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Smuggling Food Through the Airport Can Be Harder Than Smuggling Cocaine

"My own father was once caught at the border with a suitcase full of stuffed pigeons."

Dutch supermarkets have been stepping up their game when it comes to international food options. Whereas getting something as simple as hummus and falafel used to require a trip to a specialty grocery store, now you can just pick them up along with your regular groceries. Foreign food is becoming increasingly popular in the Netherlands, and it's nice to be presented with a wider variety of choices.


Even so, immigrants still long for certain foreign products that lack a Dutch equivalent. More often than not, they have no choice but to bring those items back in large quantities after they've visited their faraway countries of origin.

You wouldn't necessarily guess this when you're walking around Schiphol Airport, but many of the suitcases around you are stuffed to the brim with burrata, Turkish cotton candy, chicken jerky, and a slew of other tasty delicacies.

"My own father was once caught at the border with a suitcase full of stuffed pigeons."

My family is no different. My brother recently told me that my own father was once caught at the border with a suitcase full of stuffed pigeons my grandmother had given to him. "It was pretty embarrassing: the customs officer slowly lifted the plastic bag, so the dead pigeons were hanging in the air between him and my dad," my brother recalled. "Dad had the guts to ask if he could keep at least one of them. The customs officer didn't like the joke, so he threw everything in the trash right in front of us." We were only allowed to keep our cans of of Fayrouz, a non-alcoholic, pineapple-flavored Egyptian beer.

READ MORE: Don't Try to Smuggle Raw Chicken in Your Luggage

The rules and regulations for bringing food into the Netherlands are quite strict. It's easier to move food around if you're in the EU, because the health codes don't vary as much between countries. But outside the EU, you're not allowed to carry animal products with you unless you have a certificate for them. You don't just run the risk of losing your stuff—you also might get hit with a substantial fine.

I spoke to Dutch people with foreign backgrounds who've hidden food in their luggage just like my dad did, and asked whether they narrowly cleared customs or were caught red-handed.

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