Kapsalon literally means “hair salon”, but it’s also the name of one of my most favorite comfort foods. Named after the profession of the first person in Rotterdam to ever order one, the kapsalon can be found in any Turkish snackbar. It’s served all year, and is almost a full meal by itself.

Yes, the “groot” kapsalon is that big.

So what can you expect from a kapsalon experience?

A thick layer of fries cover the aluminum tin, followed by another layer of grilled gouda cheese, shawarma or kebab meat, followed by another layer of lettuce, garlic sauce, chili sauce (sambal), and whatever else is in the condiment bar.

The only downside I can think of to this dish is that all the sauces and cheeses layered on top make the fries on the bottom all soggy. But then I ask myself — do I really want fries that stay crispy forever? I’d be pleased and suspicious at the same time.

Thus, like any lasting superhero, the fact that the kapsalon is flawed makes it even more charming. Mushy bottom? Uneven consistency? Dodgy health benefits? No worries, kapsalon. We’re all just trying to do our best.


At five to seven euros (at least around Utrecht), the kapsalon is one of the more premium options for a late-night snack. But if you’re tired, slightly drunk, or “just in that mood”, the kapsalon is your friend.



The oliebol is another Dutch holiday pastry served until New Year’s Eve. It’s soft, chewy, filled with raisins, and is about as big as a closed fist or the average muffin.

The server will ask if you’d like it with powdered sugar on top. That same powdered sugar will give you a miniature white beard after the first bite, or make it seem like all the dandruff from your head fell onto your chest at once. (Hint: say yes to the powdered sugar anyway)

Like pepernoten, the olliebol also comes in different varieties and flavors. There’s the appelbol, which comes stuffed with caramelized apples and applesauce, and the berlinerbol, which looks like a miniature hot dog, except instead of a sausage there’s a squiggly line made of custard. 

During the early winter you can find olliebollen booths all over town, lit up with bright lights and a huge sign that looks like it came out of WordArt in Microsoft Word. It actually matters which olliebollen stand you go to, since they’re all different in consistency and texture. There’s one open late at night in the middle of Neude square in the city center, but I’m more partial to the olliebollen stand on the intersection of Maliebaan and Burgemeester Reigerstraat. It’s strategically placed in front of the Rabobank ATMs, and in plain sight of all the schoolchildren and workers returning home.

Dick and Alex run that stand.

(My name means something different for you Americans though, hé?)

The first time I saw them was about a month ago, on their third day of business. Dick says that it’s good that I came on the third day, and not the first or the second, because he says it takes three days before his baking skills come back into proper form. He’s been doing this for over thirty years, and each year he submits his oliebollen to the national fair.


Oliebollen is only sold for two months out of the year — three months at most. I asked Dick what he does with his time after the oliebollen season is over.

Well, then I’m on holiday in Spain.


Photo of the olliebollen from Koko’s Kitchen.



During the Sinterklaas parades, Zwarte Piet, or Sinterklaas’ helper, will run around with a big sack of pepernoten to give to all the children.

Pepernoten are these special cookie treats that get eaten during the holiday season. They’re like miniature gingerbread cookies with a flat bottom and curved top, and they’re as easy to eat (and to keep eating) as potato chips. The ones pictured above are just the classic pepernoten, but if you want to get fancy you can get milk and dark chocolate-covered varieties as well.

Grocery stores like Albert Heijn have been selling them since October. I remember conversations with people complaining about how pepernoten and other holiday classics were being sold too early, but people still bought huge packs of them anyway. And when it comes to festive gatherings, it’s not uncommon to have a huge fruit bowl in the middle of the table dedicated entirely to pepernoten.

Store-bought versions are crispy all-around, but if you take the effort to bake them in your own home you’ll be rewarded with a soft, dough-y interior.

You can find the original recipe (in Dutch) over here.

thanksgiving abroad

Thanksgiving as a holiday doesn’t exist in the Netherlands. International students hear about it all the time and are curious about what it is. “What does turkey taste like?” “Can we have a Thanksgiving dinner, too?” The Canadian students say that they have their own version some time in August, but even then it’s not such a big deal as in the U.S.

The coordinators responsible for setting up the exchange program threw a Thanksgiving dinner for the all the Californian students. Turkey, potatoes, green beans, mushrooms, the whole deal. I thought it was a generous gesture, and it was interesting to see what a lot of the Californian students have done since summer orientation. How have the friend groups changed? Did the Californians stick around Californians for the entire semester, or did they branch out and go out of their comfort zone?


Thanksgiving may just be another day, but it never hurts to remind myself of how amazing I have it in life. I have a good family. Good friends. Good childhood. Good education. Those qualities alone already put me at an advantage over most of the world — but nope, now I also get the opportunity to  pack my bags and live in another country for an entire year. Pretty sure I’m living someone else’s dream right now.

And yet, I feel an odd sense of guilt. Without my parents’ financial support, there’s no way I could have studied abroad in the Netherlands, let alone afford the plane ticket. (Tutoring young children in English during the summer only goes so far). Why do I this opportunity, and not someone else? Someone else more compassionate, more diligent, more deserving?

A combination of dumb luck and the hard work of those who came before me can answer that question, but it doesn’t offer an answer to this — how can I ever repay this? (and I don’t mean in the financial sense)

I can’t.

But there is one thing I can do to show gratitude, and one thing you can do as well if you find yourself in a similar situation:

Share that same generosity in spirit with the people you meet everyday. When someone shares something from their own life, be it a story or tradition, respond in kind. Or at the very least, acknowledge them.

It would be a terrible waste of all the other days of the year if generosity or gratitude were only reserved for Thanksgiving or Christmas.