In Amsterdam, the halal hipsters are the newest thing on the culinary scene

Food
Food served at Duck Truck

 

Over the last few years, Amsterdam’s halal scene has undergone a noticeable change. Doner kebabs and falafel sandwiches, once the staple of halal restaurants in the Dutch capital, now have competition. Think halal matcha lattes with a side of fries from locally sourced potatoes, served by a bearded man in a flannel shirt in true hipster fashion.

This change is significant because Muslims account for only 7 per cent of the total population, yet they are emerging as a niche that is financially worth catering to.

According to entrepreneur Abdullah Yildiz, who is credited with starting the halal artisanal burger trend here, Muslims who wanted to eat out would often have to travel to one of the bigger cities for an evening at a halal restaurant. And the pickings were slim: Moroccan or Turkish restaurants serving shrimp, fish or kebabs.

Food served at Artisani

Food served at Artisani

 

Then in 2013, when artisanal burgers were all the rage in the Netherlands, Abdullah started making his own gourmet halal burgers at home for friends and family. They were so well-received that he and a friend opened a small restaurant, Artisani, as a hobby in 2015. Their artisanal burgers picked up an enthusiastic following thanks to Instagram. Within two weeks, the restaurant was full and their Instagram page had 5,000 followers.

Abdullah believes that their success inspired other halal burger joints in the following months, and he has plans as well: his new restaurant opened earlier this month with tacos, Eggs Benedict and avocado toast on the menu. “I am now not waiting for a trend,” he told My Salaam. “I want to be innovative.”

He says the reason why halal offerings are traditionally underdeveloped is because Muslim entrepreneurs play it safe, as they are currently still a generation in transition from immigrants to born-and-bred Dutch Muslims. “My parents came here 50 years ago to work in factories,” he said, “whereas I grew up here [and] have a master’s in sales and marketing and ten years of professional experience in the field. I started Artisani as a brand concept more than as a food entrepreneur.”

Haukon van Gelder, another halal-food entrepreneur, has a different take on this. A professional cook who became Muslim 13 years ago, he says that Dutch Muslims today are well-travelled and know about food. “They don’t want to eat their rib-eye well done anymore,” he said. “And they certainly don’t want to eat fish and shrimp every time they dine out.”

Duck Truck founders

(L-R) Haukon and Dave, Duck Truck Partners

 

This realisation is what inspired him to start the Duck Truck, which serves halal Asian street food based on duck meat. Along with Dave Vlaun, his business partner, he saw a business and creative opportunity in the food truck business, where there was almost no halal food.

“The first time I had halal Chinese food was in London,” Haukon said. “The Peking Duck was so good that my wife and I ordered some to take back to Amsterdam.” He had never heard of halal Chinese food in the Netherlands and had never eaten halal duck, so he joined a kitchen in London where he learned to prepare Peking Duck, dim sum and char siu, which is made with pork belly.

He used those techniques to experiment with halal versions, and 140 Peking Ducks later, he was ready. After a challenging search for a halal duck-meat provider, the Duck Truck made its debut at a halal food festival in 2017. There, he learnt that some Muslims consider duck meat haram, as there is a verse in the Quran that says it is forbidden to eat animals with webbed feet that live in water, and some understand this to include duck. However, this seems to be cultural; Haukon’s in-laws, who are of Indonesian origin, eat duck, and an Islamic scholar at the festival said that duck meat is permitted as the birds don’t live in the water. “And he proceeded to eat five duck baos, which reassured me,” Haukon chuckled.

Word about the Duck Truck spread quickly via social media. Haukon and Dave now have a small stall at the Amsterdam Central Station. Their food truck is seasonal and usually active in the summer months at the various food and music festivals around the country.

 “Because of our success, we have inspired a lot of other restaurants to be halal,” Haukon said. “The offering is still very meager, but now that we have third-, fourth- and even fifth-generation Muslims who are well-travelled, things are changing slowly.”

 

(Writing by Susan Muthalaly; Editing by Seban Scaria seban.scaria@thomsonreuters.com)

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