Hila Mohamad, EMA chair, explains: “There’s not a lot of awareness about multicultural associations among students on campus. We want to use these kinds of events to promote the idea that all of our diversity makes us stronger, and we’re more visible as a collective. Sharing food is a great way to do this, because it connects people and it’s an enjoyable way to come in contact with a new culture.”
Properly made baklava
The large crowd of people exploring the various market stalls appears to confirm this. Students enjoy dishes prepared by various associations such as the Chinese Student Association, the Italian Erasmus Society and Afghan students’ association ARIA Students.
The chair of the multicultural association Avicenna of the Erasmus MC, Okan Bakar (23, Medicine), explains his association’s approach. “Giving someone a taste of your cuisine is a great conversation starter. For example, you can explain that properly made Turkish baklava shouldn’t leak any syrup if you squeeze it.” And Avicenna’s baklava from Rotterdam Zuid is the real deal.
For many students, Avicenna offers an alternative to traditional student associations, where many activities involve consuming alcohol. “This results in a lot of diversity in the association, because anyone who feels at home with us is welcome,” says Bakar.
Hot pepper challenge
Surinamese Students Abroad (SSA) serves delicious sandwiches while trying to recruit new members. Trisha Niddha (26, Master’s in Economics & Business/Marketing) explains: “We try to help Surinamese students studying in the Netherlands to settle in here in a variety of ways. For example, we hold workshops and we offer them a network.”
The high point of the International Food Fair is the SSA-inspired ‘hot pepper challenge’. Ten students eat the Surinamese Madame Jeanette, one of the hottest chili peppers around. After eating the pepper, the contestant who waits the longest before drinking milk wins an SSA hoodie.
For the waffles
Three rounds later, student after student, with perspiring upper lips and watery eyes, have pulled out of the contest, much to the amusement of the cheering onlookers. Five courageous students ultimately win the challenge after eating four peppers and are given a well-deserved carton of milk.
A group of visitors watch from a distance while eating dishes from all over the world. Jenny Oortwijn (23, Master’s in Marketing Management): “I saw the event on Facebook and basically showed up for the food. But it’s actually a great way to learn about different cultures on campus.” So has she joined an association? Yes, the Association of Students of African Heritage. “Partly because of the free waffles, but also because I had a really interesting conversation,” says Oortwijn.