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De Rijsttafel in Holland

My husband, Keith, and I returned recently from a vacation in the Benelux countries -- that's Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.  We had a wonderful time and the weather, notorious in the Netherlands for being wet, was beautiful and sunny every day.  Not good for plants or farmers, but great for tourists.

Our dear and longtime family friends are Dutch and told me that I had to have the Indonesian meal called rijsttafel, or "rice table."  I was familiar with this Dutch inspired Indonesian meal that features many small dishes.  At the center of this multi-dish feast is freshly steamed rice and deep fried shrimp flavored chips called krupuk.  I had rijsttafel before in the Boston area and, of course, at our Dutch friend's home.  Interestingly enough, there are very few, if any, Indonesian restaurants in Greater Boston an area that encompasses over 4,000 square miles and about 4.4 million people.  We are becoming quite a foodie destination here in Boston, but there's barely an Indonesian restaurant and no rijsttafel.

The first rijsttafel dinner we enjoyed was in Amsterdam with my 7th grade French teacher who flew in from Lausanne, Switzerland to meet us and her friend, a native of Amsterdam.  As we were planning our meeting via email I asked if we could have rijsttafel together.  I'm so glad I did because we ended up at a marvelous little restaurant - 3 generations old, and in a part of Amsterdam we would never have found ourselves.  The meal was absolutely wonderful!     14 various dishes encompassing meats, seafood, vegetables, pickles, chutneys, rice and krupuk ( one of my favorite).  I took some photos, but what's missing is that incredible spicy aroma and rich flavor that permeated every dish.  I loved the different textures, temperatures, spiciness and tastes.  Yum!

If you ever find yourself in Amsterdam and want to experience rijsttafel here's the restaurant.  I highly recommend it, but be sure to make reservations.  The place was packed when we were there.

Tempo Doeloe
Utrechsestraat 75, 1017 VJ Amsterdam
Tel: 020-625 67 18

We enjoyed the meal so much that while we were in Delft ( to be in the hometown of the painter Johannes Vermeer), we had another rijsttafel dinner.  This time it was just the two of us, but the meal was as delicious as the one we had in Amsterdam.  Our delightful waitress was from Canada and she was studying and working her way to a graduate degree and hoped to remain in Holland afterwards to work.

One popular dish that appeared in both rijsttafel dinners was Gado Gado.    It's really easy to make and perfect warm weather food.  You must also try and find krupuk because once you taste it you can't just eat one chip.  They are addictive!  A must at a rijsttafel, but they al make excellent hors d'oeuvres.

I'll give you a recipe for Gado Gado and tell you how to fry krupuk tomorrow!  Until then, you'll just have to dream about the food.....

(Clockwise starting at left) Noodles, pork, sauteed greens, marinated beef, salad.

Medley of Dishes and Sides at a Rijsstafel

4 sides, including Indonesian fried rice, krupuk and Dutch beer.

Table with 14 different dishes!

Gado Gado - Blanched vegetables with a peanut butter sauce

Curried Eggs and Toasted Coconut  Shreds with Peanuts

Rice, Lemon Grass Chicken and Pickled Vegetables

Beef with Star Anise

Sauteed Green Beans


Me...starting to chow down on satay!

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Like so many of us, Helen Chen learned to cook at her mother's side. But few of us had a mother like Joyce Chen. Helen grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her mother prepared the authentic dishes of her native Shanghai and Beijing with the sort of regularity the rest of us came to expect of macaroni and cheese or meatloaf.

"I remember when I was little, watching my mother prepare meals for family and friends. I once wrote a list of my favorite Chinese dishes," Helen recalls, "I came up with 150 recipes. I do not have one or two favorites. All the dishes on the list are traditional and all are ones that I learned from my mother. That is what I love most about Chinese food: its variety. Taste, texture and color all come into play, as does personality and culture. I think this is what cooking is all about."

Soft spoken and intensely intelligent, Helen Chen was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. with her family while still a baby. Helen grew up, as she describes it, in a traditional Chinese-American household. "When I was young I wanted to be totally American," she remembers. "It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized how lucky I was to have two cultures."

Today, Helen Chen is a widely acknowledged expert in Chinese cooking. Besides her role as an educator and cookbook author, she also is a corporate spokesperson and business consultant to the house wares industry. In 2007 she created and developed a new line of Asian kitchenware under the brand name Helen’s Asian Kitchen®, expressly for Harold Import Company in New Jersey.

Having been born in China and raised and educated in the United States, Helen brings the best of both worlds to her approach to the art of Chinese cuisine. She understands the needs of the American cook as only a native can, yet she is intimately knowledgeable in the culinary practices and philosophy of China.

In her active role as a teacher and educator, Helen teaches Chinese cuisine at Boston University; and, through the Anderson Foundation’s enrichment program ‘Cooking Up Culture’ she teaches Boston area school children from grades 1-12 about Chinese cuisine and culture. She also teaches Asian cuisine in numerous cooking schools across the country.

Helen has lectured to various professional and culinary organizations such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Boston University Seminars in the Arts and Culinary Arts, Oldways Preservations and Exchange Trust, Small Business Development Center, The Culinary Historians of Boston, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and the Culinary Guild of New England. In addition, she conducts culinary tours of Boston’s Chinatown and is a frequent guest chef at cooking schools around the U.S.

Helen is the author of Helen Chen’s Chinese Home Cooking (Hearst Books, 1994), Peking Cuisine (Orion Books,1997) and Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Chinese Stir-Fries (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). A second book in the Helen’s Asian Kitchen series, Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Asian Noodles is scheduled for publication in January, 2010.