Reuniting with good fellas with whom I shared the good and the bad times during school life in Amsterdam would not be complete without visiting one of our favourite restaurants those days (in my case, until now). No, it’s not a typical Dutch stamppot or uitsmijter that I was looking for.
We headed to Amsterdam West, situated in the border of zone 1 known as Centrum and the starting point of zone 2. Next to the former Jewish bath house (Joden Badhuis) or about 10 minutes walking distance from Albert Cuyp Market, the most well-known landmark in the area, we finally arrived at “Surinaams Afhaal Centrum: Warung Swietie” (pronounced as sweety for Swietie), a Surinamese-Javanese restaurant in De Pijp district.
Warung is an Indonesian word literally translated as “stall”, a modest and small-scaled family-owned business in different forms, from a grocery store, a restaurant until a cafe. Nowadays, the term is also commercially used for defining a traditional Indonesian influence in products and services the business offers.
The Surinamese-Javanese warung doesn’t really have traditional elements, though, except some framed pictures of Suriname main landmarks on the walls.
The indoor area is a bit too packed; the distance between seats are too close one to another, not to mention a long table attached on the wall behind the entrance door. Nonetheless, it’s a very common ambiance for an afhaalcentrum (afhaal: to-go, centrum: center) dining concept in The Netherlands, prioritizing on to-go services over dine-ins with limited amount of seats available.
Besides, when it comes to warung, the cramped space may be associated with togetherness and intimacy between friends and family. Nobody needs to complain about anything in this matter as cleanliness is pretty well-maintained, although I personally prefer seating outside if the weather is nice and not too windy for the sake of fresh air and roomy space.
Picture credit: http://depijpinbeeld.blogspot.co.id/2011_07_01_archive.html
For those who were born and grew up in Indonesia, there’s a missing subject in our local history lesson, mainly on the period when the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij or NHM (Dutch Trading Society) transported Javanese contract labours from Java Island, the most populated Island in Indonesia, to work at the cane plantation and sugar factory in Mariënburg, Suriname, in the late 19th century, influencing an acculturation in several aspects, including gastronomy.
I even initially thought that the small country in South America called Suriname is in Africa.
Baka bana met pindasaus is the warung’s masterpiece and my main reason for a revisit. Baka bana is a Papiamentu word for gebakken banaan in Dutch, banana fritters in English and pisang goreng in Indonesian. Met pindasaus? It’s a Dutch word for “with peanut sauce”. Since I always can get any delicious pisang goreng or baka bana anywhere in my hometown, why bother coming to a small Surinamese snack bar in Amsterdam to get something similar?
Back to school life, I once had a kinda disgusted feeling with the Surinamese way of eating banana fritters with peanut sauce (Indonesians usually put icing sugar instead). However, soon after tasting the dish, I realized that the truth is the opposite, that the pindasaus (peanut sauce) is actually the real trade secret.
The pindasaus texture is smoother than that of Indonesian chicken skewers, somewhat like a paste, with subtler nutty taste and hints of sweetness, that merges so well with the thinly-sliced ripened bananas covered with thin flour. For a €3.00 dish, it’s more than just worth the price. An extra sauce is available for another €1 for those who can’t get enough of it.
The craving for baka bana lives on ever since, even after I left The Netherlands for good. And I’m glad that the taste and quality remain the same, it’s still as good as before!
Apart from the signature baka bana, saoto soep is an interesting menu because of its rendition of the Indonesian soto ayam, turmeric-based clear chicken soup, as an appetizer. While Indonesians categorize it as a main dish served with full portion of rice, the soup on saoto soup is merely half of the original portion with a little rice on the side in a saucer. In my opinion, this could also be an adaptation of the Dutch (and European) habit of having soup as an appetizer.
Tempe (fermented soybean), rames (mixed rice dish), lemper (glutinous rice with shredded chicken), kroepoek (crackers), gado-gado (salad dish with peanut sauce, check my post further about this), dawet (or cendol; grass jelly with coconut milk), emping (melinjo / paddy oat crackers), kipsate (chicken skewers), kroepoek (crackers), pitjel (or pecel, Javanese salad dish) are some other dishes whose names are either remain unchanged (from Indonesian) or adapted with Dutch pronunciation, vocabulary and spelling.
Despite familiarity of the menus for Indonesians, they may have wrong perception of nasi and bami stated there. If nasi originally means steamed rice, and bami –adapted from bakmi- means (boiled) noodle in Indonesian, the Dutch (and Surinamese, apparently) use nasi to define fried rice or nasi goreng and bami to define fried noodle or bakmi goreng or mie goreng. And that’s also how Indonesian restaurants in The Netherlands perceive the meaning of nasi and bami.
Witte rijst (literally meaning white rice) is a common term for steamed rice and bami soep for noodle soup, aka the non-fried noodle version.
Moksi meti (mixed rice with chicken and pork, probably inspired by Chinese food), bakkeljauw (dried and salty fish), roti (Indian flat bread with meat and vegetables) are also worth to try to get the new experience in Surinamese culinary.
Warung Switie basically offers a warung modesty in a Dutch building complex, affordable dishes in a relatively big portion with no exceeding €15 per portion (excluding drinks) and very convenient for students and budget-conscious travelers.
Additionally, try to speak Javanese (ngoko register) to the staffs as they may understand it, but they do not speak Indonesian at all, little English and fluent Dutch of course!