I love a guest post. Not only do I get the day off (blogging is tiring), but I get to read about something fabulous I haven’t tried.
A regular reader named Malcolm reached out to me with this amazing post about a vegetarian butcher in Amsterdam. Thanks, Malcolm!
Read all about this unique business below:
I had somewhat naively believed that when it came to plant-based dining, a city famed for being as hedonistic, libertarian and progressive as Amsterdam would be a paradise for cruelty-free eaters.
Amsterdam is a curious place for vegans.
The man behind TerraZen cafe, the city’s only Ital restaurant with a Japanese twist (or perhaps the only Ital restaurant in the world with a Japanese twist) warned us, before serving us a sumptuous three-course vegan feast, that Amsterdam was the city of steak.
Sadly, in many respects, he was right. I suspect we were carelessly served dairy on two occasions, despite getting the repeated assurances of our hosts that their food contained none. Yet Amsterdam had one truly revolutionary gem up its sleeve: I never thought in my wildest tofu dreams that in the city of steak there’d be a vegetarian butchers.
What really strikes you about De Vegetarische Slager (slager is Dutch for butcher), is the attention to detail. Very often in the vegan world, we have many well intentioned people forced to do their best with shoe-string budgets, but De Vegetarische Slager is an obvious exception. This lavish, upmarket establishment resembles its trendy modern counterparts in West London or Primrose Hill in every respect except its products. Wide-beam wooden floors, mid-level tiles, two huge deli counters, one with the veggie/vegan meat and another with a variety of meals to go, and a window display featuring enticing artisan food arranged like an art installation. This is somewhere designed to appeal to every sense and got my vegan ones tingling excitedly.
I was in love with the concept of a vegetarian butchers long before I’d visited De Vegetarische Slager. Appropriating and subverting something so typically carnist and giving it a veggie spin ticks all right boxes, but the standard here is breath-taking. Our host Aernoud was warm and welcoming, and began in characteristically good English to explain what exactly was suitable for vegans. Most of the pre-prepared ‘meats’ are vegan, except the Vegetarische Slager’s own brand, sadly some of which contains egg. I’d say about 85 – 90% of the stuff was vegan and Aernoud was on hand to guide us through. He explained that they try to stock a greater range of vegan products as everyone can eat it, an attitude that can only be applauded.
At our hosts behest we initially began by sampling some of the cold ‘chicken’ displayed in the counter. If you are someone who is unsettled by the mere thought of imitation meat, this is not for you. Even as someone who does indulge in faux flesh, this was almost too realistic. It was exactly how I remembered it tasted: a little greasy, salty and with plenty of bite. After Aernoud confirmed once again to two incredulous vegans that it was indeed 100% plant-based, we eagerly tucked in.
The faux chicken is excellent warmed, in a sandwich or a salad. It is soy-based, as is most of their produce, but with a firm texture.
On a subsequent visit, we had what has to rank as one of the world’s best vegan burgers. Even without the mayo, which was sadly not plant-based, it was a real treat. The open chicken sandwich was also to die for. Every aspect, from the bread, to the relish, the walnut pate and the ‘chicken’, seemed perfectly balanced to complement each flavour. A true reflection of the Vegetarische Slager itself, where every element is impressive enough but the combined intricately balanced whole makes for a very well executed operation indeed.
Aernoud was convivial, happy to chat about the rise of veggie/vegan eating in Amsterdam, knew exactly what we could and could not eat, the products themselves were better than most fake meats I have ever tried, and were a world away from than the usual spongy seitan-in-a-can from China town. There is real thought behind this place. A lot of money and effort has gone into providing a veggie/vegan experience that has to be one of the top spots for us in the world. De Vegetarische Slager is also handily, pretty central, just three tram stops from Amsterdam Centraal station. Whilst Maoz is closer, the idea of eating something I can get in London hardly gets my saliva flowing.
The two highlights of our trip were undoubtedly TerraZen and De Vegetarische Slager. Both highly recommended.
We didn’t fare so well at our other destination, Brussels. There is little in Brussels to recommend. Aside from some quaint little health shops boasting an excellent array of vegan produce, all labelled, a Thai restaurant that served seitan and tofu and a falafel bar, frustratingly, vegan pickings became scarce after dark and the endless parade of menu boards read more like a smuggled document from a vivisection lab than anything resembling a meal. We found ourselves longing for the comfort food of TerraZen and the unique flavours of De Vegetarische Slager as we tramped the drizzly Brussels’ cobbles with very empty stomachs.
I love this development and the redefinition of the concept. The first time I saw something like this was about Hiltl in Zürich, which isn’t fully vegan, but a very traditional vegetarian place dating back to 1898 and latterly with a vegetarian butcher’s attached to it.
While not fully vegan, it doesn’t look as if vegans are spoilt for choice there. On their restaurant menus, the ratio of vegan to vegetarian seems to be about 1:1 to 2:1, slightly in favour of vegan from what I could see by taking an entirely non-scientific glance at them.
Let’s hope that many more butcher’s shops go fully vegan straightaway instead of making the detour via various animal products.