What inspired you to move to Amsterdam?
The winding canals… picturesque houses… the croquettes (deep fried meat goo, as we like to call it)! All that aside, I’d always wanted to work with sex trafficking victims in Amsterdam’s infamous red light district, which led to an interest in the city. During my first visit in 2012, however, I fell hopelessly in love with the liberal spirit of this place that I now call home. And the cheese. God bless.
What is the biggest difference you’ve experienced living in Amsterdam vs Singapore?
You’re juggling several jobs now. Could you tell us more about what you do?
Ironically, my neighbour works with sex trafficking victims, but I’ve not had the chance to invest myself in that area quite yet. I’m currently working with Boom Chicago, an improv theater that has been a great launching pad for comedians like Jordan Peele, Seth Meyers, Jason Sudeikis and more. I’m also a street food tour guide with the Hungry Birds, through which I’ve learnt a lot about the local food and culture. I’m happy to say that I’ve recently set up my own Anthony Bourdain-inspired tour (aka more drinks than food) called ‘Brews and Tales‘. Once a month, you can also find me making coffee from a caravan at Feel Good Market. I guess, ‘professional juggler’ should be my official job title.
What differentiates the Hungry Birds Tour from the other food tours?
If I may be honest, I’ve never done a ‘real’ food tour in my life. That’s because I’ve always travelled to places where friends are, which means I don’t ever have to seek out local eats by myself! Based on our guests’ feedback, Hungry Birds is gezellig (read above for the meaning) and it’s a casual, fun and intimate way to get to know the city through its food. We are genuinely interested in people, so we do everything we can to ensure that our hungry birds are well-fed through the connections we all share and the delicious food we have in store for them. We support smaller eateries and businesses with stories, heart and passion, which means our guests get to meet and converse with the local vendors, which would be challenging to do in a place like Singapore, because most vendors wouldn’t have time to talk to their customers. I think the core of it is that all our partners love what they do and so do we! That’s why our guests always feel like they were part of something special, and that warmth lives on in their food memory bank.
Tell us more about Brews & Tales and the kind of traveller it caters to!
Which is your favourite neighbourhood in Amsterdam and why?
I work at the Jordaan (pronounced Yorh-Daan), which is possibly Amsterdam’s prettiest neighborhood. However, I’d have to say that I am most enthralled by my own neighbourhood, De Pijp. Sure, it’s a breeding ground for hipsters these days, however, it’s very charming because of the mix of the old and new. There are so-cool-it-hurts bars right next to small eateries that have been around for ages, often family-owned. There’s also the smallest park in Amsterdam (Sarphatipark), Amsterdam’s best cafe (Scandinavian Embassy Coffee) right across it, it’s home to the longest market (Albert Cuypt Markt), there are good bars and restaurants at every corner, and a cosy little cinema called Rialto behind my place.
Amsterdam is always misunderstood as the red light district of Europe. Would you agree?
Would I agree that it’s misunderstood or that it is the red light district of Europe? I do think that Amsterdam has a reputation for being a promiscuous sin city brimming with sex, drugs and more sex. Is it true, though? I don’t frequently loiter around the red light district, but I think that it is what the individual makes it out to be. Is there sex for sale? Why, yes! And it’s not cheap! Can you watch a live sex act for 2 euro per minute? Yes, at The Peep Show (they might go out of business soon, so go quickly.). Can you really eat a banana out of a lady’s privates? At Banana Bar, you can! Yes, it is all true. We have all that here, and more. However, is it reflective of the city? No. Absolutely not. Look around, most drunks still slurring and negotiating with the Eastern European at the door are probably not from Amsterdam. Locals prefer to ‘borrel‘ at the local bars (post-work drinks).
What is a side of Amsterdam you think travellers MUST see?
I think travellers should go to amsterdamtop20.com and check out the mentioned attractions and places, It’s a website for savvy travellers looking for original experiences. I’d say definitely check out Amsterdam Noord for cool stuff. The markets are a great way to get acquainted with local produce and producers, but the supermarket is also an unconventional way to understand what the Dutch purchase and consume daily! Hagelslag is something to be savored. Go google!
Any suggestions for off the beaten track activities?
The Wetlands Safari Tour is definitely something one should try. Follow Majel, a gutsy local guide who has a real heart for the lush nature right outside Amsterdam city. You get to kayak, learn about the beautiful surroundings, see windmills and local animals. There’s even a picnic! Not to be missed, in my opinion! And of course, the Boom Chicago comedy show, Hungry Birds Food tour and Brews & Tales! 🙂
Share with us three recommendations for local restaurants, please?
I’m a sucker for surprises, so Mantoe is definitely something I’d recommend. They serve traditional Afghan dishes. There is only one mystery menu (you can choose between vegetarian or meat, but the correct answer is meat) and there is (good and cheap) wine. You sit, drink, and wait to be served. Prices are reasonable and the food is sensational..
What is a tourist trap that should be avoided at all costs?
Definitely the company with that prominent red book – Tours and Tickets. Disappointing recommendations and tours. Ice Bar is an atrocity, and few discounts here and there aren’t enough to make up for the time wasted exploring attractions made for tourists, devoid of authenticity. Remembrantplein is another hotspot to skip. However, there is Pathe Tuschinksi (gorgeous 1921 cinema that feels more like a grand performance theater but has a bad sound system), so go just for the experience. Skip those boring covered canal cruises and go local instead. (Suggestion: Those Dam Boat Guys opened by some friends of mine offer the city’s best experience on water!)
Am I alone in wanting to jump on a plane that’s headed for Amsterdam!? Do share with us in the comments section if you have recommendations for Amsterdam (: