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Quick: What comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam? We’ll hazard a guess that it’s marijuana and prostitution, both of which are legalized in some capacity here. And perhaps, related to that: hordes of backpackers, stag and hen (bachelor/bachelorette) parties, frat groups. (Poor Amsterdam.) It may be the city’s famous liberalness that attracts the lion’s share of its annual visitors, but that’s just one teeny facet of what makes the Netherlands’ capital so special. Take, for instance, those gorgeous manmade canals, born of necessity when it was decided, some 700 years ago, that a trading city should be built on soggy marshland. The resulting labyrinthine urban landscape—all cobblestone streets and watery channels, crossed by quaint bridges and backed by soaring row houses—looks straight out of a fairy tale to the visitor, a sprawling, picturesque museum brought to crashing life by bicycling locals merely getting about their daily business.
And then there’s Dutch food, which hasn’t exactly inspired the poetic waxings of many. Much like in London, you’d do well to be discerning when confronted with Amsterdam’s dizzying array of international and “traditional” restaurants. But while any culinary exploration here must include the historic meat-and-potato stamppots, sweet stroopwafel, and streetside herring—which we love—it also cannot be without the city’s spicy ethnic mashups from Indonesia and Suriname, its unique jenever-distilling tradition and incredible local craft beer, and its ever-growing crop of season-driven locavore-centric restaurants working to reinvent modern Dutch cuisine. Nor can it fail to consider Amsterdam’s inspiring market sensibility, which plays out in both big street affairs and small local corner shops, where neighborhood residents crowd on weekends to get the freshest sausages and cheese. There’s a fuller picture to paint here. A’dam may lack the gastronomic pizzazz of some of its European brethren, but make no mistake: You will eat well here.
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