By Andrea McVeigh
“Trust me, it’s what the locals drink,” said my friend Sean, as he ordered us two Pisang Ambon with orange juice – a staple in Dutch bars in much the same way we’d drink vodka and orange in the UK and Ireland.
Amsterdam may be famous for its doobie-tooting tourists and space cake- selling coffee shops, but we’d staggered along to a gay bar near Dam Square, fuelled not on cannabis but on alcohol alone.
Don’t ask me exactly where the bar was or what it was called. We may not have been on the wacky baccy but, as they say, if you can remember Amsterdam then you weren’t really there.
Sean worked in the airline industry and benefited from the perks of the job, in this case a fridge full of the mini champagne bottles usually served to business class passengers, which we drank on the tram from his apartment into the city centre.
It wasn’t quite a case of ‘I liked it so much I bought the company’, but I did buy a bottle of Pisang Ambon to bring home from the trip. And I’ve been drinking it ever since, even creating my own cocktail around it – the Sans Souci.
This banana-flavour Dutch liqueur (pisang is Indonesian/Malay for banana while Ambon is the name of a former Dutch colony) is also bright green, so there’s no mistaking it, even when mixed with OJ.
As for what best offers sustenance after a boozy night out in Amsterdam’s gay bars, I’d discovered Dutch street food years ago as a child, on a family holiday to stay with an aunt who lived in Den Haag/The Hague. My eyes were opened to the most exotic use of potatoes I’d ever come across – patat met (with) mayonnaise, served in a sturdy paper cone. A CONE!
These tasty fat chips – patat frites – come topped with a dollop of creamy yellowy mayonnaise, best eaten with your fingers or the little coloured plastic pronged forks provided, on a late summer evening as the crepuscular chill that signifies night-time slowly advances. Back in the late 1970s, my family, struggling with the Dutch language, dispensed with the ‘met’ and took a liking to our ‘patat mayonnaise’.
Most cultures, I later learnt, have their own way of doing chips.
The Americans have skinny, salty French Fries. The Scottish, in particular those in Edinburgh – arguably only those in Edinburgh – favour the flavour of chips with salt and sauce (a mix of brown sauce and vinegar). In Ireland and the rest of the UK and it’s chips with salt and vinegar.
In Holland, you can opt for ‘patat zonder (fries without) mayonnaise’ but really, what sort of patat-hating, anti-gourmand would skip the mayo?
For some unknown reason, in my family we were unable to get our Celtic tongues around zonder, and took to calling it ‘patat nee (no) mayonnaise’, on the grounds that nee even sounded a bit like no. The Dutch, being kind, generous, civilised people, ignored our crude and sloppy translations and luckily recognised fellow-potato lovers, and served us anyway.
As for my own Pisang Ambom cocktail creation, it was named after a street my husband and I used to live in when we were still boyfriend and girlfriend: the exotically-named (for Northern Ireland) Sans Souci Park.
Translated, sans souci means ‘without care’, or carefree; so the cocktail is perfectly named considering it was thrown together without much care, based on what alcohol was close to hand at the time. However, the results, even if I do say so myself – and I do – are delicious. And after a few Sans Soucis we do feel decidedly carefree.
It came about, like all the best concoctions I think, by raiding the drinks cupboard and pouring in varying measures of whatever we had that looked vaguely suitable. The result, in my humble opinion, was a triumph that we still drink, and serve up to friends at parties, to this day.
I’m not a stickler for recipes and so the rules are there to be broken. Below you’ll find my favourite combination of ingredients, but feel free to substitute at will – I sometimes add lychee liqueur if we have any in the house.
Andrea’s signature cocktail: the SANS SOUCI
one shot of Pisang Ambon
one shot peach schnapps
one shot malibu
one shot vodka
one shot lychee liqueur (optional)
orange juice to flavour
Serve in any glass you want (I favour a long, tall straight glass with a straw and ice cubes). Drink. Enjoy.