When I joined the Jordaan Food & Canals Tour on a misty but surprisingly warm morning in December, I was very anxious to delve into the history of the buurt (or neighbourhood) where I’d once lived for half a year. But I wondered… how many secrets can such a tiny collection of streets hold? Well, 4 hours later, I found myself contentedly full of Dutch delicacies and much wiser for the experience. Here are just a few of the tidbits that our very knowledgeable and humorous guide had to share.
- The Rozengracht, the busy street which cuts through the Jordaan, was filled in at some point due to concerns about hygiene. Around the same time, the city also decided to build public bath houses (as no one had indoor plumbing) and required that all residents take one bath per week – whether they thought they needed it or not.
- Following the Protestant Reformation, the popular Cafe Papeneiland used to be a sort of refuge for Catholics – and it even has a hidden tunnel which leads to a secret church… and whose entrance you can still see!
- As we drifted through the canals in the lovely tour boat, the very charming captain told us that there are about 2 bikes for every resident of Amsterdam – and of those almost 2 million, almost 50,000 fietsen meet their watery grave in the canals every year.
- Still on the boat, we nibbled on the famed young Gouda cheese, which is so delectably creamy in part due to its size. Because the golden wheels are so big, the milk can circulate around as it ages.
- Advocaat was first brought back to the Netherlands by sailors from the Dutch Antilles, and its name referred to the fact that advocaat was actually made using avocado. Back in the Netherlands, they had to make do with what they had, so they substituted egg yolks instead. We tasted a fantastic pastry version of it.
- Not all canal house leans are created equal. Forward-leaning buildings were built that way on purpose as they were once warehouses. To get all of their goods into the building, the merchants would attach them to a rope from a pulley on the top of the building… a forward lean made sure that their wares wouldn’t bang against the wall. Sideways leans are usually because some of the wooden poles that form the foundation have started to rot.
- The blue crown at the top of Westerkerk was given by Emperor Maximilian of the Hapsburg Empire, who came to Amsterdam on a pilgrimage and was cured from an almost fatal illness.
- A rose by any other name… the Jordaan got its name from an old word for garden, which is why all the street names are flower and garden related. And if you get to walk around in the spring or summer, you’ll understand why: flowers are everywhere.
- Ossenworst sausage isn’t actually raw, despite its very red hue and soft texture. In fact, ossenworst is cured and has a delightfully smoky taste.
- The best season to get the famous Dutch herring is the spring: the abundance of plankton means lots of fish to catch in the North Sea, which means lots of fresh herring for Amsterdammers to eat. The return of ships with the freshest catch is referred to as “Vlaggetjesdag”, referring to the flags of the fishers coming into the harbor.
This is just a small sampling of the smorgasbord of food and facts that I was treated to on that Saturday afternoon. And if there were so many things I didn’t know, even after having lived here for 6 months, you can imagine that this tour is a great introduction to the culture and food of the lovely Jordaan neighborhood.