Despite the fact that the Netherlands is the adopted home to more than 600,000 Eastern Europeans immigrants, it's difficult to find restaurants that serve soul food from those countries here. If you search the restaurant review site Iens, for example, you may find a few Bulgarian, Polish, Romanian, Croatian or Hungarian restaurants in every major city, but not more than you could count on one hand.
Truly unfortunate, if you consider that appreciation for 'outsider' cuisines, might be a way to connect people. The Dutch nationalist party, PVV, created fear for a 'tsunami' of Romanians and Bulgarians looking for work, as soon as the borders would open. Those predictions were, like last week's predicted 'worst snowstorm in New York ever', wrong. But this doesn't mean that the country hasn't an ambivalent relationship with hard working immigrants from Eastern Europe, who are often the subject of bad news.
Luckily, Amsterdam has Chris Groza.
After living in the Netherlands for five years, 32-year-old Chris had such a craving for goulash from his native home of Romania one evening that he decided make it at home. The goulash was so popular with his girlfriend—and a second time around with his friends—that he decided to make a living out of the nostalgic dish from his hometown of Satu Mare, which is ten kilometers from the Hungarian border.
Today, he claims to be the only goulash delivery guy in Europe. There's no other chef, at least, who only cooks the goulash and then delivers it himself—and his food casts a wide net of popularity across different Amsterdammers. From celebrity chef Robert Kranenborg to ladies in the red light district (30 percent of window prostitutes come from Eastern Europe), his soup pleases many bellies.
MUNCHIES: What a charming spot you have here. Chris Groza: Thank you. That's for sure, but I am currently working hard to find my own space. My business plan is ready, and I'm ready for the next step.
What step do you want to make? Right now, I do everything myself: marketing, cooking, delivery, but it sounds like fun to collaborate with multiple people in a restaurant that's still mine. I won't change the concept, but I would at least add a few Hungarian and Romanian dishes. Right now, I'm making three sorts of goulash and one other Hungarian dish: chicken paprikash, which is a hearty stew of peppers, zucchini, onions, and chicken thighs with homemade dumplings.
Tell us what you're looking for. Maybe we can help! Well, it doesn't really matter where it is, but a central location like this is handy. The firemen from the fire department across the street eat here often, so it would be nice to be able to continue to serve those patrons. But I also have many regular customers who work in the Red Light District.
You mentioned that the Red Light District is a big part of your clientele? Yes. A Hungarian girl who works in a sex shop ordered here once, and she liked it so much that she has put up flyers in all the sex shops around the Red Light District. Right now, I have about twenty sex shops as customers. I also have a few Eastern European customers who work behind the windows down on the Spuistraat, and an artist from Casa Rosso, who orders at least twice a week for about ten people. They're really great customers.
It's good business. Quite a bit. I have many regular customers who know that my stew is always good. Chef Robert Kranenborg eats here, for example. I really get a lot of compliments, and I understand: goulash never gets boring. If I don't eat it for four days, I really miss it.
For real? It's a family thing. Goulash reminds me of home, of fun parties, socializing, and being together. The taste is simply delicious.
How would you, as an expert on goulash, describe it? It's a soup with meat, various vegetables, and paprika spice, which is mainly eaten in the summer. You put a large pot on the fire and eat a bit of it throughout the night while you talk and drink. There are different types; some have beef, while others use smoked pork. I grew up in Northwestern Romania near Hungary. Goulash is the dish of that region.
How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was a sports teacher in Romania and played volleyball at a high level. When I was 22, I wanted to try to live in the Netherlands as an athlete, so I relocated. I played volleyball here for a while, but it was really hard to earn a living in sports. And thus, I quickly ended up working in restaurants as a dishwasher.
How did you learn to make goulash? I had zero experience as a cook but I took a traditional Hungarian recipe and started experimenting. I found out that Hungarian powdered paprika, for example, is really essential to this dish. I've tried it with Spanish paprika, but the color and taste are just not the same. Now I can make goulash with my eyes closed. I also adapted the dish a little bit to the Dutch taste.
How so? In Hungary and Romania, where people really love goulash, it is much thinner. In the Netherlands, I make mine much thicker and add potatoes because people in the Netherlands like potatoes and it's eaten like a stew. And the spiciness—most Dutch are not so fond of spicy food.
Why do you think are there so few Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian restaurants in the Netherlands? I really have no idea. There used to be a Romanian restaurant at Hugo de Grootplein Square and there are a number of Polish supermarkets and cafes, but there's not much out there. It is not easy to open something when you have to compete with many other cuisines. Maybe that's the reason?
Do you think there's enough appreciation for Eastern European cuisine in the Netherlands? Not really. Most Dutch prefer to eat Italian or Thai food. They think it's a bit rustic, and not as refined or fancy as French cuisine. And that's true of goulash, too: it's the food that your mother cooks for you.