had a lovely weekend with three different groups of friends. On the Friday, one of my colleagues was getting married, and invited us out for the occasion. Weddings are always special, and this one was triply so as [1] it was Xavier’s first babysitter, and [2] we were headed out to Quai – one of Sydney’s fanciest restaurants. Between the sunshine, the food, and new friends, everyone ended up a little spoiled.

The view from the Quai dining hall.

The following day, we had two house warmings to attend, sadly on opposite ends of the city, about 70 minutes apart. We made the executive decision to attend the one with the Portuguese food (well, Brazillian, but close enough) up in Dee Why, one of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. While we gorged ourselves on Feijoada, Xavier got to spend some time with a few older boys playing ball.

Finally, Sunday had us out at the baptism (dedication?) of a friends son, Hunter. Sydney is the home of one of the world’s most prominent protestant churches, Hillsong, and Sarah and I had been meaning to check it out since before we arrived in the city. Unfortunately, the two times we had tried before we got lost on the way, and some how ended up exploring the pubs out in Surrey Hills instead. This time though, equipped with a car, a GPS and a little extra incentive, we managed to make it on time. The service was huge! And the dedication was lovely.

Xavier also had the bonus of attending his first ever Sunday school. As nervous parents (well, just me really) I popped in to check on him a few times during the service, and noticed that he was a little different than the other kids. While everyone else was listening to the lady at the front, and following along with books and stories, X was hanging out on his own playing with a piano. Maybe we have a future worship leader? Social pariah?

Given the amount of interaction X had with other kids over that weekend, this trend of mild isolation was actually feeling pretty prominent. We watched him a bit more, and asked the Sunday School teacher what she thought, and the general opinion seems to be that he is an exceptionally well adjusted little boy, with higher than average self confidence and independence. We’ve had that echoed a few times since by other folks who have a background in emotional well being. Considering that his first (and nearly all subsequent) steps were away from us, we had a notion that he was independent. It was reassuring to hear that it’s a good thing.

I suppose that overall this was an atypical weekend for our lot, but not so much that it stands out. The feeling of being settled in is definitely there. We have a touch more work to do with integrating into larger child-friendly-networks of parents and carers, but we feel well on the way.

MasterChef Cookalong

This past Thursday, Sarah took cooking class to learn how to make deep fried wonton.

The really cool thing is that she didn’t even have to leave the apartment — it was a virtual class, hosted by semi-celebrity chef Mindy Woods via Google+.

Non-Australian viewers may not know that name: Mindy was a Top-5 Finalist on this years MasterChef Australia. I understand that MasterChef runs in other countries, but it might be a bit different here. This show is huge, capturing about 10% of  australian television viewers, six nights a week for two months.

And so, through the magic of the internets, Mindy came into three kitchens around Australia and offered direct guidance (I want to say hands on, but it wasn’t really) to some amateur cooks. We also had family and friends in at least four different North American cities following along live.

We did have to make a few modifications to our kitchen:

You can see some of the finished product there on the left. It was deep fried wonton with prawn and rougette (I don’t know the English name for that fish). Sarah also learned to make a sweet chili sauce, which you can see in the ramekin.

In case you missed it, and want to watch Sarah’s online cooking debut, it was recorded for YouTube.