Amsterdam is a bright city. I am not talking about its iconic housing along the canals, but rather the people who occupy them. The locals. Despite the city’s relatively low population as a capital, it is home to more than 180 nationalities, making this one diverse city. And to really explore the extent of Amsterdam’s cultural diversity, you need to head out to the suburbs (an experience you can have on Urban Adventures’ Faces of Amsterdam tour).
To see some of Amsterdam’s cultural mix, walk around the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Indische Buurt located in Amsterdam Oost (East). The popular bar and restaurant strip Javastraat, located between Amsterdam’s first public park Oosterpark and Flevopark (home to an old Jewish cemetery, closed to the public) is a great example of the district’s ethnic mash-up. Like with many districts in Amsterdam, this area is currently undergoing gentrification with the emergence of trendy cafés and bars alongside long-standing multicultural shops. This picturesque boulevard hosts many community events throughout the year including food festivals, which give residents a taste of its own worldly kitchens, and a glimpse into cultural celebrations through music and dance.
Remaining at the core of this area is the unique fusion of Middle Eastern, Surinamese, Moroccan and Turkish influences, reflecting the demographic of local residents. Forget low-carb diets as your nose will catch the pleasant smells of freshly baked goods wafting from one of the many Turkish bakeries. Snack on a Turkish pizza or get your hands around a simit (Turkish pretzel) costing just loose change. An eye-catching array of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables are on display outside its many international convenience stalls that also stock a variety of foodstuffs from the Middle East and beyond. The strip is also home to Moroccan dressmakers, shimmering up shop-fronts with their unique gold and silver beads and accessories. Many of Javastraats’ stores are well-loved amongst locals who will make the trek here just to purchase specialty items that have been so carefully sourced to bring tastes of afar to Amsterdam.
Wandering the streets of Indische Buurt — aptly named after the former Dutch colony Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) — is easy as you will spot many family-run eateries bringing their essence of home to the tables of Amsterdam. Locals travel from far and wide to go to no-thrills takeout Roopram Roti. Showcasing the best of Suriname cuisine, it usually draws a crowd come nightfall for its hearty, home cooked curries. This former Dutch colony is a culture that draws from Chinese, African and Indonesian influences as well as the Caribbean, serving up a true food adventure.
The popular Dappermarkt, located on Dapperstraat, is home to hundreds of street stalls. This colourful yet slow-paced global street market is immensely popular with locals due to the variety of clothes, wares, trinkets and food stuffs on offer at reasonably cheap prices. From Turkish tapenades to Greek dolmades to flavours of the Far East, this market offers a taste of the city’s cultural diversity at play. Closer to home, the tastes of Dutch cuisine are ever so prominent with cheeses, stroopwafels, broodjes (sandwiches) and freshly cooked fish snacks on offer — my ‘catch of the day’ is kibbeling (small bits of deep-fried fish) with mayonnaise garlic sauce.
To understand the influences of Amsterdam’s diverse culture, look to how the city is helping to shape the future for its new residents. Ondertussen (translated to ‘Meanwhile’) is a collective of artists and other creative types, and supports newcomers to Amsterdam, particularly refugees fleeing war-torn countries. The organisation’s aim is to bridge the gap between people of all ethnic backgrounds, enabling them to come together to share their entrepreneurial and artistic skillset. Situated above the new National Holocaust Museum, the building itself has an extraordinary history as a former Jewish daycare-centre-turned-safe-haven for hundreds of children during of World War II.
The Netherlands is a progressive nation and it is here in Amsterdam where you can really see the openness and tolerance of its locals and newcomers to cultures around the world. Forget the plane ticket, who knew that you could travel the world with pedal power?
Amsterdam is an amazing city, brimming with quirkiness and creativity, and bursting with stories to tell. On this In Focus tour, we’re telling the story of multiculturalism in the Netherlands, both historically and in present day, via the experiences of diverse Amsterdammers.