The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine. Traditional foods, such as pea soup or pickled herring, are certainly not everyone’s favorite. Borrelhapjes, or snack foods, such as bitterballen or croquettes, are certainly tasty but ultimately nothing to write home about in the grand scheme of Europe’s great cuisines. There are many delicious sweets, like pepernoten, stroopwafels, oliebolen, poffertjes, and speculaas, to name a few. However, my favorite Dutch dish is, without a doubt, kapsalon, a most ridiculous combination of french fries, shawarma, cheese, vegetables, and garlic & chili sauce that is making my stomach rumble just writing about it. It might sound abhorrent to some, and it is certainly an unhealthy, intense meal to consume, but large swaths of America eat food like this very regularly, and I think this Dutch monstrosity tops a lot of that American “food”.
Fries and shawarma, which is either lamb (my favorite), chicken, or beef, are placed in an aluminum baking pan with a few slices of cheese and heated in an oven until the cheese melts. Then, you get to choose your vegetables—I usually stick to lettuce, cucumbers, and onions, though you can get tomatoes, pickles, and jalapenos as well—before receiving a healthy helping of garlic sauce and a serving of chili sauce given your spice tolerance. I pay €9.50 for my large kapsalon at my local döner kebab shop. Döner kebab is essentially the Turkish version of the colloquial shawarma, which is actually of Arabic origin and served with slightly different sides. Döner kebab shops are everywhere in Amsterdam and throughout other parts of Europe.
The Netherlands has a significant Turkish population, and this delicious aspect of Turkish culture has matriculated extensively into Dutch society. While the most common and well known döner product, a broodje döner, which is basically a döner sandwich, is of Turkish origin, kapsalon is a Dutch-Turkish experiment. As the story goes, the owner of a kapsalon, which actually means barber shop, had his place of business next to a döner kebab shop, of which he was a frequent patron. After trying everything on the menu, the barber shop owner still wasn’t completely satisfied, so he worked with the döner shop to make a personalized dish with all of his favorite ingredients. The new dish, a gluttonous mutation of the traditional Turkish dishes, was a success among other customers at this particular döner shop, where it was quickly added to the menu. Now, 20 years later, kapsalon is a staple of Dutch döner kebab shops.
I was first introduced to kapsalon by my long-time Dutch friend and his older brother. I went to his apartment before we walked to his local döner shop, where the employees greeted him with familiarity and joy. They stuffed ours to the brim with and gave us the works. We listened to music and caught up with one another, as I hadn’t seen my friend in at least six years and his brother in well over a decade, but not before we sat in silence, devouring each heavenly bite of shawarma, fries, cheese, veggies, and garlic sauce like we’d been starved for a lifetime; when I was done, I felt like I would never have to eat again. I have not been the same since—my life has changed for the better—and I am going to do everything in my power to bring kapsalon back to the United States. I cannot imagine a better cross-cultural connection.
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Despite being a history major and studying history at the UvA this year, I am a passionate musician. I have been playing piano for over a decade, focusing largely on jazz, but I love to play guitar, banjo, and mandolin in my free time!