Though perhaps we weren't in Amsterdam long enough to judge fairly, we did figure out that you could get a solid meal by focusing on some of the city's strengths: Indonesian food, pancakes, and fish from one of the fish stands. (Surinamese food also sounded intriguing, but we didn't get to sample it on this trip - would love to hear from anyone who has!) Here's a quick snapshot of each type of food that we enjoyed:
We sampled the Rijsttafel at a restaurant called Celibang, where we were served 14 dishes for three people (I'm glad we were hungry), including pork sate in peanut sauce; chicken legs in a mild curry; spicy tofu chunks; carrots and cauliflower in coconut milk curry; oxtail in a sweet, mole-like sauce; hardboiled eggs in mushroom sauce; corn fritters; and more. Dessert was pineapple chunks in syrup and fried banana. Everything was very tasty, with some dishes much spicier than others. Overall, the Rijsttafel seemed like an enjoyable way to sample lots of different foods, best for a hungry group of people.
Pancakes: We visited The Pancake Bakery with perhaps the only non-tourists in the place - Esther, who used to live in New York City but is from Holland and recently returned to Amsterdam, along with her baby and sister. The sisters had never been to that restaurant before, and they told us the Dutch don't really eat pancakes! In any case, the pancakes are worth trying at this restaurant or probably any of the others scattered throughout Amsterdam.
The pancakes themselves are enormous - one of them covers an entire plate - but very thin, so eating them isn't as much of a challenge as you might expect when you see them. (Though they're still rather impossible to finish.)
The combinations are endless, from sweet pancakes with jam, fruit, or Nutella to savory pancakes with all sorts of strange toppings. I opted for the pancake with chicken, cheese, and mushrooms, while Jay had the Canadian pancake, filled with ham, bacon, cheese, and onions.
Herring: Love it or hate it (I happen to love it), herring could be Amsterdam's favorite snack. We sampled it at one of the fish stands scattered throughout the city. You can either get the fish tucked into a sandwich, called broodje haring, or chopped into small pieces with onions and pickles and eaten with a toothpick (the way we had it). I usually eat my herring marinated, so the Dutch version to me was quite different, rather like herring sushi. Apparently it's salted and then frozen for at least two days before being served, so it's not quite raw. But if you're a herring fan, it makes for a nice snack or a quick and tasty lunch.
Unfortunately, though, the fish stands are harder to find than you might hope. On our final day in Amsterdam, we searched in vain for one, as I wanted to try the smoked eel that many of these stands also sell. Alas, it will be a treat for another trip.