The Netherlands, an outsider's view.

The Netherlands, an outsider's view.

ROTTERDAM

The Kapsalon of Rotterdam: a 10.000 calories haircut

Written by Mara Noto 

Proofread William Stupp 

“Hey, sorry, do you still make Kapsalon? The original one?” It is a common question asked by customers upon entering El Aviva. “Of course, the same as 17 years ago,” is Sunsal Bengu’s ready response. He is not merely the owner of a popular fast food establishment. Across the Netherlands and as far afield as Nepal, people with full bellies owe some thanks to Sunsal. He is the proud creator of the caloric carnival that is the kapsalon.

Though quite popular in the Netherlands, some readers are surely asking themselves just what a kapsalon is. Look it up in a Dutch dictionary and you will find two definitions: 1) a hair salon and 2) and a fat and protein bomb forged in an aluminum tray.

Wandering around Rotterdam (or any corner of the Netherlands), it’s hard to find any Turkish or Egyptian fast-food menu that does not feature the “hairdresser”. One thing is sure: you don’t eat a kebab while you get a haircut. So where does the name come from?

17 years ago Nataniel Gomes, a Cape Verdean hairdresser with a salon close to El Aviva, came to the snack bar with an unusual order: no bread, no wrapper, just fries with shawarma all together in one container.

In the early 2000s, in the multi-ethnic neighborhood of Delfshaven, the restaurateur had the idea to put this high-calorie concoction on his menu. It is an aluminum tray with fries and shawarma (nowadays often replaced by döner), subsequently seasoned with some melted cheese – strictly Gouda – and lightened with some vegetables on the top. And to the delight of cholesterol, the final topping: a quintal of garlic and sambal sauce.

“The most popular course remains the kapsalon, thanks to which I have customers who have been coming here for almost 20 years”, Sunsal Bengu says. From his youth in the steppes of central Anatolia, Sunsal came to the Netherlands where he has become the progenitor of what one might almost call a kapsalonian generation. Too bad he missed the patent: his request for intellectual property projection was rejected. “However, I am happy that it is available to everyone. Even in the United States they know it,” he says, beaming with pride.

“The other day a customer came and asked us ‘do you still make Kapsalon?’” Sunsal relates. The client, who frequented the spot 16 years earlier, used to pass by El Aviva on his way to and from school. Often hungry, he ended up ordering it. Little has changed over the years: the recipe and the calories remain the same, only the hairdresser next door is gone. With this remarkable culinary pedigree, El Aviva remains a popular destination for hungry pilgrims, eager to imbibe in the edible hairdresser.