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Interview of the Month | Vicky Hampton

Categories: Food and drink, Interview, Journalism
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Vicky Hampton is a writer and runs food blog www.amsterdamfoodie.nl

amsterdamfoodie

Age: 36

 

Where do you live?

Westerpark, Amsterdam

 

What made you come to Amsterdam?

Originally I studied here.  I was at Edinburgh University studying English literature and I had the opportunity to spend my third year aboard under the Erasmus exchange programme.  It was a bit of a lucky dip as there were seven cities to choose from and I had not been to any of them before.  Helsinki sounded a bit cold; Zurich sounded a bit boring, and so on. It was a very unscientific process of elimination that I ended up in Amsterdam. I know it does not make a lot of sense to study English literature in the Netherlands, but the experience was fantastic and I fell in love with Amsterdam as soon as I got here.

 

How long have you been here?

I arrived in 2001 for my exchange year and then briefly moved back to the UK, returning permanently in 2006.

 

Can you speak Dutch?

I do speak Dutch. I can say everything I need to say from a functional perspective.  But as a British person, I think that sense of humour is so much a part of your personality, and it frustrates me that I can’t quite express that humour in Dutch.

 

Where are you from in the UK?

Pangbourne – it’s a little village between Reading and Oxford.

 

What do you do now?

I’m a writer, but my activities are much broader than that. I do freelance translation, social media and content marketing as well.

 

I think that most people know you from your Amsterdam Foodie Blog; how did that come about?

I have always been into food; my dad was an hotelier and restaurateur. I spent quite a bit of time in and out of his restaurants while I was growing up, and we also did “market research”, which was a euphemism for going out and having nice dinners. I’ve always loved cooking; I cooked at home in my parents’ house from a very young age.  I then cooked a bit professionally as a student, having catering jobs on the side of my studies. So I was always into food, but loved writing as well. It was a bit of toss up whether I would be a chef or a writer.  In the end, writing about food seemed to be the logical conclusion.

 

bVicky Hampton books croppedSo you have also written a cookbook; would you like to tell us about that?

The book was inspired by my experiences of working in an office.  I used to work just off Leidseplein – you’d think there would be dozens of lunch options around there, but in reality there were mostly only sit-down cafes. As you know with Dutch customer service being what it is, you wouldn’t get out of there within an hour – lunch becomes a whole event rather than just a 20-minute break from your desk. There were not the same range of sandwich shops, salad bars and jacket potato stalls that you would find in London.

 

We had a small kitchen at work, which was relatively well kitted-out for an office. I was taking ingredients into work and just making lunch there.  My colleagues were very curious and I started making lunches for them, including monthly team lunches.

 

On the suggestion of one my colleagues I decided to write all these things down – to encourage people to eat something different and healthy at lunchtime. Healthiness was not the primary objective, but in general I think cooking from scratch is healthier than buying processed food. But my primary goal was to get people out of the rut of Ham-Kaas Broodjes for lunch.  There is nothing wrong with them, but it’s worth mixing things up a bit now and again.

 

Vicky Hampton’s Working Lunch is available at bol.com

 

So the logical question after that is what is your opinion of the EU referendum result?

To be perfectly honest, I am quite gutted about it.  From a purely personal point of view, I identify myself as European.  I used to live in France and Italy for brief periods before I moved to the Netherlands.  My brother lives in Belgium with his wife and three kids.  My whole family has always had a very international outlook.

 

From a broader perspective, the huge impact that it will have on people’s jobs is quite heart-breaking. Hopefully, it will get better with time.  The media at the moment is very doom and gloom. There is nothing else to talk about – I think I’m addicted to reading news about it.  I’m so angry about the whole thing.

 

Are there any particular favourite restaurants at the moment?

On my website I have a revolving restaurant of the month: each month I choose a place I liked that I have been to quite recently.

 

Surely that can only be Moon?

Ha, ha.  I have recently reviewed Moon on my website.  It’s not cheap, but the view is amazing.

 

Pendergast is one restaurant I am excited about at the moment – it’s just south of Westerpark.  It is a Kansas City-style BBQ restaurant that has some of the best BBQ-ed meat I have tasted outside the US. It is an independent restaurant set up by a guy from that neck of the woods in the US.  They are smoking brisket, ribs, pork cheeks and all that good stuff. I’m quite into BBQ at the moment – I’d also give a mention to the guys at Bulelani pop-up who are currently in search of a permanent location. They do amazing ribs.

 

Are there any food trends which are appearing?

So you have on the one hand the meat eaters (as evidenced by the BBQ scene) but you also see a resurgence in vegetables taking centre stage.  In that vein, I like Choux  a lot.  They are cooking up some excellent modern Dutch cuisine using local vegetables.

 

Dutch food has not enjoyed a great reputation in the past.  However, there are some really creative chefs doing some great things with what is available locally at the moment.

 

Do you have any tips for people to find a good restaurant in Amsterdam?

Yes, of course! Simply go to my website and use the restaurant finder. You can search for restaurant recommendations by price, location and type of cuisine. You can also book a lot of restaurants directly from my site (look for the “book now” buttons!).

 

What do you most miss from the UK?

Not a lot, and even the less since the Brexit result. After 10 years, I am totally past the point of missing food items;  I never think about Marmite or marmalade or Yorkshire tea. I’m not very English in that respect.  I guess that one thing I sort of miss is the humorous banter.  You know if you pop into a pub or bar or café in London, you can often strike up that instant rapport with the person behind the bar.  I’m not sure if it’s my Dutch skills or just cultural differences, but I find it hard to have that same banter over here. But honestly, I miss very little. The Netherlands is my home now, and I may soon be trading in my British nationality for a Dutch passport!

The next step

Categories: Amsterdam, Journalism
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Written by Adam Kohut

 

When I left Texas for China — and, two years later, departing China for Bangkok — I boarded a plane and sat crammed into an economy seat, knowing that when I landed I would be confused, that everything — or, at least, that most things — would be alien, wholly new. There was galvanism in that. And it was where a lot of joy came from: that prospect of adventure, the idea that each day was inevitably bound for oddity. This held true for a good while. But, as always and of course, the new didn’t stay new. No, it became old. And the old, as it often and unfairly does, became boring. At which point I, a member by birthright of The Pessimistic Society of the Eternally Grumpy, began to search for fault lines and cracks and irregularities in Thai society with which to occupy myself. There has, after all, never been a better tool with which to farm interest than self-righteous rage.

“Would you look at that!” I might once have thought, upon observing a man sponge-bathing a rooster on the front steps of one of Bangkok’s many business-district skyscrapers. “Now that’s something you don’t see every day.” And then I’d smile inwardly and feel that prickled charge of excitement and carry on with my walk to work. But by the ninth, or the forty-second, or the ninety-third occurrence, that initial wonder had curdled. I’d realized that this bizarre ritual was, indeed, something I saw every day, and that said rooster, was, in fact, disgusting, dirty, and fairly terrifying, at least as far as birds go. It wasn’t long before I’d become mired in urban contempt toward live poultry.

A petty complaint, sure, but these things add up — the little frustrations and annoyances that prod and poke and rankle. You get sick of the crowds, or the noise, or the traffic, or the seemingly illogical hivemind of group culture, or this weird cultural practice of drinking beer with ice, and you begin to struggle. Or you don’t, and you find yourself adapting and willingly changing to better suit your environment. If this happens, you often opt to stay, to attempt to create a new life for yourself in a landscape so recently uncharted. If it does not, you often take the easiest — and the most effective — course of action: you flee.

So I did, gladly leaving behind Bangkok’s confusion, its chaos, its feckless society. And here I’ve arrived, in Amsterdam, the City That Sensibly Sleeps. Just the prospect of heading cardinally west, even to a place with which I was entirely unfamiliar, was enough to propagate this idea of returning, inciting a strange — and ever falser — sense of homecoming. After a month in The Netherlands, that feeling hasn’t entirely dissipated, although it would be untruthful to say I haven’t yet begun to slip, with more and more frequency, on icy patches that serve as furtively slippery differentiations between US and EU.

As an American, beginning to live in Europe presents a special kind of culture shock, one that creeps onto your shoulder, where it sits, invisibly perched, blanketing your senses in disorienting fog.

Photos by Tessa Dekker

Photo by Tessa Dekker

So far it’s been a bit like returning from a vacation, only during your absence someone has entered your home and rearranged your furniture. Everything is the same, but different: it’s your end table, but it used to stand by the bed, not wedged into the entryway. And that’s your television, yes, but wasn’t it once mounted on the wall and not sat on the floor? Food portions, the shape of toilets, the maniacal placidity of habitual, universal bicycling, that overall feeling of European put-togetherness — all perceived eccentricities come together to create a form that, at the outset, appears human, but upon closer inspection reveals itself to be merely humanoid, a great pretender. While I haven’t yet seen an entire pig, skinned and hanging from a metal hook — a common sight on the roiling streets of Bangkok — the idea that great wax-sheathed wheels of cheese, the circumference and thickness of a car’s tire, or pyramidal piles of freshly baked baguettes, can be found on essentially every corner is, for now, equally wondrous. As is the air, which, while cold, is crisp and clean. And the streets: quiet, orderly, but just lively enough. It’s easy to see where that very pastiche, very American, romanticized notion of Europe is born.

Surely, though, I will wake up one morning in my apartment, which currently makes me feel as though I am living inside a foreign film, and the sheen will have dulled. The wooden floors, their creakiness, their propensity for doling out splinters, will have lost their character, warped seemingly overnight into hazards, grievances. Surely Amsterdam’s Escher-like architecture — the city seems as though it could be folded into itself — its flat line layout, so dizzying in its varied sameness — centuries-old buildings and their rectangular-plane windows, sharp corners and ninety-degree angles, their slender heights — will begin to make me feel as though I am locked in some sort of dystopian dream. Perhaps that orderliness, at the moment perfect antidote to the whirling mayhem in which I have lived for four long years will suddenly feel oppressing.

Perhaps I will want out.

But perhaps I will not.

There is beauty in that honeymoon’s ending. Of realizing that no place is perfect, and, beginning to recognize flaws for what they are — and then learning to love them. A move — to a new house, town, country — is the beginning of a new relationship — fresh, delicate, precious — and you have to realize, unless you are ignorant or crazy, how onerous, how fraught with risk, how difficult, how unlikely it is to succeed. But as with love, you move forward, caution be damned, and you breathe deep and you take that step and you once more put your toe, your foot, your leg, your body, into the great, international waters of the unknown.

And you see what happens next.

 

 

Postcard from Bangkok

Categories: Journalism, Postcard from
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The intergalactic guide to lost love

By Adam Kohut, writer and journalist.

 

Icrash-landed in Bangkok, meteoric, achieving escape velocity from a failed exploratory mission in China and smashing into alien soil with atomic emotional force, emerging from gnarled wreckage, pulsing with the dull ache of loneliness and crippled by a broken heart and seething with anger and hurt and fear, the girl I’d loved having disembarked for the safety of home, and I myself leaving behind a job I’d grown to loathe and a nation’s citizenry with which I was glaringly incompatible.

Bangkok — its skylines, its noise, its summer heat —was oppressive, immense, foreboding, inviting, futuristic and anachronistic, grim and grungy and dusty and sordid and sleek — a place so exotic as to be science-fictional in its cultural convergence — of languages, of foods, of nationalities — at once bleakly modern and mired in mystic past. And here I was: sole survivor of what had initially been a two-man spacecraft, my only tools for navigation being lurid, pop-cultural fantasies and an international optimism that was now a dimly blinking bulb on a cracked control panel.

Then, on the horizon, a figure: rendered nanoscale by distance, obscured by gauzy aurora, materializing upon approach into fantastical reality. This was hope. This was safety. This was danger. This was salvation. This was damnation. This was Tessa.

And here we were, abroad and frantic and horny and, I suppose, a little homesick. And suddenly here was love, fusion love, with the strawberry-blonde girl from Holland, the girl with the perfectly shaped nose and the laid-back comportment of a cumulous cloud, allowing her to drift with thoughtless ease throughout the prickled quills of my porcupinal demeanor. Oh, was it love! And it was rescue, Western rescue from self-imposed Eastern exile. So onto one another we tethered, abandoning reserve and ideas of self-preservation, and we set off on a traversal of ourselves, each other, and the otherworldly cityscape into which we were enfolded.

Years passed, calendric pages distorted by the love-time continuum, bending and warping, fading and sharpening and blending. Slowly, together, we began to construct a ship, using scrap from the past and elemental material mined from the present. And sooner than later we’d created something pilotable, habitable, seemingly capable of interstellar travel. And there it sat, fuelled and ready for liftoff.

And we looked at each other and we knew it was time.

Four years in Asia, we say, in tones hushed and reverential, our eyebrows arched into parabolas— all four in Bangkok, for Tessa. Nearly half a decade. It is a length of time that both impresses and frightens — ourselves, our friends, our families. There are moments when these years feel like an almost interminable period for a Westerner to exist weighted down by the heightened gravitational force of Asia’s group culture, which restricts individualist senses of independence, of volatility. Tessa and I watch those who have chosen to cement themselves into places of permanence here, and we are baffled and, at times, angry, shocked that these men and women — our friends, some of them — seem to have so willingly surrendered what we so greedily covet.

Tessa and I, we know we have benefitted from our time in Asia, and we have compiled our reports, filed away comprehensive knowledge and experience into our mental databases for later use. But yes, we tell one another, gazing up into the glittering reaches of the universe, imagining possibilities as-yet uncharted. Yes. It is time to go home.

But trouble: Where is home, we ask ourselves, when the ship’s copilots hail from separate quadrants of the spiral-armed galaxy? A tricky matter, albeit one with a simple answer, because there is no home; there is instead a choice. And, for now, we’ve chosen The Netherlands, where Tessa will be free of the oppressive financial shackles of university tuition and student loans, enabling her to earn a master’s degree in education — thereby dipping into the frizzed lunacy that is a career in teaching high school art. I, ideally, will find roll the dice on the off-chance finding employment that is both sustainable and fulfilling.

But The Netherlands is Tessa’s home planet; it is not mine.

“Aren’t you sad about this?” she asks me one night, less fretful than curious, as we lay in bed, in the dark. “Sad that we’ll never really be able to go home, that it will be one or the other, for the rest of our lives? That scares me a little.” She pauses. Then she rolls over and is instantly asleep, just like that, as always, an android powering down, leaving me to stare wide-eyed into the midnight black, as flashback thoughts of one-sided loneliness, of that broken heart, which two years ago was so sharp, so vicious, so dangerous, zip through my mind at blurred hyper-drive speed. These are fears of abandonment, fears of reliving the past, of becoming trapped inside a tubular lemniscate of perpetual grief.

These thoughts are disheartening, I mentally bargain. But their flipsides also make for an interesting life, don’t they? Don’t they necessitate trips between the US and to Europe on a somewhat regular basis? Don’t they demand a life of risk, yes, but also adventure? Don’t they ensure the mundane will never ooze into the crevices of our daily lives?

I am confident.
I am brave.

I am stupid.

As I realize Tessa is right, one of us will be an immigrant — an alien — always, for the rest of our lives.

For Tessa, Amsterdam, our port of destination, will mean old friends, family, a familiar culture, a native language. She will have airlocks in which she can seek refuge from the vacuum of space. But her homecoming will be my arrival. And on this I focus, turning the idea of her glorious return into something saddening, simmering in a broth of low-heat envy. Will this imbalance, I wonder, damage our relationship, an asteroid collision from which we will never recover, dealing mortal damage to something seemingly innocuous but vital, some steam valve or pump or satellite dish, that will cripple what we have so carefully yet thoughtlessly engineered, thus leading to its eventual yet inevitable — and soundless — implosion?

“What have I done?” I ask her, shaking her awake, an opaque nebula the color of murky urine sweeping over and enveloping my very existence, clouding rationality. My eyes gleam with equine haunt. “I’ve doomed us! Everything will be ruined! It will be years before I see my family. I won’t have a job; I just know I won’t find one. I’ll have to work in a cafeteria. I’ll have to wear a hairnet and rubber gloves. How could I do this? What have I done? What have we done? What will we do?”

I bristle with pessimism, come alive with prophetic visions of dystopian futures where I huddle, cold and alone, yearning for the lean-on-me days of Bangkok, a city I now view through the pastel lens of the past, everything soft and subdued and warm. If only, I’ll think. If only.

Tessa, she groans. She opens her bleary eyes and she rolls them. “Oh God, you idiot. It’s not going to be going home for me either. Not quite. It’s all going to be different. My home isn’t the same as when I left it. Most of friends have moved, and I won’t have a job either. At least not at first. It’s starting over for me, too.”

We are quiet then — I am quiet, then — and soon she is asleep, again.

This is becoming a pattern, her insistence on being correct, her ability to telescopically peer at both sides of a situation, yet still, somehow, absurdly cling to optimism, for me an ungraspable thing of slippery surfaces. It is mounting evidence, all of it, that I need her, and, I tell myself as I listen to her soft, deep, sleep-weighted breaths, it is also proof that she will leave me, because I am clearly insane.

But for now, I am tranquilized, anxiety eclipsed by the calming shadow of her surety.

Yes, The Netherlands is Tessa’s home, but she will return after prolonged absence to find that things have changed, grown and shrunk. They will be old, but they will be new again, results of her evolution into adulthood and of time, all that time, spent away from home. And we, too, the both of us, are people transformed by one another and by our travels, the coronas of faraway suns and electromagnetic rays emitted from sources extraterrestrial.

And there lies both the beauty and the tarnished despair in our relationship: Although tethered to one another, we are astronauts adrift, Tessa and I, borne through cosmic territory, faced with destinies dictated by passports of differing color, forcing us, at times, to individually relinquish control.

For the time being, my ship will be stripped for parts, and we will take with us only the essentials, the superfluous relegated to metallic storage containers where it will await my return. I will take the copilot’s chair, at attention and ready, an active part of our relationship, but largely unneeded for the act of flight itself. Until the situation reverses, and we make the potential move the United States, when and where our roles will change.

Or perhaps we will travel elsewhere — South America, Australia, Japan— and we will jointly man the controls. We will train ourselves, harden, adapt to deftly plot our course through the flux of the unknown, forever strangers in strange lands, in elliptical orbit around one another, never certain, but certainly never lost.

Bangkok pic — Tessa Dekker

Photo by Tessa Dekker

Adam Kohut portfolio
Adam has just stepped off the boat from Bangkok with his girlfriend. His writing and journalism portfolio is available here.