Noordermarkt- Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam boasts 12 daily outdoor markets and 15 markets that are open one or two days of the week, spread across the beautiful city that is built around picturesque canals.  At the Waterlooplein Flea Market one can find second hand clothing, while vintage trinkets and exotic spices can be haggled over at the largest market called Albert Cuypmarkt.  Perhaps the most photographed market in Amsterdam is the Bloemenmarkt, the only floating flower market in the world, housed on a long succession of boats on the Singel canal where one can enjoy tulips of various colors, even a rare black type.

On a wet autumn Saturday morning, I did as the locals did and rode my bicycle, holding an umbrella in one hand and wearing a big rain poncho, to the Noordermarkt organic farmers market in the Jordaan district to secure my week’s supply of greens and bread.

Noordermarkt, which means Northern Market, dates back to 1616 and was originally named Prinsenmarkt after the nearby Prinsengracht canal that runs along the length of the city.  In 1623, a large church called Noorderkerk was built in the town square, and for many years the current market site was used as a graveyard.  Eventually the market was revived and it took on the name of Noordermarkt to commemorate the holy landmark.

During World War II, the Noordermarkt square became the site of the February Strike, the first public protest of non-Jewish citizens against the deportation of Jews by the Nazis.  Now it is a peaceful and beautiful square lined by posh cafés and restaurants, coming alive on Saturdays as the only organic farmers market in the city.

I started filling my wicker basket with plump tomatoes, hefty beets, salad greens and fresh herbs while chatting with the vendors about how best to prepare them.  Despite the rain, the market was bustling with people from all walks of life who were enjoying this weekend tradition as much as I was.  Vibrant colors of ripe fruits and vegetables filled each stall, and alluring aromas of freshly baked breads and cheese samples drew me in from all directions.

An oyster stall at the market was the perfect place to rest my feet and indulge in some tasty bites.  David Hervé La Royale Cabanon oysters had a lovely sweetness that lingered forever on my palate.  A young boy, who looked around 8 years old, threw back the Royale like a seasoned veteran and gave me the thumbs up sign with a big smile.

The oyster vendor recommended that we try the Umami oyster, a plump oyster that shocked me with its initial jolt of saltiness, which then gradually and slowly turned into an intense brininess with a final finish of potent sweetness.  It was a powerful and vigorous oyster, unlike the more understated and elegant flavors of the Royale.

The Dutch are known for their rustic breads, and not surprisingly, there were at least 10 different bread stalls at the Noordermarkt.  Freshly baked muffins, some topped with sweetened fruits and others with herbs and vegetables, rye rusks, whole wheat loaves, braided pretzels, heavy spelt cylinders and flaky croissants colorfully lined each counter, quickly being snatched up by hungry customers.

Large wheels of cheeses, from the famous Gouda to the mellow Edam, soft goat’s cheese to buttery triple cream cheese, were on display for all to see and buy, and every vendor was more than happy to guide me in finding the right ones to satisfy my palate.

After a morning of shopping and sampling, the best way to wind down is to nosh on the best apple pie in the city at Winkel Café, situated right in the Noordermarkt square.  In fact, the organic farmers market got its start in 1987 when the owner of Winkel set up organic vegetable stalls in front of his café, hoping to draw more customers into his store. The cozy café is always crowded, day or night, rain or shine, with locals and tourists. 

Several Hollandse appeltaarts (Dutch apple pie) come up the dumbwaiter from the kitchen onto the main counter, warm and fresh, and served met slagroom (with whipped cream) for those wanting that extra sugar kick. During the rush, Winkel will easily dish out up to 10 pies an hour.

As the rain came pouring down on us at the end of our shopping spree, we darted into Winkel Café and squeezed into the communal table next to 10 other customers who were already licking up their pies. After warming our bodies and our hands on tall glasses of mint tea, we dug our spoons into our apple pies to experience a heavenly dessert like no other.  Thick soft chunks of sweet apples coated with cinnamon, nestled inside an even softer encasing of weightless crust that was delicate yet full of flavor at the same time.  No need for whipped cream on these apple pies, they were just perfect on their own.

The Winkel Cafe

Noordermarkt 43
1015 NA Amsterdam, Netherlands
020 6230223

The Noordermarkt organic farmers market is on the corner of Prinsengracht and Westerstraat, and open on Saturdays from 9.00 am – 3.00 pm.

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L’oasina- Tokyo, Japan

Hidden in the depths of the congested Tokyo concrete metropolis is a little known oasis.  A place of tranquility and purity where people come for rest and rejuvenation…L’oasina.

‘L’oasina’ is Italian for oasis, and this restaurant was born out of a deep respect for the gifts that mother nature intended for us to enjoy.  Its philosophy returns to the basics of how people used to live, growing fresh vegetables on untainted rich soil and raising free-range livestock on well tended land.  The introduction of pesticides, hormones and steroids have disrupted the natural balance of life on this planet, and it has been at the root of many diseases.  It is a sad reality that clean and healthy food has to be labeled ‘organic’ or ‘antibiotic-free’ for us to know that it’s safe for us to eat.  If it’s not labeled, then who knows what synthetic chemicals hide within the fibers and cells of the fruits of our earth.  Modern demand for year-long availability of produce wastes valuable land and resources by forcing vegetables to grow out of season under unnatural conditions.   There is no arguing that organic fruits at the peak of their true season are at their best and most delicious state, and that eggs from free-range healthy chickens are superior to those raised in dark tiny coops.

L’oasina is a quaint café/restaurant that honors the spirit of pure unprocessed delicious food.  They understand that the natural balance between nature and man can only be maintained through mutual respect and care.  They also know that organic food is the best form of medicine to sustain a healthy body, and the best nourishment to satisfy the palate.  One of my good friends, a floral designer, introduced me to this haven when we met up for lunch one afternoon in Tokyo.  Although we were in the middle of Gaien-mae, in a small street just off of the busy Aoyama-dori boulevard, the inside of the restaurant was quiet and peaceful.  She reserved the best table for our lunch, a small semi-private alcove framed with draping white curtains and decorated with a crystal chandelier and a Matisse-esque fresco.   The rest of the dining room in the back, with antique lamps, leatherbound books and a cabinet full of decorative cups, was reminiscent of a comfortable sitting area in a countryside English mansion.

The cozy space is run by Chef Mariko Nakayamada, who trained at the Professional Culinary Institute in California.  After gaining professional experience working in a restaurant in America, she returned to her native country to open a place where she could honor her farm-to-table philosophy.  She works closely with farmers and artisans who share the same philosophy, and she only incorporates ingredients that she feels are safe and healthy.  Every menu item is followed by a description of where it was grown and who farmed it.  Vegetables are delivered from Kudo-farms in Nagano, Eiza-farms in Nara, and Oowada-farms in Ibaraki.  Featured meats may include herb pork from Yabuta-farms in Hokkaido,  Date red pork from Izunuma-Nohsan, Jidori chicken from Miyazaki, or free-range Hokkaido beef.  Every product is guaranteed to be pure, natural, nutritious and delicious.

L’oasina is affiliated with Keizanso, a natural hot springs ryokan in Shiogawara-Onsen in Gunma prefecture.  Here, in addition to eating healthy organic food, one can also soak their bodies in the therapeutic mineral waters.   Keizanso promotes local agricultural projects in addition to growing their own vegetables.  They even serve unpasteurized milk, distributed by a local farmer, that is said to be healthy and safe.  At L’oasina in Tokyo, they sell vegetables and homemade miso that are made in Keizanso.  They also sell the savory Bolivian pink salt that they use in all of their cooking.

Organic vegetable salad  自然農法のサラダ, ボリビアの岩塩, アルメリア砂漠のエキストラバージンオリーブオイル

For lunch, you can choose 3 courses ranging from 1,500 yen to 3,800 yen, depending on how many entrées you want to have.  We opted for the mid-range 2,500 yen course with 2 entrées.  The salad, made with various leafy greens, red cabbage, apples, dates and carrots, was served with a bottle of Castillo de Tabernas olive oil and some pink Bolivian rock salt.  They wanted us to enjoy and savor the inherent sweetness of the organic vegetables, so a minimal drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt was all that was needed.

Home baked bread with olive oil  パン、アルメリア砂漠のエキストラバージンオリーブオイル

Freshly baked bread came out warm and toasty, and again we enjoyed this with a simple dip in the green olive oil that had an immense sweet and fruity flavor.  This olive oil is produced near the desert village of Tabernas in Spain, a region that is said to receive the most sunlight per year in Europe.  Ideal climates and stable temperatures produce a smooth oil that is rich in aroma and flavor.  I’ve been using this oil for many years in my kitchen after discovering it during a taste test at Surfas.

Kabocha gratin カボチャのグラタン

A small but filling serving of kabocha Japanese pumpkin gratin was creamy and luscious.  The dish was perfectly prepared- it was all about the naturally sweet flavors of the organic kabocha with only a hint of cream and cheese to enhance, not overpower, the vegetable.

Momotaro tomato juice 桃太郎トマトのジュース

Drink choices included this refreshing Momotaro tomato juice, Unshū mikan juice and apple juice from Keizanso.  Momotaro tomatoes are perhaps the most popular tomatoes in Japan for its subtle sugar and acid flavors.  Named after Momotaro, a popular hero from an ancient Japanese folklore, these medium sized pink tomatoes have a wonderful rich flavor that is best enjoyed raw.  I fell in love with my glass of fruity tomato juice, and for a second I contemplated moving back to Tokyo just to have this every day.

Lentil and vegetable soup レンズ豆と野菜のスープ

The soup was simple but comforting and warm.  It was packed with celery, onions and carrots and made with a simple bouillon.  I loved the simplicity of this dish- often times we think more is better.  More seasoning, more zest, more ingredients, more garnish and more color.  And what for?  A bigger price tag without added nutritional value.

Yabuta Farm roast pork with soy-based sauce やぶ田ファームのハーブ豚のロースト 和風醤油ソース

A succulent slice of Yabuta Farm roasted herb pork was dressed with a refreshing soy and grated daikon radish sauce.  It was served with simple roasted farm vegetables of sweet potato and swiss chard.  The chef let the superb quality of the products speak for themselves by preparing them in a simple and minimal fashion.

Assorted organic vegetable plate ベジタブルプレート

The remaining entrée choices for lunch that day were an assorted vegetable plate and a Japanese seabass with garlic cream sauce, but given the restaurant’s dedication and statement to serving fresh organic vegetables, I opted for the vegetable dish.  The colorful assortment included onions, purple potatoes, leeks, carrots, sweet potatoes, chard and maitake mushrooms.  These roasted vegetables were served naked but for a dash of Bolivian rock salt, and that was all that they needed.  Everything tasted fresh, sweet and vibrant.  I felt like I was discovering their true taste for the first time in my life. 

Apple tiramisu リンゴのティラミス

Desserts were an extra 500 yen each, and they were worth every extra bit that we paid.  The apple tiramisu was rich and decadent.

Goat cheese tiramisu 山羊のチーズのティラミス

I loved the contrast of the light and fluffy goat cheese zabaglione against the bitterness of the espresso soaked ladyfingers.  Other dessert choices that day included an apple and hazelnut pound cake and several flavors of home made gelato (orange, brown sugar, sweet potato, maple walnut, Dainagon azuki, rare cheesecake and strawberry).  I wish I could have tried them all.

I loved the way that L’oasina’s food made me feel both emotionally and physically.  I felt full from our wonderful lunch, but I didn’t feel heavy.  I felt happy that I was feeding my body with healthy natural food that tasted amazing.  Chef Nakayamada is so dedicated to her cause that she conducts cooking classes, lectures and seminars in both English and Japanese.  L’oasina is a true urban oasis- we felt so peaceful in our secret little alcove, sheltered and protected from the crowded streets, that before we realized it we had been there for 3 hours.  If your body and soul ever feel weighed down by the stress of city life, take a journey into this tiny oasis by Aoyama station and remove all of those free radicals and toxins with mother nature’s gifts.  Enter this place of rejuvenation where time seems to slow down to a perfect pace.

L’oasina

東京都港区南青山2-18-20 南青山コンパウンド1F
107-0062, Japan
Tel: 03-5785-2833

Minimi-Aoyama Compound 1st floor

2-18-20 Minami-Aoyama

Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-0062

Random trivia: Did you know that purple potatoes get their purple color from the same antioxidants that are found in blueberries and açaí?  Anthocyanin is what gives these products their characteristic deep purple hue.