Post-colonial eating out of the Wall

Two different Stories of the Loempia

Lenno Munnikes and Joris Vermeer


Since the early 1950s, when snacking became a common eating habit in The Netherlands and colonialism came to an end, a sort of nostalgia entered Dutch food habits through snacks. At this period, eating out in new types of places such as snackbars became increasingly popular, especially with young people. More free time, economic growth and technological innovations sparked this new way of eating out. At the same time, an eating wall called the automatiek was successfully renewed.

True mass production of well-known snacks like croquettes, meatballs and frikandellen (a sort of minced-meat hot dog) started in the 1960s. Also entering this new snack market were items with new tastes that were reminiscent of dishes experienced in the Indies, a Dutch colony until 1949. Nasibal, bamischijf and loempia originated in this period, and they became popular snacks consumed out of the automatiek and in the snackbars. These deep-fried snacks were filled with rice, noodles and meat. Their popularity was a follow up of the most popular dishes at Chinese/Indonesian-styled restaurants, adjusted to Dutch taste (Chin.-Ind. restaurants). In the 1960s, more than hundred of these restaurants flourished in Amsterdam, and afhaalchinees (take-away Chinese) became a commonly used term in the Dutch language.

From the perspectives of efficiency and economics, it is not strange that the rice and noodle dishes were made in a snack form that could be taken out of an automatiek or ordered at a snackbar until late at night. Along the way, eating alone or standing up became the new standards of Dutch eating out.
Pannenklanten became common sights in the big cities. The term refers to customers bringing their own pans to be filled in Chinese restaurants, mostly with bami, nasi, loempia, with some kroepoek and sambal on the side. These food items originated in the Indies, but of course they were prepared to the common Dutch taste. Even a dramatic growth of the loempia nearly to dish size was very obvious during this period.

The oldest Dutch sources describe loempias as Chinese croquettes, but in the 1970s another type entered the Dutch snack market: the Vietnamese loempia. The war and conflict between non-communists and communists in this country produced a huge amount of refugees who fled all over the world, including The Netherlands. The refugees also brought their food culture with them. But the resulting story is also unique in The Netherlands. The most typical Vietnamese food items, such as bao and pho, failed to gain ground in The Netherlands, with the exception of nem (its Vietnamese name). Dubbed ‘Vietnamese loempia’, this snack item became very popular from then on. The Netherlands is the only country in the world where it has become this popular.

In a lively presentation featuring visual material from de Aardappeleters (television documentary), the post-colonial history, the similarities (and differences) and the place in Dutch food culture of the two different loempias will be explored and explained.