This inimitable organic market happens on Saturdays from 9:00 through the afternoon (earlier or later depending on weather and the crowd). You’ll find it on Prinsengracht between the Westerstraat and the Brouwersgracht here. While many goods are available, the best part is easily the food. The mushroom stall is redolent with several dozen wild and cultivated fungi. If you buy their mixture, you can separate out the components and taste until you find something you love.
Almost everything they offer is delicious, some are spectacular, and a few are slimy when cooked (probably my fault). Much of the cheese will be new to people from North America. Look for hard, aged goat cheeses, and creamy new Gouda with fenugreek seeds scattered throughout. The vendors will let you taste anything, but be mindful that most customers are Dutch people doing their weekly shopping. Try several stalls for the widest variety.
Browse through all the bread places before you make up your mind. I’m a connoisseur of hearty loaves from Vermont’s excellent bakeries, but I’ve never eaten better chewy, multigrain bread than this market’s. Depending on your choice, they are full of hazelnuts and huge raisins, or of sundried tomatoes, or of nothing but first rate white flour and the skill of centuries.
Fruits and vegetables abound, usually of high quality. It’s great fun to see where they come. You can learn a little Dutch by guessing the country names. If it’s summer, most items will be local. While there are lots of excellent stalls, my own favorites are the “Star Garden” near the entrance of the church, the cheese place nearest the entrance by the Westerstraat, and the stall with the world’s best crepes outside France. Do not miss them even if you don’t want to buy anything else at the market!
Once you’ve loaded up on food, check out the bee table. Beeswax candles and a greater range of honey than most of us dream of are appreciated as gifts. They are the ultimate local product, sustaining the bees and the environment they require, apart from not cluttering up the house.
If you miss the Saturday market but want organic food (“bio” in Dutch), here’s a great list of where to find it.
The Flea Market and Fabric In addition to the food market and plants you see to your right, the Noordermarkt hosts a flea market that is open well into the afternoon. The vintage clothing stands are full of treasures, like my antique white nightshirt. You can spend hours looking at old post cards or record albums or chandelier bits or blue china or books. There’s even a small assortment of furniture and garden plants. Some artists sell contemporary cards, prints and jewelry. In the center of all this is a playground with a rubber surface, so kids can be well occupied.
For fabric, come back on Monday morning, especially for decorating textiles. Lots of bolts are available as well as remnants. If the timing doesn’t work for you, go instead to the stores in the Albert Cuyp market, on the same side as the golden angels you’ll see overhead (I’m not kidding) when you walk in from the tram on Cuypstraat.
Time for a snack Are you hungry yet? Unless it’s pouring with a whipping wind, find the crêpe stand. There’s only one; no one would compete with the skilled and gregarious chef Letif Moses. She and her mother Corrie started the business together decades ago. Expect to wait a while before you win one of the stools at their counter. Every year, Letif and Corrie travel to France to the mill which grinds their two organic flours, one for savory crêpes (ham, cheese) and another for sweet (lemon, chestnut, chocolate and banana, etc.). As long as apples can be stored in their basement in Edam, they make their own apple conserve, which to me is the most delicious of all. Perch on a low stool and watch the two crêpe pans sizzle away. Important culinary note: these are NOT the fabled Dutch pannekoeken, which are also delicious but very different – eggier, and usually with the “filling” cooked into the pancake. To eat those, go to a different neighborhood here.
If it’s too wet or cold, you can cram yourself into one of the cafés that border one side of the market. The Winkel, on the corner with the Westerstraat, is alleged to have the best apple tart in the city, and I don’t disagree. At the other end of the block is a more authentic “brown café.” It sports rugs on the tables just as if you were in a 17th century painting. If the crowds at those two places are too dense, try the T junction of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht. You’ll find the legendary Papeneiland from 1642, with classic and witty Dutch tiles. On the other side of Prinsengracht is the Café Tabac, which has never charmed me but is often less crowded. If you’re still looking, head back on Prinsengracht toward the Westerkerk and see what you can find, mostly on the same side as the market. If a water view isn’t important to you, the Westerstraat also has good options.
Something to notice: Come early and see the stalls set up in the Noordermarkt, or stay late and watch them torn down. The city provides the framework, picks up the trash and actually vacuums and/or scrubs the pavement! Don’t get me started on the superior cleanliness of Dutch streets, or what it takes to make it that way. Just keep watching and you’ll be amazed.
The Noordermarkt In 1940-1945: Strike!
The Noordermarkt has the proud distinction of being the place where workers organized the February 1941 Strike, the only general strike in Europe to protest the first roundup of Jewish people in Amsterdam. Read about it here.