The Dutch, packed into a small country that lies mostly below sea level, are known for their experimentation and ingenuity. For a long time, that was not necessarily reflected in the traditional culinary offerings, which have relied on comfort foods such as bitterballen bar snacks, sweet or savory pancakes, and raw herring. For sure, you should indulge in those specialties, as well as try an Indonesian rijsttafel, or "rice table." You can still come for the sugary stroopwafels, but stay for the recent focus on sustainability. In the capital of Amsterdam, where the most innovative and accessible projects can be found, more restaurants are showcasing zero-waste practices and creative reuses of buildings and materials. In some cases, even the ingredients are secondhand.
At Moer Restaurant (conscioushotels.com; Amstelveenseweg 7; 011-31-20-820- 3330), inside the Tire Station, a hotel under the Conscious Hotels brand, breakfast-goers can enjoy a buffet (about $18.60) that is unlike the typical Dutch hotel offering. Instead of multiple tables covered with meats, cheeses, bread and sweets, where you're pretty sure half the food will be tossed, Moer has set up a small but lip-smacking spread of all-organic offerings. The restaurant's choices, and its plant-filled decor, are in line with the hotel's philosophy of sustainability and reuse. That includes the building, a former Michelin tire shop, as well as the serving pans, made from old train tracks. Tangy juices are sourced from Dutch orchards, and dairy and egg products come from a farm north of the city. The crunchy, homemade granola and chewy, flavorful breads are enhanced with grain and beer waste from Dutch brewery Gulpener. The brand's fourth location is set to debut soon, with Conscious Hotel Westerpark on the edge of Westergasfabriek, an old gasworks complex transformed into a cultural center. There, similarly sourced breakfast items will be sold as packages (about $18 to $22) or a la carte.
When you arrive at Cafe De Ceuvel (deceuvel.nl; Korte Papaverweg 4; 011-31-20-229-6210) in North Amsterdam, your first thought might be, wait, you're telling me to eat here? Absolutely. The setting, a former commercial shipyard at the end of a canal off the IJ river, is an urban experiment in sustainability. Inside the cluster of beached houseboats, topped with solar panels and connected by a raised wooden walkway, are work spaces for artists and eco-forward entrepreneurs. The rambling wooden building fronted by a porch filled with homemade picnic tables and fully built of reused materials looks suspect. But step inside and you'll find immediate gezelligheid, or coziness, and a limited menu of outrageously delicious dishes. The spring lineup includes a cauliflower salad (about $11.75), with well-seasoned florets, Romanesco broccoli, fresh herbs, strips of tangy caramelized rhubarb, locally sourced goat cheese and dates filed with almond cream cheese. De Ceuvel's take on the ubiquitous Dutch croquette (about $10), often filled with an unidentifiable meat mixture, is made with oyster mushrooms grown in coffee grounds. If you're looking for a sustainable meat option, try a sandwich of smoked wild goose shot at Schiphol airport through a culling project, served with pickles, candied shallots and a horseradish yogurt sauce (about $11). The meat comes from Kitchen of the Unwanted Animal, an Amsterdam food service true to its name. Drinks include local beers, sodas and kombucha.
Instock (instock.nl; Czaar Peterstraat 21; 011-31-20-363-5765) started in 2014 as a pop-up with a brilliant concept, using only surplus food for ingredients and wasting nothing. Since then, the nonprofit restaurant has gotten smarter and larger, expanding with outposts in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. The unused food comes from Albert Heijn, the country's largest supermarket chain. So much of it comes in that Instock has set up its own wholesale distribution center to serve other restaurants. Larger quantities have allowed Instock to somewhat standardize menus, said co-founder Freke van Nimwegen. Still, every day is a bit of an adventure. The four-course prix fixe menu (about $36.50) on a recent visit was an all-around winner. The starter was a well-seasoned pumpkin and sweet potato soup topped with crunchy veggie chips made from the peels. For the second plate, we had a beautifully arranged profiterole, or pastry puff, filled with fermented tomato juice and rested on creamed smoked mackerel, surrounded by sauce made from green-bean juice. The main course starred flavorful fennel sausage with crunchy roasted veggies and creamed peas. Bananas populated the dessert - a banana waffle served with banana compote, a burned banana, perfect meringue and a sprinkling of toast crumbs. The cherry on top: It's a nice feeling to do good while eating well.
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Daniel is a writer based in the Netherlands. Her website is bydianedaniel.com.