Nomads: The Bedouin restaurant in Amsterdam

Article published on Dec. 13, 2013
Article published on Dec. 13, 2013

In a city where everything happens in plain view, finding a well-preserved culinary gem, hidden and untarnished by the dollar toting masses, can be quite a challenge. But if you approach the task with a certain rigour and scout around the elegant canals, you will soon discover that Amsterdam, the city of dimmed lights and drapeless windows, has more to offer than meets the eye.  

A stroll in the cap­i­tal of the Nether­lands can be equally pleas­ing and ex­haust­ing. If you fancy a de­light­ful din­ner while loung­ing on a cush­iony divan, there is one place that can ful­fil all your wishes. On the busy Rozen­gracht street (which lit­er­ally means the Canal of Roses), just a few blocks from Anne Frank’s house, I found the stair­ways that lead to No­mads, a restau­rant with an Ara­bic vibe. There is no vis­i­ble sign, yet some­how lo­cals and cer­tain tourists alike, seem to in­stinc­tively sense its where­abouts.

Ex­otic Am­biance Straight From the Lev­ant’s Leg­ends

Faster than you can say ‘open sesame’, the solid cop­per door slides open. And there I am in the richly dec­o­rated, cosy ar­trium of what seems to be an Ara­bian house. It evokes the tales of She­herazade. The en­trance is mod­elled after a Bahou, the room where Arabs re­ceive their guests with­out dis­turb­ing the other res­i­dents. I am wel­comed by a smil­ing host­ess, who ac­com­pa­nies me to my table. In fact, as I’m about to find out, there is no table at all. Bedouins eat from big trays on the floor.

I fol­low my host­ess through the Al Kub­bah, an in­ti­mate area with six niches, each fur­bished with lav­ish set­tees. The am­biance is over­whelm­ing yet non­cha­lant; a di­chotomy that adds an extra notch of mys­ti­cism to the place. On each side of the room there are op­u­lent red mir­rors on the walls. No­mads’ own­ers take great pride in the fact that all the fur­nish­ings are es­pe­cially de­signed for this venue and hand­made in Mo­rocco and Egypt.

Fi­nally, I enter the main room, a large rec­tan­gu­lar area with a golden canopy in the mid­dle, and long, soft set­tees adorn­ing each side. It is mod­elled after a Wast ad-der, the heart and so­cial hub of Ara­bian homes.

‘There is a big de­mand for Ara­bian style dishes in com­bi­na­tion with a more high-end restau­rant at­mos­phere,’ says Jade Lew, the PR & mar­ket­ing man­ager. ‘We do love the way Ara­bic peo­ple share their food, how re­lax­ing it is,’ she ex­plains. Ac­cord­ing to Jade, there is a big Arab com­mu­nity in Am­s­ter­dam and at the time No­mads opened, some 12 years ago, such restau­rants were few and far be­tween.

Mezze on Pro­fane Rhythms

As I lounge on the cosy cush­ions under the canopy, I re­al­ize that I have de­vel­oped quite an ap­petite. I browse the menu avidly, hop­ing that the dishes do jus­tice to the de­light­ful décor. I also keep my fin­gers crossed that the meal won’t hit me in the pocket too bru­tally.

I opted for the ‘Nomad menu’, which con­sists of three courses: one com­bi­na­tion of cold mezzes, an­other of warm mezzes and a dessert. Mezzes are small Ara­bian dishes, which to­gether make up a meal. Ac­cord­ing to Jade, the menu meets all halal re­quire­ments. Only the fresh­est prod­ucts and in­gre­di­ents are used and there is no pork on offer. Per­son­ally I don’t miss it too much any­way.

I’m work­ing my way through a mouth-wa­ter­ing started which com­bines humus, cous­cous salad, egg­plant dip, pump­kin spread, and spicy pep­pers filled with goat cheese. The hot mezzes in­clude veal tajine with prunes, truf­fle tape­nade with al­monds, creamy mint sauce, caramelized cheese and grilled chicken with pump­kin chut­ney. Just to men­tion a few! The chef is gen­er­ous with spices such as pars­ley, thyme, co­rian­der, cher­moula and tar­ragon, and as such every bite is fol­lowed by a pow­er­ful, ex­quis­ite af­ter­taste. The mezzes are served on huge round cop­per trays to­gether with warm Lebanese /Iraqi bread. The dessert con­sists of fruit salad and baklavas. The price, with­out drinks, was just over 40 Euros, which is not out­ra­geous by Am­s­ter­dam stan­dards.

But the feast doesn’t ended there. As the evening grows longer, a DJ takes music mat­ters into his hands, an eclec­tic mix­ture of ex­otic sounds with a Far East am­bi­ence. A pro­fes­sional belly dancer makes quite an ap­pear­ance with her un­du­lat­ing moves, draw­ing loud ac­cla­ma­tions from the eager pub­lic. ‘In re­al­ity this is not what you get in a Bedouin tent in the Ara­bian Desert; it seems more like it’s been taken straight from the fan­tasy tales of 1001 Nights,’ whis­pers my com­pan­ion, Ronald. He hap­pens to be an an­thro­pol­o­gist who spe­cialises in the cul­tures of the Mid­dle East. ‘A beau­ti­ful fan­tasy, nev­er­the­less,’ he adds, in­hal­ing deeply from the ap­ple-flavoured shisha pipe, not tak­ing his eyes off the belly dancer’s lus­cious hips for even a mo­ment.

East mir­rors West

In the op­po­site end of con­ti­nen­tal Eu­rope, boast­ing an amaz­ing view over the Bosporus, there is an­other No­mads restau­rant in the beau­ti­ful city of Is­tan­bul. It looks like No­mads is be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful fran­chise and hope­fully more Eu­ro­pean cities will have the chance to enjoy this unique restau­rant con­cept in the fu­ture.