First Timer’s Guide to Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto & Osaka)

We just came back from a week in Japan. This has been my favorite trip to date. The food was great for every budget. The people were very friendly. Despite the language barrier, we were always helped when we asked questions. Navigation was not hard because we had portable WiFi with us and google maps worked great. But finding the right gate or exit was sometimes a bit confusing since a lot of the stations were big and everything was in Japanese. We very often had to ask someone to help us find our way. It is definelty a country I would like to return to explore more of it. Or even go back to Tokyo just to eat. We were not sure what to expect there so we did a lot of research before our trip, to just to make it easier on us.

So here are my tips:

WiFi

  • Not many places offer free WiFi. Google maps works great to get around and to get public transport information but you can’t download it for Japan. So, you have to be online to be able to use it. Japanese people are very friendly and eager to help you, but the majority speaks very little to no English. Being able to use google translate and just being able to look anything up when we wanted to, just made our trip so much easier. It was definitely worth it for us. 
  • We rented a pocket WiFi device from Ivideo. Pieter found a discount code online. We ordered one for 8 days and we paid about 23 euros for it. We ordered it online and picked it up at the post office at the airport. It came fully charged and was ready to go. We could use it for up to 4 devices. The battery life lasted about 10 hours so in the evening, I would just charge it with a power bank while we were on the go. Ours came with a return envelope. So, before we left, we just dropped it off at one of the mail boxes at the airport. There were also stands where you can directly rent them at the airport, but it might be cheaper to do your research and rent it online. 

Transportation

The JR pass:

  • If you are planning on travelling through Japan, get a JR pass. With this pass you can travel throughout the country for a set price. The JR pass includes the Hikari Shinkansen (bullet train) which takes you from Tokyo to Kyoto (2 hours & 40 minutes) and from Kyoto to Osaka (15 minutes).  
  • If you are travelling with the JR pass, make sure to check online which trains are covered by it. For example, the Hikari bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto is covered but the Nozomi train which is 15 minutes faster is not covered. And the Kodama (also a bullet train) is covered but it is the slowest train, because it makes more stops.
  • You buy the JR pass online, it is only for tourists. Once you’ve bought it, you will get an exchange order sent to your home abroad and once you are at the airport, you exchange the voucher for the actual pass. Make sure to keep it safe. If you lose it, you cannot get refunded. 
  • You can buy it for 7, 14 or 21 days. Yo have to turn in your exchange order to get the JR pass within 3 months of purchase. So, don’t buy it earlier than 3 months before your trip.   
  • The JR pass also includes the Yamanote line which is a circular line that runs through major stops in Tokyo. To check in, you just have to show your pass to one of the officers at the booth next to the card check gates. 
  • Another tip, if you are taking the Hikari bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto or the other way around, make sure to get a seat on the side with 2 seats. This way you will be able to see Mount Fuji. The rows are switched to the direction the train goes, so the 2 seats will always have a view to the volcano. 

The Suica card:

  • This is a rechargeable transport card that you can use for public transport in Tokyo. We also used it to get around in Kyoto and Osaka. We bought one at the same booth where we got out JR passes at the airport. They charge you 500 Yen as a safety deposit. You can re-charge it at the machines on the stations. When you leave, you can return it at one of the machines at the airport and get the money that you still have on the card back. The machine just charges you about 200 Yen as a transaction cost.
  • The Suica card also works on some vending machines and some convenience stores. You can see if they accept it, if you see the logo. 

Payment:

  • Japan is a cash country. Make sure you always have enough cash with you. We could use a credit card in some stores, but most food places we went to were cash only. There are usually ATMs at convenience stores like 7 eleven. We withdrew some cash from our bank at the airport before our flight so we would just have some ready with us. One less thing to do when arriving. 
  • A lot of food shops and stands have a sort of vending machine where you can pick your dishes and pay to the machine. And then you wait to be seated down. So again, have cash with you. And prepare to wait in line, if a place is popular. 
  • In some places, the prices include tax and in some don’t. 

Etiquette:

  • Don’t leave a tip. Japanese believe that service should always be great and can get offended if you tip them. So just don’t. One less thing to calculate!
  • Don’t eat and drink while walking. It is frown upon. It is better to eat next to the shop where you bought your food/drink from, because you can’t find trash cans everywhere.
  • Trash cans: Japan is a very clean country and even though you cannot find that many trash cans on the streets, people don’t litter. If you buy food, you eat it inside (or next to) the shop where you bought it from. We would just find a spot to eat without disturbing traffic. You can more easily dispose of the trash where you bought it from, if the shop doesn’t have one, you can ask a person working there to disposed of it for you.
  • Public toilets are more easily found that trash cans in Japan. They are usually very clean and unlike the Netherlands, they are for free. 
  • Walk on the left side (like the way they drive). If you are on the escalator, keep to your left if you are not in a rush. The right side if for people who walk it.
  • This might be a given but it is just nice to remember. Especially in Tokyo where everywhere is crowded, so if you need to stop to look for directions, etc. Try to step aside, don’t just stop in the middle where there is a lot of people traffic. People are too polite to say something but it is better to not disturb the flow. 
  • Learn a few basic Japanese words. Arigato (thank you) and Oishii (delicious) were our favorite words to use. 
  • Form a line for taking the metro and train.You will see markings on the floor. Even for the escalator, people will form a neat line. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t skip the line. 

Tax free shopping:

  • Some stores offer you a tax refund. But this only works if you have your passport with you. 

TOKYO

Where to eat:

Ichiran Ramen

This is a minimal interaction ramen shop. You choose your ramen from a vending machine. You pay to the machine so make sure to have cash with you. Then you get a little form where you can customize your ramen. And finally, you get seated in your very own little cubicle. You will have a bamboo roll up window blind in front and that’s where your food will come from without you seeing the face of your waiter. You also get your personal water on tap for free. 

Flipper’s (Soufflé pancakes)

This shop specializes in soufflé pancakes. And they were the fluffiest I have ever had. When we were there they had a limited time one that came with strawberry gelato covered in mochi and fresh strawberries. I recommend you to try it if they still have it when you go. 

Sushi No Midori

This restaurant has great sushi for a reasonable price. And it is very popular because of that. It opens at 11am. We were there at around noon and there was already a huge line. 

There is a machine outside of the restaurant (next to the take-out area) where you have to get a ticket with your number before sitting down to wait in line. Don’t forget to get your ticket because at least when we were there, there was no one to tell you that you should get a ticket. A person from the restaurant would come out every so often to call the numbers (with a number board, so don’t worry about the Japanese). If you don’t mind waiting, request to be seated at the bar while you get your number at the machine. It’s a nicer experience to see the chefs preparing your dishes. We paid around 40 euros for the both of us.

Misoya Hachiro Shoten (Ramen)

This ramen shop specializes in tonkotsu (pork bone) and miso based ramen. It was incredible! You also need to pay to a vending machine before sitting down. So again, don’t forget to have cash with you.

Gekko (Mochi)

This is a traditional mochi and tea house. They make the mochi by hand every morning. The restaurant only sits 12 people and they only make a limited amount. Go early if you want to try something specific from their menu. The restaurant opens at noon. We arrived around 2pm on a Sunday and we had to wait in line for about 1 hour. By the time we got seated, there were already quite a few items sold out from the menu. They serve savory and sweet mochi. I would definitely recommend to give it a try. Once thing to keep in mind, they have a sign outside of the door that says that they don’t allow children aged 6 and under inside. I didn’t know why until I posted in on my stories and one of you guys said it was probably a choking hazard. After a little bit of research online, I read that in fact young children and elderly people who cannot chew properly can suffocate if it is not cut down into very small pieces. 

Tonkatsu Maisen 

This restaurant specializes in crispy fried pork cutlet. It was incredibly tender. We had two menu items. Both came with rice and miso soup. We paid about 30 euros for the both of us. 

Itteki Hassenya (Udon noodles)

This shop specializes in udon noodles. Their chicken tempura was also great. I know they offer a lunch especial where you can try two different kinds of udon dishes but we went there for dinner.

Piss alley (Omoide Yokocho)

It’s a small street full of small restaurants and bars. It used to have only one bathroom so the visitors would relieve themselves in the alley, hence the nickname. This is a great place for yakitori (skewered meat). 

Ameyoko Market

This market is full of food stands where you can try anything from sushi, to Chinese dumplings, kebabs, fresh fruit on a stick among other things. We really enjoyed sharing some bites there. 

Tomato (Korean food and BBQ)

It is located in Shin-Okobu which is Tokyo’s Korea Town. The area is worth visiting since it has a lot of street food stands, restaurants and Korean beauty shops. This restaurant offers Korean food and BBQ.

For Coffee or tea:

Blue Bottle 

This was a must stop for us since we had one close to our hotel. Can’t start the day without a good cup of coffee.

Café Kitsuné

Great coffee with some Parisian food

The Alley (Bubble tea)

I loved their brown sugar bubble milk tea and their Aurora series iced tea which was made with butterfly pea flower.

For Street food:

Korean potato corn dog

There are many different stands that sell this popular dish on a stick. We had the one with mozzarella cheese (without the hot dog). It’s pretty impossible to not run into one of these if you are in Tokyo. We always saw a line of teenage girls eating them. Do what the locals do was our motto when it came to street food. We didn’t add any sugar to ours though. 

Popo Hottoku 

This is a stand in Korea Town (Shin-Okobu). They sell Hottoku, which is a sweet Korean pancake. We had the one with honey & cheese, and it was so delicious. We came back on our last day to have it again but we were too late and it was already closed. We did buy the ready to mix box at one of the supermarkets in the same area to try to make it at home.

The Gindaco

They make Takoyaki (mini savory round pancakes stuffed with octopus) and they are located all over Tokyo. 

Eiswelt Gelato 

They serve the cutest ice creams.

Totti Candy factory

They sell the famous rainbow cotton candy.

Pablo 

They serve mini cheese tarts in many flavors. We had the one with sakura mochi and the one with strawberry. So delicious. 

Convenience Stores

There are 7 Eleven and other convenience stores that are open 24 hours pretty much on every street. When we had very early days, we would just grab a sandwich and some onigiri there to have for breakfast. 

Vending machines

There are also vending machines with drinks pretty much on every street. 

About the Cherry blossoms

We were lucky to see some cherry blossom in full bloom while we were in Tokyo. We were a bit too early when we arrived, but on our last day we got lucky. We went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden because I had read that this park had then most variety of cherry blossom. So you were most likely to see some in full bloom during the season (some kinds bloom earlier and some are late blooms). The park opened at 9am and they charge 500 Yen (about 4 euros) entry fee. Because we knew it is very popular during this time of the year, we arrived at 8:30am and there was already a line. I do advise you to go early if you want to take nice pictures. No alcohol is allowed here.

Purikura (Japanese Photo booth)

These are the popular photo booths where you can edit the pictures to make your eyes look bigger, put filters and stamps on. It is very popular among teenagers and just an overall fun experience if you are in Japan. There are many all over the city. Just search for Purikura on google maps. We went to one located on Takeshita street in Harajuku.

Shopping:

Don Quijote

This is the most popular discount store in Japan. While I wouldn’t call their prices the cheapest (We did see some of the same items cheaper on other random stores that we walked into), it was nice to visit because they have such a huge stock of items. The store has many floors ranging from beauty to electronics, to food and souvenirs. They have many stores all over Tokyo. We literally spent hours there. 

Tokyu Hands

This is a department store. They had a bit of everything from home goods to pet accessories. 

Ito Yokado (supermarket)

We went to the one in Shinjuku because it was the closest to our hotel. It was in a more residential area but we really liked it because it was a proper big supermarket. I love visiting supermarkets abroad not just to buy stuff to bring back home but also to see what the locals buy and eat. 

Where to stay in Tokyo:

We stayed at the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. The location was perfect. Just a short walk from Shinjuku station. And they have a bus service to the airport. Our room was small but very clean. We didn’t have breakfast there. We paid around 138 euros per night. 

KYOTO

We found Kyoto very beautiful. Our first stop there was the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest which is open all day. We were lucky that the tram that went directly there was only about a block away from our hotel. We arrived around 8 am and it was already starting to get busy, so taking a nice picture without a crowd was just a waiting game. We saw some couples running towards the end of the forest to take pictures. Towards the end, the path gets a bit more narrow. 

At the end of the bamboo forest, you can just keep walking following the river and end up at % Arabica Kyoto Arashiyama which is a really good coffee shop.

After that we headed towards Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Because it was already later in the morning, the crowd here was much larger but we still managed to take some nice pictures if we were just patient enough to wait for the right moment. Going up to the shrine is a really nice walk in nature so we really enjoyed it. By the time we were leaving, we had already worked up an appetite. And luckily enough they have many food stands at the bottom of the shrine. More expensive than street food because it’s a touristy place but the food was still nice. We loved the Mitarashi Dango which is grilled mochi on a stick brushed with a sweet soy sauce glace. 

After that we headed towards the Higashiyama district which is the preserved historic district. It is where you will find a more traditional old Kyoto. The streets are lined with small shops, cafes and restaurants. It was really nice to walk around. But we were there during the middle of the day and it was very crowded.

Where to eat and have coffee:

Omen (Udon)

I loved this Udon restaurant. I had the cold udon with crispy tempura and Pieter had the hot soup noodles with baby shrimp and mackerel sushi.

% Arabica Kyoto Arashiyama (Coffee)

This coffee shop is just a little walk from the end of the bamboo forest if you follow the river. They do offer soy or almond milk which is rare in Japan. 

Where we stayed in Kyoto:

We stayed at Karaksa Hotel Kyoto One. It is a small hotel. Our room was tiny but it was very clean and the service was great. We had a metro stop right across the street and the tram that went directly to the bamboo forest was only a block away. We paid about €85 per night.O

OSAKA

We took the Hikari bullet train from Kyoto to Osaka. It was covered by our JR passes and it only took 15 minutes. We actually came to Osaka because I really wanted to try the famous Rikuro jiggly cheesecake. It is super popular and we had to wait in line to get one. I love cheesecake but I was a bit disappointed with this one. We got one right out of the oven so it was still warm. It was missing something like vanilla for me. It was too eggy in taste and I wasn’t a fan that it was still warm. It wasn’t horrible or anything like that, just not my kind of cheesecake. I’m still happy I got to try it, so at least it is off my list.

After that we just walked a bit around the city and then took the train back to Kyoto where we were staying since Pieter was sick with a cold and we were very tired. So, we didn’t do much else there. 

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.

The Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Celebrates Its 5 Year Anniversary

During the whole month of May, the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Amsterdam will celebrate its 5-year anniversary with some especial menus and a lottery raffle if you use any of the hotel services. 

They will celebrate with a special Anniversary Afternoon Tea. I tried it today and it is still my favorite high tea in Amsterdam. There is so much attention to detail in every dish and the flavor combinations are always amazing. It started with a beautiful rose of red beet and goat cheese. 

Just look at those mini pots (all edible). The flower ones had black sesame, yuzu and matcha. And the tulip bulbs were made with coconut, lemon leaf and strawberry. 

The Vault Bar created a cocktail made with Jenever, Bourbon, watermelon liqueur, roasted bell pepper syrup, ginger syrup, orange, coffee and chocolate bitters. It was delicious and very complex. 

The Goldfinch Brasserie will be offering a 4-course menu that includes a tartar with toro (the fatty part of the tuna) for €62.50.

The Guerlain Spa offers massage treatments based on an 80 year old technique. Their new 80 massage has been re-developed to fit these times better. To release stress and give you a boost. It is fit for both women and men. 

If you use any of the facilities of the hotel (guests and non-guests), you can win some prices during the festivities in the month of May. They will have a lottery raffle. The main price is a weekend stay at the Conrad Algarve in Portugal (also part of the luxury hotels of the Hilton family). 

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.

My Amsterdam Restaurant, Café & Coffee Guide (where to eat in Amsterdam)

I’ve been meaning to write this food guide for a while now. The most popular DM that I get asked on my Instagram is which places do I recommend to go eat. So here are my favorites places in Amsterdam. From where to get coffee, brunch or food on the go, to my favorite restaurants and places to satisfy your sweet tooth. I’ll keep updating this list as I try new places.

For Coffee:

Trakeren Koffie

They also do very cute latte art. If you want latte art different from a heart (they do bunnies, lions, etc), it is better to ask for it when you order though. The guys working there are very friendly so don’t be shy to ask for it.

Coffee Sometime

They have nice coffee and tea. And I love their desserts which change often. They also serve brunch dishes, I still need to try them. I usually go for my cuppa and something sweet.

Lot Sixty One

They sell very good coffee. I find the coffee here stronger in taste than in other coffee shops.

Toki

I love their coffee and they also sell Kombucha. They also have cakes and brunch dishes. It’s close to Central Station

Scandinavian Embassy

Great spot if you are in De Pijp area. Don’t forget to try their cinnamon buns. They also serve some brunch dishes.

4850

Their concept is a bit more unique. They serve coffee, wine and food. It’s in the East side of Amsterdam.

Bocca

Great coffee and the café is quite large for Amsterdam standards. It’s a short walk from Leidesplein.

For Brunch:

Dignita

They have two locations. One close to Vondelpark and the other in the east of Amsterdam (Hoftuin). The one in Hoftuin has a big garden, so nice to go if you want to be in the sun. They serve all day brunch.

Pluk

They sell all day brunch with plenty of sweet options. This place is also Instagram heaven. They have two locations (not far from one another) in the Nine Streets area.

Slowth Brunch

They serve Taiwanese dishes. Their iced black sugar pearl milk is amazing and they do serve Oatly.

Restaurants:

Daalder

They serve lunch and dinner. Their three course lunch menu starts at €37,50 and their five course dinner menu starts at €69. It is very well priced for what you get. The dishes are very creative. They also have a vegetarian menu.

C Amsterdam

Their menu is divided based on the different temperatures the dishes are prepared in. C stands for Celsius. Open for lunch and dinner. Two course lunch menu starts at €29. Four course dinner menu starts at 47.5 euros.

Flora

Mexican meets California type of food. They are open for dinner. During the weekend, they are open for brunch.. It is quite popular in summer because they have a large terrace, so go early if the weather is nice.

Spaghetteria Pastabar

They have 5 locations in Amsterdam. All their pastas are homemade. Nothing fancy, just well prepared and home-style pasta dishes. Perfect to get your carb fix. Open only for dinner.

nNea Pizza

They offer amazing Neapolitan pizza. Love their dough

Restaurant Khan

This Korean restaurant close to the Amstelpark is not in a very popular location but it’s worth a visit if you are craving Korean food. Only open for dinner and reservations are a must. Last time we were there, the waiter had to tell people coming in that they were fully booked. Even to a group that was waiting outside before the restaurant even opened. This is their phone number: 020 646 3722. They don’t have a webpage.

Ron Gastrobar Downtown 

Indonesian restaurant that specializes in street food and rice tables. Located very close to Central station, above Hudson’s bay department store.

The Vegan Junk Food Bar 

If you are craving junk food, this is a great place to go even if you are not vegan. They sell vegan bitterballen (a bite size version of the Dutch croquettes, so if you are vegan and want to try them, this is the place). I love their Flashy (loaded) sweet potato fries. It is open for lunch and dinner. They have 4 locations all over Amsterdam.

The Beef Chief 

So far this is my favorite burger place in Amsterdam. I love their Kimchi burger and loaded fries. It’s in Amsterdam Noord.

Restaurant Moer

This restaurant is just 5 minutes from Leidesplein, at the end of Vondelpark. They serve an organic menu where they focus more on vegetables, but they do serve meat as well. Their 4 course dinner menu starts at €44.

Umaimon 

Ramen place close to Leidseplein.

For typical Dutch Croquettes:

Eetsalon Van Dobben

This is where I take any family or friend that comes from abroad. They sell typical Dutch croquettes and sandwiches. It’s is close to Rembrandtplein in the city center. But it is a bit hidden, located on a small side street. The people working there all wear white coats and it has a very old, almost dinner feel to it.

Par Hasard

They have two locations in Amsterdam. One in De Pijp and another one in Oud West. They made the traditional Dutch Snackbar (where you get fries, croquettes and other fried foods more often to go) trendier. Their fries are really good.

Holtkamp

It is a well-known bakery (I love their cheesecake) but they are also very popular for their croquettes. There is no place to sit here though since it is just takeaway.

For a savory bite to eat on the go or on a budget:

Ibericus

They sell delicious Iberico ham sandwiches. The bread that they use for their sandwiches is amazing too. You can sit inside or just take them to go.

Hoi Tin Bakery

This is a good alternative If you are in the center and want something to eat on the go and very cheap. It’s a Chinese restaurant but they have a small bakery in the front. They sell different kinds of pastries like bbq pork buns. Mostly everything is under 2€ and you can ask them to warm it up for you.  It is located on Zeedijk which is Amsterdam’s Chinatown. I’ve only tried their bakery, not the restaurant itself.

Shilla

This is a Japanese & Korean food market located at Gelderlandplein. They have a large stock of ingredients and they also sell ready to eat food. Their Onigiri is delicious. Wrapped in a way so that the seaweed stays crunchy, like in Japan. I love the Buta Kimchi one, it has stir-fried kimchi and pork. They are €2.50 each.

Vleminckx (Fries in a cone)

Fries in a cone are very popular here and this place is great at it. It is very well known so there is often a line, but it goes quickly so you don’t have to wait for long. One thing to remember if you are new in the Netherlands, sauces are sold apart so they cost extra (even at places like McDonald’s and Burger King). It’s located on a side street of Kalverstraat (Amsterdam’s most popular shopping street). H

For your sweet tooth:

Van Stapele

It’s a cute little shop that only sells one type of cookie. Dark chocolate stuffed with a soft white chocolate filling. If you are lucky, you get them still warm from the oven. They are very popular and there is often a line outside but it goes fast. They also sell them in tins, so it also makes a nice gift.

Matcha Bar 

Like the name says, they sell matcha desserts. My favorite is their Japanese fluffy cheesecake (it has no matcha). It’s so light that I could eat a whole cheesecake by myself.

Polaberry 

Strawberry covered in chocolate heaven. They also sell the cutest Amsterdam chocolate bars and cake pops.

The Afternoon Tea at the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam

If you want to celebrate something special or just indulge in a beautiful high tea, the Waldorf Astoria offers you just that. It is my favourite one in Amsterdam.

Winkel 43

Try their popular apple pie.

Piza Ijs

Ice cream place. One of the few places that sell mint chocolate chip. At least that I know of.

Poffertjes

Poffertjes are tiny yeasted pancakes. They are usually made with buckwheat flour. And they are served with a small piece of butter and covered in powdered sugar. You can usually find at least one stand at any market. If I crave them, I go to the Albert Cuyp Market.

Stroopwafels

These are delicious super thin waffle cookies with a caramel syrup filling. They are best when they are freshly made and still hot. You can also buy them at supermarkets and place them on top of your cup of tea or coffee, and they will warm up and soften.

I love the ones at the Albert Cuyp market. They are many stands there but the little blue & red cart with the Original Stroopwafels sign is the most popular one. You can buy them at the market starting at 1.5 or 2 euros. The markets are only open from Monday to Saturday.

Van Wonderen Stroopwafels (located at the Kalverstraat) are also very nice, they serve them with a large variety of toppings but of course they are more expensive than at the market.

Ijsmanschap

Popsicle bar in Amsterdam West

Ludo & Hedo

They sell unconventional gelato flavors

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.

Veggie Caesar salad with Yogurt Dressing, Crunchy Chickpeas, Roasted Cauliflower with Steak Seasoning & Roasted Fennel (With Vegan Dressing Variation)

I made this about two weeks ago and posted it on my Instagram stories. And since you guys asked for the recipe, here it finally is. I love this salad because of the variety of flavours and textures. I made two dressings for it. One is a more traditional Caesar dressing but with yogurt. And the other dressing is vegan with soy yogurt, nutritional yeast and capers. I seasoned the cauliflower with steak seasoning but you can season it with the spices that you like. And I love the crispy chickpeas, we couldn’t stop snacking on them. You can make the dressing & roasted vegetables in advance. But the crispy chickpeas are best fried just before serving.

This recipe serves 3-4.

Ingredients:

4 romaine hearts, chopped

For the Yogurt Caesar Dressing:

½ cup of natural yogurt

6 anchovy fillets, minced

1 tablespoon of the oil from the anchovies

1 tablespoon of mustard

Juice of 1 lime

1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese

¼ cup of olive oil

1 teaspoon of honey

For the Vegan dressing:

½ cup of natural soy yogurt

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon of mustard

1 tablespoon of capers

1 ½ tablespoon of nutritional yeast

Juice of half a lime

¼ cup of olive oil

1 tablespoon of agave syrup

For the roasted fennel:

1 big fennel bulb, thinly sliced

About 2 tablespoons of olive oil

A pinch of celery salt or sea salt

For the roasted cauliflower:

1 medium cauliflower, sliced into steaks or chunks

Olive oil

Steak seasoning of your choice or mix your own spices (a mix of black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika powder)

For the crispy chickpeas:

1 can of chickpeas, about 265 grs (net weight)

½ cup of flour

Pinch of onion powder

Pinch of celery salt

Pinch of garlic powder

Pinch of cayenne (optional)

¼ cup of vegetable oil

To make the roasted fennel:

Preheat your oven to 200C/390F.

Thinly slice the fennel and place it in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle it with some olive oil and sprinkle with some celery salt (or sea salt).

Roast it for 25- 30 minutes till the edges are golden.

To make the roasted cauliflower:

I sliced the cauliflower into steaks just for presentation purposes but you can also just chop it up into small pieces. I used McCormick’s Grill mates Montreal steak seasoning that we bought in the US. You can use any steak seasoning or spices that you like. Or make your own. I’ve listed the ingredients of the seasoning above. 

Add some olive oil to a large pan over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and sprinkle some of the seasoning. Roast for about 7 minutes depending on the size that you sliced/chopped the cauliflower. I like it a bit charred and to still have some bite.

To make the crispy chickpeas:

Rinse your canned chickpeas under cold water. Then pat them dry with paper towels. In a bowl, mix the flour with the onion powder, garlic powder, celery salt & cayenne.

Place the dried chickpeas in the seasoned flour and mix them through. Then pour the chickpeas into a fine mesh sieve. Shake it to remove the excess flour.

Add ¼ cup of vegetable oil to a large pan over medium heat. They don’t need to be deep fried, but it is good to have a thin layer of oil in the pan to get them crispy. Once the oil is hot, fry the chickpeas for about 7-8 minutes untill they get golden.

Transfer the crunchy chickpeas to a bowl lined with parchment paper. Taste for salt and add it if needed.

To serve, mix the romaine with the dressing. Serve with the roasted fennel, cauliflower and chickpeas. Enjoy!

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.

Paris Weekend Guide (where to eat, shop & Instagrammable spots)

A couple of months ago we decided to book a weekend in Paris to just go eat and take a mini break from work. And this past weekend that’s exactly what we did. I took the picture of the Eiffel Tower above from Avenue de Camoens. Also good to know: the tower sparkles every hour on the hour for 5 minutes after sunset.

Here is where we ate:

Café Panache (lunch – dinner)

They serve bistro classics with a twist. We had the crispy chicken club sandwich and the spicy beef tartare for lunch. We arrived Friday afternoon at opening time and we were seated at the bar since we didn’t have a reservation. Reservation advised.

Du Pain et Des Idées (bakery)

I’ve been wanting to try their pistachio escargot pastry for a while and it didn’t disappoint. Plus, it was the size of my face so I just shared one with Pieter. The bakery is only open from Monday to Friday, so if you are only going for a long weekend. Keep that in mind.

Verjus (dinner)

Open from Monday to Friday, they only serve a tasting menu for dinner. It costs €78 and we loved it. The dishes were well executed and service was fast. Reservation is a must.

Buvette (all day)

We came here for breakfast on Saturday. We tried their croque monsieur which came with cornichons. It was delicious. They don’t take reservations.

Frenchie to Go (breakfast – late lunch)

UK and American fast food with a French twist. We came for lunch and had their fish & chips, and buttermilk fried chicken with coleslaw.

Homies

This is a restaurant but we only came here for drinks. We were meeting an old friend of Pieter’s and the bar we were going to go was full. This one was close by and we only had to wait for a little bit to get a table. It turned out to be a nice discovery. It had a really nice atmosphere  and their cocktails were really good.

Pink Mamma (Lunch – dinner)

This Italian restaurant is really popular and they don’t take reservations. We arrived 30 minutes before opening time for lunch and there were already around 8 people waiting in line in the rain. The restaurant has 4 floors and they start sitting you from the top floor down. Since we arrived quite early, we were seated at the top floor. The place is Instagram heaven and the top floor has a glass roof, so perfect to take pictures with natural light. The food was delicious and the service was quite fast and friendly. Pieter had the Bruschetta tartare style and the Regina Instagram pizza with burrata. I had my love for truffle satisfied with the Arancino al tartufo and their in-house made pasta with truffle. All the dishes were reasonably priced.

Four seasons Hotel George V Christmas Pop Up (everyday till January 7th 2019)

We stopped at this pop up to try their famous caramelized pain au chocolat and it was incredible! I’m still dreaming about it.

Pierre Hermé (various shops around the city)

No trip to Paris is complete for me without stopping here. I love their macarons and they change seasonally.

Where to shop:

Merci: Concept store with very nice brands and their Insta famous red car.

La Grande Épicerie de Paris: Upscale supermarket and specialty store

Le Bon Marche: Department store

Galeries Lafayette: Department store. You can get a nice view of the city from their rooftop terrace.

Sephora: If you have it in your country, you will probably not be interested. But I love makeup and Sephora is no longer in NL. So whenever I travel to a country that has it, it’s a mandatory stop for me. They have many locations in Paris.

Other Instagrammable spots (these pictures are from my trip last year):

Trocadero

Rue Crémieux. Most likely Paris most colourful street. It reminds me of London.

La Maison Rose in Montmartre

Also good to know:

Paris is a big city and you should be careful of pick pockets. Even though I had heard about them, and they do announce on the speakers of the metro to be careful, I had never seen it happening until this last trip. This happened while we were on the metro. As a group of lady tourists were getting off at one stop  and a group of kids (around 17 years old) were getting in, there was some pushing and yelling. At first we didn’t know what was going on. Until one of the lady tourists wanted to get back in the metro and the kids stood by the door forming a wall to not let her back in. That’s when the lady yelled: Pick Pocket. Only then we realised that they were not just kids, they were a gang. Once the metro departed, I was pretty scared of the whole situation since they were still blocking the door. The guy next to us started taking pictures of the gang, they noticed and started harassing him. Luckily the gang just got off at the next stop. This by no means should discourage you to visit this beautiful city. I am just mentioning this so you can be aware of at least one of their tricks to create confusion and steal. It is always good to be vigilant.

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.

 

 

 

Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade Pasta with Cauliflower & Pistachios (Vegan Friendly)

I made this the last week for dinner and we liked it so much, that I made it again this morning to be able to take a proper picture of it and write the recipe. I really dislike the lack of natural light during these colder months but it was a good excuse to make pasta again. I can never have too much of it.

This recipe is super simple and quick to make. I chopped all the ingredients for the tapenade by hand just to have bigger chunks. But you can also do it in the food processor. I made it using anchovies because I like the umami flavour that they give. But if you are vegan or don’t like them, you can skip them.

Ingredients:

400grs of pasta, I used Mezzi Rigatoni

For the cauliflower:

1 small cauliflower, chopped into small pieces (about 4-5 cups)

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of cayenne

1 teaspoon of celery salt

1 teaspoon of onion powder

For the sun-dried tomato tapenade:

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes, minced (from a can, preserved in olive oil)

1 tablespoon of capers, minced

1 clove of garlic, minced

½ cup of Kalamata olives, minced

6 anchovy filets, minced (optional)

1 ½ teaspoon of chilli flakes or more to taste

Salt to taste. When I use anchovies, I don’t add any salt as they are salty enough

For the toppings:

1/3 of a cup of toasted unsalted pistachios

5 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley

 

Start by making the cauliflower. Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot; add the cauliflower, cayenne, celery salt and onion powder. Cook for about 6 minutes until it is cooked through and a bit charred. Don’t forget to stir from time to time.

To toast the pistachios, first finely chopped them. Then place them in a large pan over medium heat. Toast them without any oil for a minute or two while stirring. Make sure to keep an eye on it, so it doesn’t burn. Transfer them to a bowl and set them aside to cool down.

To make the sauce: mince the sun-dried tomatoes, capers, garlic and Kalamata olives. If you are using anchovies, mince them as well. If you want to save time, you can also use a food processor for this. This time I just chopped them by hand.

Cook the pasta of as instructed on the package.

While the pasta is cooking, start making the sauce. Poor 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the minced tomatoes, capers, garlic, Kalamata olives, chillli flakes and anchovies (if using). Cook for about 2 minutes while stirring. Once the pasta is ready, reserve a bit of the pasta water to loosen up the sauce. I reserved about ¼ of a cup. Add the pasta, cauliflower, and a bit of the pasta water to the sauce. Cook for one extra minute while mixing, until everything is combined. Add salt to taste if needed.

Serve the pasta with the toasted pistachios and parsley. I also like to add an extra sprinkle of chilli flakes. Enjoy!

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.

A Day at Walt Disney World Orlando

I have very fond memories of the Disney World parks in Orlando. I used to go there on vacation with my parents as a kid. It’s been 15 years since my last visit and this was Pieter’s first time at any of the Disney parks. So, we were both pretty excited to be there. We had one day-hopper tickets which meant we could visit all 4 theme parks in one day. We originally wanted to end the day at Magic Kingdom in order to watch the fireworks show at the end. But the day we went, they had an especial Halloween show which meant no fireworks. We decided to start at Magic Kingdom instead.

We arrived bout 15 minutes before the park opened. I do recommend to try to go on a weekday if you can, and arriving a bit before the park opens. Then you can go straight to the most popular attraction that you want to go to, and can skip the lines. After buying some souvenirs and taking a mandatory picture in front of Cinderella’s castle, we headed straight towards space mountain. I had forgotten how much fun rollercoasters are. We got some pineapple Dole Whip at Aloha Isle, which was very welcome since it was scorching hot that day. We also grabbed a Mickey pretzel with cheese sauce.

We then took the bus towards Disney’s Hollywood studios and headed straight towards the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

We were too late to book a fast pass for this, so we waited about an hour in line. It was well worth it though. This was both our favorite ride that day. Then we went to Aerosmith’s rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. This was so much fun and we only waited in line for about 10 minutes. We had a corn dog and then took another bus towards Epcot center.

There was a Food & Wine festival at Epcot so we grabbed some bites to eat at a few stands.

Then I had some shaved ice at the Japan Pavilion. We had some funnel cake with powdered sugar. This was so good and I haven’t had it in ages. We walked through the rest of the countries and then finished it off by going on Mission Space.

We had an amazing day at Disney and loved going to the thrill rides.

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.

Kale & Harissa Roasted Chickpea Salad

We’ve been currently obsessed with harissa. I’ve been using it a lot to roast eggplants and chickpeas. And Pieter just discovered that he loves topping his goat cheese crackers with it. I posted this salad on my Instagram stories and I got so many requests for the recipe that I made it again today to write down the exact measurements.

This is a great fall/winter salad. It has a lot of bite to it and it is quite filling. We had it twice last week and I always make 4 portions so we can have the leftovers (without mixing all the dressing) the next day for lunch. This recipe is also vegan if you swap the honey for agave syrup. Happy #meatlessmonday!

This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients:

For the Harissa roasted chickpeas:

530grs of drained canned chickpeas (4 cups)

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

2 heaped tablespoons of harissa paste, or more if you like it more spicy

2 tablespoons of agave syrup or honey

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon of onion powder

1 teaspoon of celery salt

½ teaspoon of garlic powder

For the salad:

16 cups of shredded kale, or any other greens that you like (enough for 4 servings)

1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds, toasted

1/3 cup of pine nuts, toasted

1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds

For the shallot vinaigrette:

2 small shallots, finely shopped

½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup of white vinegar

¼ cup of red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon of mustard

2 tablespoons of agave syrup or honey

1 teaspoon of salt

 

Start by making the harissa roasted chickpeas. Drain the canned chickpeas. Place the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the chickpeas, harissa, agave or honey, balsamic vinegar, onion powder, celery salt and garlic powder. Mix well. Let it cook until it caramelizes and turns slightly brown. This will take about 12 minutes. Don’t forget to stir from time to time, especially towards the end. Otherwise it can burn easily because of the honey/agave. Taste if it needs any salt. Transfer the chickpeas to a bowl and set it aside.

Toast the pumpkin seeds and pine nuts in a pan with no oil, on medium heat. Toss constantly so that they don’t burn. This will only take a couple of minutes. Transfer them to a bowl and set it aside.

To make the vinaigrette, finely chop two small shallots. Place the shallots in a jar that has a lid. Then add the olive oil, white vinegar, red wine vinegar, mustard, agave or honey and salt. Close the jar and shake it until it emulsifies.

Once you are ready to eat, massage the kale with the vinaigrette for about a minute. This will soften the kale. If you are not serving the whole recipe, don’t mix all the kale with all the vinaigrette. Just mix the amount that you are going to eat right away. Serve it with the roasted chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. Enjoy!

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.

 

Peruvian Shrimp Risotto (with Aji Amarillo)

It’s already turning a bit chilly here, so comfort food is in order. This Peruvian risotto has a bit of a kick because of the Aji Amarillo chili paste (you can find it at Tijn’s toko here in Amsterdam, or online). I made a sauce using the shrimp heads and shells, so you can really taste the shrimp. It’s sort of a risotto with shrimp bisque. The flavors remind me of my childhood. That’s also why I served it with some fried calamari, besides just for added texture and flavor.

This recipe serves 3.

Ingredients:

For the risotto:

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small white onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of Aji Amarillo paste

800grs of shrimp, with the heads and shells

3/4 cup of White wine

1 ¾ cups of Arborio rice (risotto rice)

1 1/2 litters of vegetable stock

½ cup of cream

½ cup of grated Grana Padano (or Parmesan)

Salt to taste

For the shrimp sauce:

The shell of the tails and the heads of the shrimp

2 tablespoons of butter

¼ cup of white wine

2 cups of vegetable stock

Extras:

Olive oil or butter to cook the shrimp tails

1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

Fried calamari (optional), recipe here

Lime wedges for serving

 

First make the shrimp sauce. Remove the heads from the shrimp. Then peel and devein them. Keep the tail shells and the heads. Place the peeled shrimp tails back in the fridge.

In a large pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter has melted, add the shrimp shells and heads. Sautee them for about 1 minute. Then add the white wine. Let it reduce for one minute while stirring. Then add two cups of vegetable stock and let it reduce for 5 minutes. Then blend it all until smooth. Pass it through a fine mesh sieve. Set the sauce aside. Discard the solids.

Then start making the risotto. Place the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over low heat. Once the pan is hot, add the onions. Cook for 4 minutes, until they are translucent (but not brown). Stir from time to time. Then add the garlic and the Aji Amarillo paste. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring. Add the rice, stir to coat it in the sauce. Then add the white wine and let it reduce for 30 seconds. Turn up the heat to medium-low. Add one ladle of the vegetable stock to the rice and stir until most of it evaporates. Repeat adding ladles of the stock and stirring for 15 minutes.

Finally add the shrimp sauce, grated grana Padano and cream. Cook for 5 minutes while stirring.  Turn off the heat.

In another pan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter. Add the shrimp tails and cook until they turn pink. Time will vary depending on the side of the shrimp, but they cook quite fast. Add salt to taste.

Serve the risotto into bowls, add the shrimp tails and sprinkle with some parsley. Serve it with some lime wedges. I also served it some fried calamari, this is optional but it goes really well with it. For the calamari; I just breaded it flour, then beaten eggs and finally in panko. If you want to have the full recipe (and how to clean the squid), you can check this recipe of mine. I just didn’t use cornmeal this time.

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.

Cecconi’s Amsterdam

Cecconi’s is the recently opened Italian restaurant of the Soho House in Amsterdam. They serve hand-made pasta, seafood and dishes from Northern Italy. If you have never heard of Soho house, it’s a private club. They have locations in key cities all over the world. But you don’t have to be a member to come to the restaurant.

We were there at the press opening and tasted some of the chef’s selection. We ordered a few cocktails. Pieter’s favorite was the Ambrato Spritz which had St. Germain, Ambrato, mint and prosecco. My favorites were their Bellini and their Garibaldi sour. The Garibaldi sour was a mocktail with orange, homemade orgeat, flattened crodino, citrus and bitter.

For starters we had the burrata with tomato and basil, a classic topped with pistachio nuts. And the Vitello tonnato with caper berries which was also very tasty.

Our mains were the risotto with wild mushrooms, the lobster spaghetti and the veal Milanese. I loved the veal Milanese. It’s something I don’t eat very often but this one was very crunchy and perfectly cooked. The risotto was delightful. I’m a big fan of mushrooms and this one hit the spot.

For dessert, we shared a tiramisu and the profiteroles with pistachio ice cream and chocolate sauce. Both were amazing and not overly sweet.

Overall the service was really good, our waiter was very friendly and proud of the food he was serving. The portions are big, so you won’t go home hungry. If you want Italian comfort food, this is the place to go.

Cecconi’s Amsterdam

Spuistraat 210

1012VT, Amsterdam

For more foodie inspiration, travel & lifestyle; you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. For behind the scenes, more of Amsterdam and a peek of press events, you can follow my Instagram stories and Youtube channel.