Having suffered badly from WWII bombs a decision at the end of the war was taken to build a new, modern centre for Rotterdam. Today it is an inspirational city for modern architecture. It has also attracted a number of young entrepreneurs eager to bring fresh, locally produced food into the city. The Foody Traveller set out to investigate.
Once upon a time, many centuries ago a little river, the Rotte, was dammed creating a small fishing village. From fishing to trade and shipping the village grew rapidly and towards the end of the 19th century a channel, the Neiuwe Waterweg, was dug giving easier access to the sea. Rotterdam was seriously on the map. Even allowing for the massive destruction as a result of WWII bombing in May 1940 the city hardly looked back – within two weeks of the end of the war a new city centre was under way.
To be fair Rotterdam had begun to make a name for itself for modern architecture long before WWII. Take for instance the Van Nelle Factory on Van Nelleweg 1. The building erected around 1920 as a coffee, tea and tobacco factory was recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for its innovative design and structure, one which played a huge role in influencing modern European design and architecture.
Old style or new?
At the end of the war precious little of old Rotterdam was left standing. The city was faced with the decision as to whether to rebuild it as it was, or go for something new.
They went for something new. And I’m glad they did. I can remember years ago gazing with fascination at the graceful Erasmus bridge and in wonder at the sight of those weird, from the outside at least, and rather unsettling cube houses. Over the intervening years I had made several visits to Rotterdam watching it grow but this time there had been a gap of at least 10 years. The difference was astonishing.
Whereas before one of my landmarks had been the cube houses, now I was lost, I couldn’t find them. They are indeed still there, but now surrounded by other modern buildings and blocks, with more on the drawing board or under construction.
Growing to Eat
Take for instance the planning of the ambitious Collection Building designed to house many of the fabulous art collections housed on the Museumpark.
We had headed out there to look at the old masters, etc in the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, but had taken time out to head over to the modern-looking Het Nieuwe Instituut building (actually built in 1933) housing an exhibition, now closed unfortunately, entitled Sicco Mansholt: A Good European.
This exhibition examined the life of Mansholt, the farmer, social democrat and Dutch post-war agricultural minister who played such an influential role on the economic position of farmers, European unification and indeed the shape of the Dutch landscape as he attempted to boost food productivity following the war. Whilst initially successful the policy produced huge problems and was deemed a failure.
But did it perhaps sow an inspirational seed in the minds of so many of today’s young Dutch food entrepreneurs? Grow, sell, and cook good, local, fresh produce!
Roof gardens, a wooden bridge… and a Market Hall
Some of the modern young architects are incorporating roof gardens and terraces into their exciting new designs. Roof gardens like that of the Schieblock which has its own café, allowing the chef to pop into the garden to pick the herbs, fruit and vegetables before cooking them and serving them to customers an hour or so later – the menu looked good!
You can find the Schieblock by following the Luchtsingel, the wonderful 390 metre yellow, wooden pedestrian bridge built as a community project to help pedestrians get from one part of the city to another – without having to cross a road.
In another direction the bridge also leads you close to one of Rotterdam’s latest attraction the fabulous Markthal in the city’s Blaak district.
…and a Markthal
From the outside it looks like a huge hanger more suited to planes than market stalls. Its arch is 40 metres high. But inside it becomes an Aladdin’s cave of wonderment. For a start in its arched roof are 228 luxurious apartments with windows offering birds’ eye views down onto the trading floor. And far beneath the trading floor a huge underground carpark.
There is enough room on the ground floor for over 100 market stalls with goodies ranging from dried fruits and nuts, to pastries, to meat, to fish, to cheese, to alcohol and plants. The Markthal is a veritable cornucopia of treats made even more special by the hall’s astonishing Horn of Plenty ceiling made from massive colourful panels depicting fruit and flowers, birds and insects. The ceiling is beautiful by day and even more beautiful at night.
Also, behind the huge glass draught-proof façade are restaurants, a supermarket, exhibits of the objects found during the excavations and there is talk of opening a cookery school.
The Fenix Food Factory…
Down in the Katendrecht district by the Meuse river, on the south side, we found another Market Hall. The area, once more associated with sailors and good-time girls, has had a face lift and the old warehouses have acquired respectability.
One such warehouse which used to store cotton, coffee and tea has been taken over by one of Rotterdam’s many young entrepreneurs Wouter Bijl and his friends. Today the old warehouse is known as the Fenix Food Factory with a bakery, green grocer, brewery, cider shop, cheese seller, butcher and cafe. The cider store, known as Cider Cider is Wouter’s own special baby, and the first of its kind in the Netherlands.
On a sunny day, sit outside admiring the view across the Meuse to the New York Hotel and the waterfront skyscrapers, or if the weather is less clement inside at one of the rustic tables and chairs.
The produce sold is fresh and good with emphasis on local produce preferably grown within a 50km radius of the city. Apart from its reputation for good quality produce Fenix is also becoming something of a trendy place to visit with various events and tastings regularly taking place.
…and Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea is always something of a treat and the one served in the New York Hotel (once the headquarters of the Holland America Line) is no exception. From the cake stands piled high with sandwiches and savouries to scones, pastries, cakes and chocolates it is a delicious delight. Afternoon tea is €18.50 per person and reservations can be made for any time between 3.00 p.m. and 5.00 p.m.
Gin, Oyster Mushrooms and Vegetable Soup
But it is not just Wouter Bijl and his entrepreneurial friends who are lighting Rotterdam’s foody fire.
What do you do with all those misshapen vegetables that are perfectly fine to eat but don’t look the part? Easy, you make them into soup. Enter Jente, Chantal and Lisanne of KromKommer who launched their delicious soups in May 2014. The soups, sold in sustainable packaging, are pure vegetable with no sugar or gluten. The tomato soup is made from yellow cherry tomatoes, and the range also includes beetroot or carrot. www.kromkommer.com
Bobby’s Schiedam Gin
Sebastiaan van Bokkel’s grandfather loved Jenever and used to make his own using Indonesian herbs and spices. His grandson has taken the tradition one step further and is now making the 42˚ proof gin commercially. Serve it chilled and sip it slowly and wait for the botanicals of lemon grass, cloves, juniper, fennel, cinnamon, black pepper, coriander and rosehips to come to tease your taste buds. www.bobbysdrygin.com
What do you do with an abandoned water park? Siemen Cox and Mark Slegers, had an idea, why not convert the old Tropicana building to mushroom growing. And whilst you are about it – why not grow the oyster mushrooms on spent coffee waste.
Hanging in the changing rooms in the basement of the old pool are bags filled with coffee waste (the coffee grounds are collected by a special bicycle from local coffee bars), mixed with mushroom spawn, etc, which within a few weeks yields a crop of fresh and delicious oyster mushrooms, much to the delight of local restaurants etc.
Incidentally part of the original Tropicana building is now the Aloha bar/restaurant with a terrace offering overlooking the river; an interesting looking menu by the way.
We stayed in the friendly, very modern, stylish, and high-tec citizenM hotel in Rotterdam’s Oude Haven (Old Port), conveniently close to the Markthal. It offers free wi-fi, self-check in, canteenM, and a cocktail bar. www.citizenm.com/rotterdam
Hotel and World Restaurant Bazar – close to the Museumpark on Witte de Withstraat, serving very tasty N African and Middle Eastern dishes with friendly service in colourful, lively surroundings. www.hotelbazar.nl
Hotel New York. www.hotelnewyork.com
Brasserie Pierre – a friendly, informal restaurant offering good food a few minutes’ walk from citizenM on Pannekoekstraat. www.pierrerotterdam.nl
Bar Restaurant Level – also on Pannekoekstraat, a relaxed and lively bar and restaurant offering a wide range of cocktails along with good food and service. www.levelrotterdam.nl