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Puri Mas, Amsterdam, Netherlands, tasted on March 26, 2004 Amsterdam has many specialties. Two particularly prominent ones when it comes to food are the legal marijuana and the Rijsttafel. And while I'm not suggesting that I partook of one before enjoying the other, I have to admit that it did occur to me that the perfect antidote to the "munchies" (as it has been described to me) would be the Indonesian "rice table" found in restaurants across Amsterdam. An endless series of plates of yummy asian meats, rice, and sauces in various interesting and delicious combinations. And frankly, even without the aid of mind-altering drugs the Rijsttafel seemed like a blur to me.

Indonesian restaurants offering Rijsttafel can be found all over Amsterdam. While I've been trying to avoid the tourist circuit, I think Puri Mas pretty much fits the bill. My Dutch friends seemed to look at it as more of a novelty than anything else. But still, endless small plates of Indonesian food seems attractive, touristy or not. Along with some interesting cocktails we ordered the Rijsttafel Royaal - the biggest and (of course) therefore best of the choices we had. We also ordered copious amounts of Bir Bintang, an extra light slightly bitter Indonesian beer that was helpful in cooling us down after some of the spicier dishes.

We started off at a semi-sedate pace. Veggie crackers came for us to snack on. They were yummy and savory with some complex (what I imagine to be) Indonesian spices. The brown ones had a tiny kick which made them extra enjoyable. This was followed by chicken curry soup (Soto Ayam) which was gingery and quite tasty. The warm hard-boiled egg added texture to the soup in the form of an egg "drop". There was also a plate of fried items - Martabak, Leompia, and Udang Goreng. These were a crispy seasoned pastry, an egg roll, and a fried prawn respectively. Each was golden and hot. The spicy sauce and peanut sauce that were served as accompaniments were helpful. Everything had a crispness and a spiciness that was super enjoyable. The meat filled pastry was quite good and there were middle eastern qualities about its flavor.

What followed really was like a hurrican of Indonesian flavors and dishes. Chicken satay (Sate Ayam), pork satay (Sate Babi), lamb satay (Sate Kambing), pork in a very spicy sauce (Babi Ricah), lamb in curry sauce (Gulai Kambing), chicken in spiced Balinese sauce (Ayam Bumbu Bali), various kinds of vegetables with peanut sauce (Gado Gado), spiced cucumber salad (Acar Ketimun), two kinds of rice - fried (Nasi Goreng) and seasoned yellow (Nasi Kuning), and fried coconut powder (Serundeng) which was very cool and tasty to put on top of our various dishes. The food came fast and furious and so did the flavors and textures: sweet sticky crispy chewy thick sauced peanut honey soy cinnamon coconut citrus and definitely spicy! All dishes were distinct under the umbrella of Indonesian flavors even though the meal echoed one large complex and flavorful note. And when the dishes were spicy, the beer helped. One particular standout was the bowl of essentially french fries Indonesian style (Sambal Goreng Kentang). They were crunchy and sticky sweet in a good way with a definite tomato flavor. Yum!

I'm sure hardened Amsterdam visitors and residents might scoff at our time spent at the Rijsttafel. And for all we know this may n0t have been the best one to try (though it was according to several sources on the net whom I know nothing about). The service was pretty aggressive. Certainly not bad, just kind of always there. And they were also dying to know what we thought all the time (or so they said). Well, we thought dinner was pretty good actually. While we weren't necessarily stunned, the parade of small Indonesian plates, and the strong nature of the spectrum of flavors and textures was quite enjoyable and unique at least in terms of our experience (as none of us have ever been to Indonesia). Unique and enjoyable seems good to me.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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