Discovering a Multicultural Melting Pot in Rotterdam

Rotterdam, the Netherland’s second largest city, has branded itself “World Port, World City,” and rightly so. Formerly a small fishing port, Rotterdam became increasingly significant during the 16th century as an important point for trade routes after ports in Amsterdam and Antwerp were blocked during the Netherlands’ war with Spain.  Today it is home to Europe’s largest port and is an important point of transit for bulk and other goods between the European continent and other parts of the world. The city also boasts world-famous, functionalistic 20th-century architecture giving the city one of the most recognizable skylines in Europe.

Rotterdam is also a multicultural melting pot that revels in its diversity. With a population that is 25 Muslim and 50 are non-Dutch or have only one Dutch parent, it is appropriate that Rotterdam should have the country’s first immigrant mayor. Ahmed Aboutaleb, a practicing Muslim of Turkish descent, is known as “Obama on the Maas” and is the perfect ambassador for this diverse city. There is also a large presence of people from North Africa, Turkey and the former Dutch colonies: Indonesia, the Dutch Antilles and Suriname.

Rotterdam’s multicultural vibe is on display every year at its Zomercarnaval (summer carnival). Every July the annual 3-day Caribbean carnival, reminiscent of the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, makes its way through the streets of Rotterdam, bringing close to one million visitors from around Europe to see the vibrant and colorful costumes and floats and to dance in the streets to the Latin rhythms.

Characteristics of the “World Port, World City” that is Rotterdam is reflected in the cuisine, with food sourced from fishing and adopted from the Netherlands’ former colonies. Fish is a favorite in the Netherlands and deep-fried cod, known as lekkerbek and bite-sized chunks of cod, called kibbeling, are some of the ways the Dutch enjoy their fish.  However, if you really want to “go Dutch” you have to sample the herring.  This shiny silver fish which is raw and served with onions and gherkincan be eaten on a bun, but true connoisseurs just tilt their head back, lift the herring in the air and eat it upwards. Rotterdam also offers ample opportunity to sample culinary traditions of the former Dutch colonies Suriname and Indonesia.  Suriname is a country in South America where the Dutch brought Indonesian and East Indian slaves to work on plantations.  The workers made their native dishes with local ingredients, including the exotic fruits and seafood indigenous to Suriname and which eventually blended with the Surinamese dishes resulting in modern Surinamese cuisine. Make a reservation at Toko94 where chef Joey MacNeil – inspired by traditional Surinamese cooking – brings the multicultural flavor of the city to the table.

Rijsttafel (rice table) is the Dutch interpretation of an Indonesian smorgasbord. Rijsttafel usually includes satay, sambal, banana fritters and at the centerpiece is rice. Originated during the Netherlands’ colonial rule of Indonesia, rijsttafel remains a favorite among the Dutch and is even more popular in the Netherlands than in Indonesia.  The stylish Dewi Sri has been a landmark in Rotterdam for more 30 years and is the perfect place to experience the Dutch rijsttafel.

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Photo credit: Rotterdam Image Bank

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Monique is a freelance travel blogger who specializes in luxury and family travel.