At this place I recommend weekly which chef you should definitely (or sometimes definitely not) eat with. But where do the chefs eat themselves? In Amsterdam they do that at Taste of Culture. The kitchen of this Chinese, near Leidseplein, is open until 01:00 on weekdays and even until 03:00 on weekends. The place where chefs quickly grab something to eat after dinner. When the kitchen is almost clean, there is always someone who suggests: “Just a little duck at Taste?”
Taste of Culture is not noticeable from the outside, on the inside it looks like a real Chinese: well lit, wooden tables and chairs covered with bowls and sticks, suspended ceiling with spots, sambal and maggi in a rack, the television is on in the back and on the bar a plastic cat waves its paw. Let’s call it authentic. The menu is, comme il faut, quite extensive: it extends to number A102B, and then there are also 20 specialties (the B numbers) and four teppan dishes (the T numbers).
On the map
We’ll start with that famous duckling. That’s one of those classic Peking ducks (also the password for the WiFi) with pancakes and hoisin sauce (half or whole, 19.50/35.50 euros). There is indeed nothing to argue with: cooked and tender meat, nice crispy loose skin, tasty layer of fat in between, with spring onion and cucumber. Tried and tested recipe, well executed.
Dim sum is of course also available (mix for 10 euros); the spring rolls are a bit disappointing, but the har kau are excellent: such a sticky, glassy steamed dumpling with tasty, juicy and springy minced shrimp in it.
You can play it safe and go for the sweet and sour chicken, but why not even a frog’s leg (22 euros): the meat is white and mild in taste (yes, just like chicken), but the structure is a bit more meaty and the taste in the distance very slightly squid. Or try ma pho tau fu (16 euros): large pieces of slippery tofu with loose minced meat in a spicy and slightly numbing sauce with sechzuan. It is served so hot that the tofu is shaking.
You may notice that I use a lot of words like slippery, bouncy, and tacky. That’s because Chinese cuisine is as much about structure as it is about taste. Where we have to make do with an ointment or a crunch, the Chinese have a range of words to define a clearly defined structural experience. For example, there is a nuanced distinction between the somewhat sticky gelatinousness of a regenerated dried squid and the more chewy variant that you experience when eating a pig tendon. You may find it a strange idea to eat cartilage, in itself tasteless. But once you figure it out, you suddenly have two boxes of pencils (flavor and texture) to color with. A huge enrichment of your dining experience.
That is why there is a separate card for Chinese guests, also known as ‘the secret card’. It is only available in Chinese. So you have to know exactly what you want, or know someone who will show you the way (and even then they don’t say that they entrust you with those dishes). That’s where the real work is. If you can manage it, definitely order the sea jellyfish with pork shank. Then you will understand. The jellyfish comes in strips that have a rubbery resistance, but at the same time are snappy like fresh vegetables that snap between your teeth when you bite. They have a deep broth flavor with a lingering spiciness that burns on the lips. Thin slices of cold pork shank provide cooling. Brilliant combination. There are more gems on that secret map, such as pork intestines filled with shrimp farce, but that is more for the advanced.
If you want to discover the true richness of Chinese cuisine without going too far from home, you should visit Taste of Culture. Build it up slowly, then you can use it for years to come.