Amsterdam is a great place to let your hair down and relax. The laid-back canals offer a nice place to sit, munch on a space cake and watch the world float by- literally. Coffeehouses around the city serve up soft drugs which are legal (hard drugs are definitely illegal) and controlled under a tolerance policy making them not nearly as much of a problem as in countries where they are illegal. The country’s progressive view on drugs is one thing many tourists remember about Amsterdam and the reason why many young, rebellious backpackers love the city! But my two weeks in Amsterdam taught me less about coffeehouse menu-reading and more about how to scavenge markets for leftover produce in markets and how to ride ‘sidesaddle’ on the back of a bike.
Usually when you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner, you offer to bring something. Dinner at the community-style home called Casa Robino was a different kind of dinner party.
We didn’t actually stay in the house, for starters. We met and then caravanned by bike out to a street market to catch it as it was closing. It was probably the worst time to get to a produce market if you wanted to buy quality food. Lucky for us, ‘buy’ wasn’t in our vocabulary and ‘decent’ replaced ‘quality’ in our food standards.
There’s a growing movement across the world called ‘dumpster diving’. By going to a market or grocery store at or after closing time, dumpster divers can rescue the food that is to be thrown away. Imagine birds surrounding a kid eating a cookie. The kid is free to enjoy as much of the cookie as he wants- the birds won’t take it straight from his hand. But whatever crumbs or pieces drop to the ground, the kid won’t eat anyway, so they belong to the birds. Dumpster divers are birds, except they ask instead of just taking and they are a lot nicer and cleaner than most crumb-seeking birds! It’s not just homeless and needy people that dumpster dive; it’s the resourceful, ecological and practical ones, too!
From the market, we rescued an amazing variety of fruits and vegetables. Most of the food I saw left behind by stall owners was still perfectly good. True, you probably had to pick around some moldy berries and maybe part of an eggplant was bruised and unusable, but throwing out the moldy parts and chopping off the bruised bits left most of the food usable to some degree. Bananas seem to be a mainstay of diver’s winnings and bruised, unsellable pieces meant banana bread for dessert!
Between the ten of us hunting for food, we found enough to make dinner for 30 people that night! A few things were bought, like noodles for pasta and flour for homemade bread, but most of it was rescued in just an hour’s work of dumpster diving.
Since it’s not safe to use dairy or meat when cooking in the dumpster diver fashion, the meal was conveniently ‘freegan’, a mix of the words ‘free’ and ‘vegan’. No money, no animal products, no problem. Our delicious freegan dinner took immense creativity from those cooking since you don’t exactly go dumpster diving with a shopping list. You take what you can get, but only what you need and will use.
Amsterdam is known for its avid bikers. My CouchSurfing host was no exception. He offered that I could use one of his three extra bikes, but upon discovering they were all way too big for me, he suggested that I ‘back ride’ his bike. Imagine sitting sidesaddle on that hard piece of metal over the back tire. Not comfortable, but certainly a memorable way to get around.
My first try was a complete failure. Let me tell you, it’s takes a lot of muscles I never knew I had to keep balanced. It doesn’t help that you’re facing sideways and don’t know which way you’re turning. By the end of the day, I was so sore on one side I made a mental note of facing the other way the next time to balance myself out.
By the end of my stay, I was able to sit comfortably and practically be Dutch (minus the wooden clogs) in my ability to back ride while my friend and I effortlessly passed a beer back and forth. I think this should earn me honorary Netherlands citizenship or at least some sort of official recognition.
Amsterdam is known for a lot of other things, mainly the coffeehouses serving up soft drugs. But, just so you mamas out there know, there’s a lot more to the city than space cakes. Don’t worry about your little baby on her first trip to Amsterdam- she’s probably just digging in a dumpster for dinner or drinking beer on the back of a bike. No worries!