Internationalising the lunch table at the University of Amsterdam

Internationalising the lunch table at the University of Amsterdam

I had never spent much time at the Roeterseiland campus until my classes started taking place there during my last academic year. One day, I decided to grab some lunch at the campus cafeteria in building E. I was met with a wide assortment of foods, ranging from vegan and vegetarian to meat- or fish-based options. But, that wasn’t the main thing that stood out to me. It was the number of international food options it offered — meals from Pakistan, Lebanon, Vietnam and Mexico. The colours of the different country flags painted the scene of the cafeteria so beautifully.

This struck me at the time because I had only known standard cuisine until then. For instance, all the campus food before consisted mainly of mundane things like sandwiches or wraps. I walked straight to the Pakistani food stall and ordered the Chana Masala bowl. It was filled with chickpeas, rice, mango chutney and coriander. And, the fresh yoghurt and red chillies balanced each other so well. In hindsight, that decision felt very amusing to me, because I originally come from Lebanon but chose not to get lunch at the Lebanese stall right in front of me. Imagine walking into your university cafeteria and seeing the meals your grandmother would cook for you as a child. It blew my mind. Though, what can I say? Knowing that I could get food from my home country was delightful, but being able to eat something I’d never had before appealed to me even more. 

This is exactly what Gerda Oosterdijk — manager for UvA foods by Cirfood — told me when I asked her about the international food stalls. Indeed, the UvA wanted to start offering foods from all over the world because the students come from such diverse backgrounds. Oosterdijk told me that the university wanted to sell cuisine from different cultures so that students could get a chance to find food from their home countries. It was never just food though: the goal was to help students find a little piece of their home country abroad. Walking into that place, I truly felt like it was carefully catered to me, an international student at the UvA. Since every food stall belongs to a specific country’s cuisine, Oosterdijk explained that those making the food there know its culture rather well. The cafeteria food can be simply seen as food by some people. But, for others, for me, it is a way to say: you’re very welcome here. 

This wasn’t the only reason for UvA’s initiative, the point was also to introduce new foods to Dutch students and extend cultural membership between locals and internationals at the university. Oosterdijk mentioned that student reactions are always very positive and the food has been a great hit so far thanks to its cultural inclusivity. While nothing beats grandma’s home-cooked meals, it’s the idea behind it that matters. I believe that it’s very important to have such a wide range of foods in the cafeteria for a more inclusive and appetizing student experience for all.

Photo: Lea Borsboom