The lecture about ‘kapsalon’ by Prof. dr. Paul van de Laar, on the 14th of September at Erasmus University has experienced a significant amount of media attention. De Volkskrant has contributed an article to his lecture about this peculiar fast food dish and the most recent edition of Erasmus Magazine has also dedicated some pages in both Dutch and English to this lecture. Last of all, an SBS6 filming crew was present in the Senaatszaal of the A-building, to shoot some footage for their news broadcast.

Academic research on shoarma and French fries

So why all this excitement about a strange combination of French fries, shoarma, cheese, lettuce and garlic sauce? Professor van de Laar admits that he himself doesn’t think it’s an appetizing dish at all, but that it caught his interest while doing urban heritage research in a neighbourhood called ‘Tussendijken’, a low-income area in the west of Rotterdam.

In his lecture, Professor van de Laar explained that previous research has linked the phenomenon of eating fast food to socioeconomic factors, such as income and ethnicity. Low-income groups and minorities generally have a higher ‘fast food density’, as their neighbourhoods contain more fast food restaurants than others, and the price of the food they sell is relatively low.  

A marker of ‘Rotterdam identity’

Professor van de Laar thinks the kapsalon is more than just a hype. As he is an urban curator for the Historic Museum of Rotterdam, his interest lies in urban heritage. He stresses that heritage does not only refer to expensive things sold at Sotheby’s or Christie’s, but also encompasses parts of society that are generally not represented in large museums. Kapsalon is one of these things, as according to him, food culture is an important part of urban culture.

In the lecture, he explains that the so-called ‘rise of fast food’ over the past decades has been caused by a combination of two factors: on the one hand, large transnational companies such as McDonalds, selling their products all over the world. A second aspect he mentions is the fact that transnational immigrants take their recipes and national dishes with them in order to sell these in the country they are moving to.

Professor van de Laar also noted that the popularity of the kapsalon all across Rotterdam, and increasingly in the rest of the Netherlands, reflects upon changes in society. According to him, Rotterdam is a multicultural city and the kapsalon is a product of all these mixed tastes and the merger of different cultures. To him, kapsalon isn’t just an aluminum container filled with fries and shoarma, but a marker of the ‘Rotterdam identity’.

Studium Generale

This lecture was the first organized by Studium Generale this academic year, and definitely won’t be the last. Not only do they set up interesting lectures with all different kinds of speakers, they also organize events such as a Pub Quiz every two weeks, an open air cinema and even a ‘Students on Stage’ concert in the Pills Plaza at Erasmus MC. Some activities are in Dutch, but they also have a rich programme of interesting and fun events to offer to international students. For more information, check out the website.IS