Foreign cuisines and authentic Dutch experiences

Toledo Wageningen

Going to a regular foreign cuisine restaurant in the Netherlands can be called an authentic Dutch experience since these restaurants often represent a Dutch interpretation of a foreign cuisine. That at least, is my conclusion from the fieldwork the students did among the many foreign cuisine restaurants in Wageningen.

Authenticity can be created in various ways, by the language on the menu or as welcomed by the host, by the music, the interior and of course by the dishes themselves. However, it is mainly here where most adaptation takes place to the Dutch palate. We learned that authenticity is a social construction in which the initiator meets the expectations of a customer base. If they both agree a certain idea of authenticity can be maintained. In the judgement about authenticity knowledge is needed, different ‘capitals’ according to Bourdieu. ‘Capitals’ to be able to distinguish oneself or to judge a good distinction. Of course, the Dutch often lack a deep knowledge and experience with the culture of the foreign cuisine; they miss the cultural capital to judge between ‘authentic’ and ‘authentic’. It is the tourist gaze, which works similar to foreigners visiting the ‘Zaanse Schans’ or the like.

A good illustration of this mechanism is that some restaurants make special dishes which are not part of the menu but can be asked for – only if you know. Hence the Chinese restaurants serve Babi Pangang or Foe Young Hai to their Dutch customers, which are not Chinese but Indonesian dishes and cook on demand for the Chinese guests.

Even the car-booth sales on the campus of the university makes a distinction between Chinese and other students. A Chinese student in class found out, when she accidentally ordered in the English language, that she got something different from normal.

Indeed, for an analysis of foreign cuisine restaurants in the Netherlands it may be more important to look at the history of how the particular restaurant-type came into existence in the Dutch context than to make a comparison with the national cuisines they are supposed to stem from. This is brilliantly explained by Jennifer Lee in this Ted Talk.

1 thought on “Foreign cuisines and authentic Dutch experiences

  1. Pingback: The kids menu and the industrialised palate « Rural Sociology Group Wageningen (Weblog)

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