Amsterdam: Gluten-Free Friendly
Amsterdam. The name of the city conjures up the taboo of The Red Light District, the infamous coffee shops, windmills, bicycles, tulips, and wooden clogs. For those of us traveling with gluten-sensitivity or celiac disease? This city name, or any other, conjures up thoughts of the unfamiliar and feelings of anxiety. Put your worries aside, though, because Amsterdam is a fabulously gluten-free-friendly city. Get your eye off of the red lights and get ready for the green lights, because this city trip is a gluten-free go!
Living abroad and traveling frequently, I know all too well just how frightening it can be to plan a gluten-free trip, certainly to a place where the native language is not English. My experience has been that I need a clear plan, a very specific chef’s card, and a clear plan B. If you are considering your first trip abroad, Amsterdam is an ideal choice for taking that first step outside your comfort zone.
When I am traveling, I do not stay in hotels. I find apartments for short term rental or look for unique accommodations that have a kitchen. If finding a glutenfree restaurant is a challenge—and we all know it often is even in our own backyards—then a kitchen is a necessity. I find the nearest store, buy foil to cover baking dishes, and create easy, one-dish meals. If you aren’t terribly keen on cooking while on vacation, just picture the incredible view you may have from the kitchen window. While cooking dinner in Amsterdam, I looked out onto the beautiful canal because I was literally staying in the Binnenkant Canal in a houseboat. It cost far less than a luxury hotel located on a nearby canal, but the houseboat was absolutely luxurious, warm, cozy, and came equipped with a kitchen. Furthermore, the location was within prime walking distance to everything.
Shopping for food was easy peasy. It always helps to know some basic words in the native language, but the glutenfree foods in Amsterdam are labeled with pictures, clearly stating gluten-free or dairy-free. I did my shopping at Albert Heijn’s Grocery, but there were also gluten-free shops inside Amsterdam’s central train station. I was blown away by how easy it was to feel great while exploring this exciting city!
On the second day of my visit, I enjoyed yogurt, gluten-free toast with butter (toasted in a foil-lined baking pan to avoid cross contamination), and some sweet gluten-free shortbread for breakfast. Then it was on to the famous Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market) on Signel Canal. Before making my way there, I happened upon some smaller vendors along the way selling fresh produce for a better price than Albert Heijn—score! Holland is known for its fabulous array of fresh cheeses and unique choices. I bought the black truffle cheese, and after another five minute walk of taking in canal after canal and bridges lined with bikes, I arrived at the famous Flower Market.
This market is every bit as incredible as you read about. It lines the entire block of the Signel Canal, where you’ll find fresh tulips, tulip bulbs, beautifully hand-crafted wooden tulips, cactus plants, and anything else you can think of for your garden. Absolutely a must visit. (Insider’s Tip: When you walk through the market, wait to buy your souvenirs until the very last vendor for the best deals!)
After the Flower Market, I had planned on making lunch, but I thought I would take a chance on a hole-in-the-wall restaurant offering Asian fare. It did not appear to be an impressive place, but I was pleasantly surprised! This is where a specific chef’s card in the native language becomes important. I speak Dutch fluently, but if you do not? Many places that could have been options are no longer options. Despite the name being “Shanghai Noodle,” I had the Gluten-Free Stir-Fried Prawns with Steamed Rice and it was quite good!
After lunch, it was off to Zaanse Schans, a 15 minute trip from Amsterdam by train. I spent about half a day there, but if you go mid-day, make sure you bring your gluten-free lunch. I did not find a gluten-free restaurant there. Even so, there is a pancake restaurant that is not gluten-free, but smells great, so you may get hungry even if you’ve already had lunch. Take in the aromas, and snack on your gluten-free cookies!
Zaanse Schans is absolutely breathtaking. It feels like a story book with the beautiful working windmills lining the River Zaan. I stopped at the “make your own souvenir” shop, Orse Ket Aan’t Glop, and created decoupage clogs for planting my tulip bulbs from the Flower Market. It was fabulous to feel like a kid again. After fun crafts for an hour, I visited the Spice Mill, the Oil Mill, the Cheese Shop, and the famous Klompenmakerij (Clog Factory). In all three places, visitors have the wonderful opportunity to see firsthand how everything is made. You absolutely must visit Zaanse Schans when going to Amsterdam.
On the third and final day of my trip, I explored the city with the hop-on and hop-off canal boat tour. On the canal boat tour, you’ll see Rembrandt Square, Hermitage Square, and the Anne Frank House, a sobering must-see, of course.
Once arriving back to the houseboat, I prepared for a relaxing dinner at Lieve Restaurant. Make your reservations and plan ahead for this cozy eatery. It’s just minutes outside of Amsterdam by Tuk Tuk Bike Taxi (which was a hilarious experience!).
Lieve Restaurant works with Holland’s Celiac Association to be sure that there is absolutely no cross contamination. Not only are there gluten-free options, but there are also gluten-free, nut-free, and dairy-free options. To say Lieve has this gluten-free thing figured out? That would be the understatement of the year.
Creamy, buttery, and sweet Butternut Squash Soup balanced with the heat of hot red peppers. Incredible. Shrimp Skewers with Smoked Salmon Mousse and Lobster Aioli. Wow. A mild Cream of Parsnip Soup balanced with the kick of cilantro. Delicious. Rare Venison Filet with Star Anise and Caramelized Red Onions. Amazing. Just when I thought it could not get better, it did. For dessert, Coffee Creme Brûlée with a port wine that dazzled my taste buds. The service was impeccable. I did not even need my chef’s card! What a fabulous experience worth double the price, in my opinion. Lieve Restaurant is a good enough reason alone for me to return to Amsterdam.
After the wonderful dinner, I was going to check out The Ice Bar, but quickly changed my mind upon arrival. Instead, I headed to The Red Light District. No matter what your preconceptions, you simply cannot visit Amsterdam without walking through the district of forbidden sins, right?
One common misconception about The Red Light District is that marijuana is being sold in the coffee shops, but that is long since reality. I was told that people now bring their own. The oddity of the odor legally permeating the air is an experience in and of itself. Despite the distinct smell of cannabis, the daring glow of red lights, and scantily clad women in windows, I was told that crime is at an all-time low, and indeed, I felt surprisingly safe.
So, three days in Amsterdam. Is it enough? Absolutely not. That said, even in just three days you can take in many of the most popular sights and get a delightful taste of what makes Amsterdam a truly iconic city.
Houseboat Rentals: www.houseboathotel.nl
Lieve Restaurant: www.restaurantlieve.nl
Written by Angela McKeller