If you’ve spent time in Amsterdam, you are bound to have passed by a few Indonesian restaurants. While at first Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam may strike you as strange, a quick skim of Dutch colonial history will swiftly explain the connection between the city and the islands of the Indonesian archipelago.
The star of the menu placed in the windows of these Indonesian restaurants is rijsttafel. A mouthful to pronounce and to enjoy.
What is Rijsttafel?
Meaning “rice table”, rijsttafel is a nearly unending parade of small plates all filled with different spicy-sticky-sweet Indonesian cuisine. All accompanied by rice, of course. The myriad of plates (typically in the dozens) are all laid out on the table at once in true feast fashion, and you simply help yourself to the selections as you wish.
Where Does Rijsttafel Come From?
Rijsttafel comes from Indonesia, and the dishes served are authentically Indonesian, but the concept of rijsttafel was certainly created by Dutch colonists living in Indonesia. Inspired by Nasi Padang, which is an Indonesian dish of rice surrounded by multiple meats and various vegetables in zesty sauces, the colonial Dutch created the massive feast we know today as rijsttafel as a way to sample as many different Indonesian dishes in one sitting as they possibly could.
Essentially, rijsttafel allowed the colonial Dutch people to sample regional dishes from as many of the far flung islands of Indonesia (there are thousands) as they possibly could in one meal. It was also a great way of impressing visitors and showing off the culinary wealth of their colonial empire. It took off in Amsterdam post-World War II when thousands of Indonesians migrated to the city; and since they knew the Dutch loved their rijsttafel, they set up the restaurants you see all over the city today.
Typical Dishes on a Rijsttafel in Amsterdam
Since it would take up too much space to mention all the dishes you might find on a typical rijsttafel (and, most importantly, I might get way too hungry and just run out to enjoy a rijsttafel instead of finishing this article), let’s just stick to a small sampling of what you can expect to be served. Keep in mind that every rijsttafel is different, and no matter what your personal tastes, you are sure to find something you quickly become obsessed with.
Beef Rendang – Slow cooked but crispy beef in coconut curry sauce
Tempeh Blado – Spicy and sweet tempeh
Saté – Creamy yet slightly spicy peanut sauce covering various meats or vegetables
Pisang Goreng – Crunchy fried banana fritters
Sambal Goreng Telor – Fried egg with tart and spicy Sambal sauce
Typically, roasted coconut and sweet and salty pickled vegetables will also be served as palate cleansers and tongue coolers.