It may be famous for its atmospheric coffee shops, 4-20-friendly attitude, and red light district, but Amsterdam is also filled with unexpectedly cool food-centric experiences, if you know where to look. For travelers who will be visiting the city in 2013—a banner year for the capital as it celebrates 400 years of the Canal Ring—you'll want to add one of these tasty side trips to your itinerary.
Try a Floating Chef's Table
Go beyond the canal tours. Food lovers should climb aboard this gorgeously restored, 19th-century wooden vessel, The Muze, from The Dylan Amsterdam hotel's private landing dock on the Keisersgracht to enjoy the signature dishes of Michelin-starred restaurant Vinkeles. Taking the "chef's table" concept to the water, it's a luxurious experience for guests of the hotel who want to splurge on dishes like Pommes Tsarine (potatoes with crème fraiche and Chinese Asetra caviar) or Anjou Pigeon—along with Chef Dennis Kuipers's undivided attention. Menus can be customized, and dishes are paired with small-production wines like Austrian Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from Switzerland. Luckily, the scenic canal views are gratis. Prices vary depending on menu selection.
Discover a Hidden Farmer's Market
Located in the Jordaan neighborhood and largely undiscovered by tourists, the Lindengracht market is some 900 meters long and offers a wide range of mouthwatering artisanal goods each Saturday morning from 9 am onwards, including still-warm breads, cheeses, North Sea fish, charcuterie, and colorful produce. Be sure to stop by the always-bustling De Nootzaak Gotjé stall, its proprietors seek out nuts and dried fruit from the best purveyors in the world, including pralines from Texas, cashews from Vietnam, and rice crackers from Taiwan. It's a little-concealed secret that Amsterdam's top restaurants source ingredients from this market, making it the perfect place for foodies to stock up on goods for a picnic in the nearby Westerpark.
Explore Where Food Meets Art
Apparently Marjolein Wintjes and Eric Meursing didn't get the "don't play with your food" memo: The two designers literally bring art to the table at De Culinaire Werkplaats (which means "the culinary workshop"). Offering a 5-course vegetarian tasting menu inspired by esoteric themes like "flowers" or "red revisited," the test-kitchen-like space focuses on fair-trade, organic and sustainable ingredients. But the high-concept food is just one part of the experience: There's edible fabric, fruit paper sculptures, and other boundary-pushing food art worth exploring. Perhaps most interesting of all, you decide what the fair price is for your meal.
Dine in the Dark
Not to be outdone by similar concepts in New York and Paris, Ctaste is a unique eatery offering an in-the-dark food experience staffed by blind servers, who lead diners through a surprise three-course dinner (or four-course brunch) while plunged entirely in darkness. Guests give the chef "direction" before the meal by specifying likes and dislikes (vegetarian options are also available), and wines are also on offer during the meal—though be on guard against knocking over your glass. Dinner is €39.50, brunch €25. Infared photos of your experience can also be arranged.
Enroll in Cheese School
Sure, you can pick up a wheel of cheese at the duty-free shop at Schiphol airport, but why not learn about how Dutch cheese is made and enjoyed in the Netherlands from one of the country's finest cheese producers? Located in the city center, the Reypenaer Cheese Tasting room offers a 6-course cheese and wine class in its quaint basement classroom for just €15 per person—one of the best foodie bargains in the city. In a little over an hour, you'll taste 6 cheeses, from the 4-month-old Wyngaard Chèvre Affiné to the 2.5-year-old Reypenaer-V.S.O.P., paired with wines including a Viognier from the Languedoc and a glass of Port. After rating the cheeses, you'll leave class with a cheese-tasting certificate and a greater understanding of Dutch cheese. Finally.
Alexis Korman is a freelance wine, food, and travel writer based in New Orleans. She is also Contributing Food Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine and founder of a blog, City City Bang Bang. Follow her on Twitter @lexisips
Photo credits: Chef Cooking on Board The Muze courtesy The Dylan Amsterdam; Farmers market courtesy of Alexis Korman; DeCulinaire Workshop courtesy Marjolein Wintjes; Ctaste Infared courtesy of Ctaste; Cheese school courtesy of Alexis Korman