A local’s guide to Rotterdam: secrets of the Netherlands’ second city

From the best kimchi to buzzing galleries and gardens, restaurateur Manuela Gonçalves Tavares shares his insider tips


Dutch food was once all meat, veg and potatoes, but in the 1950s migrants from all over the world started arriving and created the food culture we now have. A popular tourist market is Markthal with about 100 vendors, including Natamania, which sells delicious Portuguese pastéis de nata.

But my favourites are the Korean places in the Hoogkwartier area, home also to my restaurant, Coco, which serves food from the Caribbean, Suriname and Cape Verde. Bapboss serves the best spicy kimchi in town: I love its rice – cooking rice is an art – and the excellent galbi (marinated Korean beef rib) is sliced thin for the barbecue. Another must is Ox, a new Malaysian-Chinese pop-up: it’s small, stylish and hidden away (you’re given instructions on how to find it when you book). The menu changes regularly, but I’d eat everything there as the level of cooking – and the cocktails – is very high.


Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Outside the Het Nieuwe Instituut. Photograph: Colin Walton/Alamy

Het Nieuwe Instituut is the Netherlands’ national museum for design and culture, with interactive exhibitions on architecture, dance culture, music and fashion. I also like Mama, a gallery and creative space founded in 1997 on Witte De Withstraat, a buzzy street many tourists enjoy visiting. Mama aims to connect young people to art: it hosts performances, exhibitions and events.


I grew up in multicultural West Kruiskade. My parents came over in the 1950s from Cape Verde: back then they put all the migrants in the same neighbourhood. It might have been poor and ugly, but the people that live here have made it rich with their culture, whether from the Dutch colonies or Iran.

West Kruiskade
West Kruiskade. Photograph: Zuma Press/Alamy

I especially love the tokos, the little bodegas where you can buy food from the Caribbean, sweet jam, plantain, fake hair, skin creams and shampoos. When I began studying French cuisine it was these tokos that gave me the inspiration to cook differently.

Rotterdam’s Chinatown is here, too – my top restaurant tip is Tai Wu, which has been open for 25 years – but there’s so much good food, from Spanish to Turkish. And Wijkpark, the local park, has art and a petting farm.

Green space

I live in Kralingen now, a more affluent but also studenty area. Its botanic Trompenburg Gardens are known for their biodiversity, with unique trees, shrubs and flowers. A highlight is the desert greenhouse, filled with cacti and succulents. It’s stunning. And, as the gardens are off the beaten track, they’re not often overcrowded, even when the sun is out.


I normally go to Baroeg, one of the oldest clubs in Rotterdam, which specialises in metal, punk and rock. Poing has retro arcade games and karaoke, and my favourite cocktail bar is Spikizi, where I always order a Moscow mule. The gay bars here cater mostly for men, but cool queer-friendly clubs include Worm, Tech Noir and Now & Wow in Maassilo, a renovated grain silo built in 1910. Look out for one-off LGBTQ+ events celebrating black ballroom culture. Drag queens and kings perform in many restaurants and other venues across the city.

Where to stay

Mainport (doubles from €115 room-only) is a design hotel on the banks of the River Maas. There is a terrace with views of the Erasmus Bridge and the old harbour, and on another floor there is a swimming pool overlooking the whole city skyline.

The historic Hotel New York (doubles from €122 room-only) is in the former headquarters of the Holland-America Line, and has a good fish restaurant. I also recommend Bazaar (doubles from €85 B&B) on Witte de Withstraat: its characterful bedrooms are inspired by Asia and Africa.

Manuela Gonçalves Tavares is the chef-owner of Coco, which specialises in Caribbean, Surinamese and Cape Verdean cuisine (temporarily closed but reopening soon), and the plant-based Het Nieuwe Café


Interview by Stephen Emms

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A local’s guide to Hamburg: concerts, cocktails and dockyard cuisine
Concert pianist Alexander Krichel reveals his pick of the best bars, vintage stores, ferry rides and sailor-sized dishes of Germany’s second largest city

Interview by Paul Sullivan

20, Jun, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Perugia, Italy: five great things to do
The ancient walls, papal fortress and creative quarter of Umbria’s 2,500-year-old capital make a happy haunt for flâneur Gianluigi Bettin

Interview by Liz Boulter

16, Oct, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
A local’s guide to Vilnius: gardens, bars and a castle on a hill
The Lithuanian capital is a destination on the rise, with a thriving nightlife and food scene. Chef Liutauras Čeprackas shares his highlights of his home city

Interview by Lorna Parkes

08, Aug, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Copenhagen: Viking treasure, wild swimming and secret dancefloors
Full of fabulous architecture, waterways, parks and museums … No wonder it’s such a great place to live, says the Time Out Copenhagen author

Laura Hall

17, Oct, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Tallinn: the best fishburgers, speakeasies and Soviet-era art
From submarine art hubs to cool bars and the best fish and chips, design chief Tiia Vihand delights in Estonia’s super-cool capital

Interview by Damien Gabet

20, Feb, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Ghent, Belgium: artisanal beer, bargain vintage and docklands clubbing
This Flemish city sparkles with creative cuisine, markets, cutting-edge clubs – and beer, says brewery founder Dimitri Messiaen

Interview by John Brunton

03, Oct, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Bilbao, Spain: home of the Guggenheim – and so much more
Gaizka Zuazo, director of the city’s school of design, knows where to find the best steaks, late-night bars and post-industrial cool

Interview by Stephen Burgen

22, Aug, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Valencia: home of paella, one of Europe’s best food markets and a unique green space
Architect and graphic artist Juan Suay on the city’s rainbow-coloured market, bistros, bars and its unique and unifying riverbed green belt

Interview by Ellen Himelfarb

10, Apr, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Parma, Italy: food markets, vineyards and backstreet bars
Food and wine critic Andrea Grignaffini reveals his favourite haunts in his home city – a gourmand’s delight with wine bars galore

Interview by John Brunton

14, Nov, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Málaga: five great things to do
Great places to shop, walk, eat and drink, as selected by Mark Holness, a cafe owner who moved from London to the Andalucían city

Interview by Annie Bennett

25, Sep, 2021 @10:00 AM