Bara's Influence in Holland

Bara's Influence in Holland

Photo : Bara

Bara, a popular East Indian delicacy enjoyed by all in Suriname and Holland and across the Bara and roti may be introduced to the (Dutch, French, Anglophone) greater Caribbean region (including Guyana, Surinam, and French Guiana) by the indentured laborers from India during the 19thcentury. Ever since, roti has been a staple in the diet of Indians (even before they left India) and later it became the staple of Africans and Mixed and even among some Portuguese and Chinese. The bara, on the other hand, has been a festival delicacy (served at Phagwah or Diwali, Dussehra, or at a puja or Juma or Quran Sharief, or Indian Christian service). The bara has never been widely sold in restaurants or food outlets in Guyana or even in Trinidad; it is widely sold in food outlets in Fiji and Mauritius as I observed in recent trips. But I have not seen it in restaurants in NYC or Toronto or Florida or Trinidad. Bara is loved by Guyanese and by other nationalities wherever it has been introduced. But nowhere is the bara more popular than in Holland -- far more consumed in Holland than in Guyana or Trinidad or Surinam or New York or Toronto or Fiji or Mauritius or Antigua or St. Martin. Almost everyone in Holland seems to know about the bara. Even visitors in Holland are seen consuming bara. And when consuming liquor, many were observed snacking on bara which soaks up the alcohol.

I visited Holland several times on research sojourns over the last twenty five years and am amazed at the bara craze at outdoor markets on the weekend or on national holidays like the recent King’s Day last Thursday. Dutch Whites, Asians or Orientals, Turks, Moroccans, and Africans (from Nigeria, Ghana, Somalia, Eriteria, Mali, Uganda, etc.) and others flocked to bara stands – where the bara was made fresh and hot. The bara, with its tamarind or mango chutney and or pepper sauce, as a fast food snack (and often served in sandwich form as well), is even more popular in Holland than in India or Surinam from where it came. Long lines were seen at several bara stalls – incredibly long. I myself, waited an hour on a line for bara. Quarrels and arguments ensued over whose turn to be served bara or who jumped the line. It is interesting experience to observe of how one small delicacy can have so much hold on so many people of varied ethnicities. And at Indians weddings (Muslim, Hindu, Christian), bara is a must; it quickly disappears as I observed in several weddings and pujas I attended over the last two decades.

The bara first came from India to Surinam and from Surinam to Holland. It is loved by every ethnic group in Holland where the bara has made its presence since the late 1960s through Indian immigrants from Surinam (what was then Dutch Guiana) that became an independent country in 1975. The bara was first introduced in the capital Amsterdam in fast foods and later in Den Hague and Rotterdam and then to other areas where Indians have settled; there are some 200,000 Surinamese Indians or Hindoostanis (as they are called) in Holland; this is separate from the approximate 20,000 Indians from India. The Indians (from India) also have their own restaurants and serve bara; bara is also served at some Chinese restaurants which contract supplies from Hindoostani caterers. Besides bara, some other Surinamese dishes influence the Dutch cuisine and the palate of the multi-ethnic Dutch nation. But it is the bara (and to a smaller extent the roti) that has made its mark among everyone in the Dutch country. The bara is eaten at the table or can be bought and take away in bags. Take away is more popular because one can eat it on the go; and I observed many Africans (including Surinamese and those from the African continent) buying bags of bara. Also, people buy and take home to serve guests because it is filling and one does not have to cook a full meal. Hindoostanis say the bara became popular because of its take away aspects packed in a bag. For take away food outlets, not much food rules needed to be followed and so the early Hindoostani shops (1960s and 1970s) opted for take away servings of customers. Today, bara is served at all Surinamese restaurants.

Bara is commonly served almost everywhere but more particularly so in ethnic neighborhoods and huge public markets or flee markets or “braderie”. It is so popular that it can be compared to say having a puri and sauce in Georgetown. But the bara in Holland is not an ordinary snack or delicacy from a puja or juma or Koran Sharief; it is a huge snack almost like a meal unlike say in the Anglophone Caribbean or the US and Canada. In Holland, it can be served as a sandwich with alou, channa, or salt fish or some other insert. It is like having a roti and some type of insert (alou, channa, vegetables, meat, etc.) in Trinidad or Guyana or NYC or Toronto or Aruba or Ft. Lauderdale or Miami or Orlando.

Unlike in Guyana or Trinidad or NYC or Florida, where phulourie or (Trini) doubles is far more popular among Indians, Whites, Hispanics, Blacks and sold at Indian fast food joints, bara is served at all Indo Surinamese (restaurants) and Javanese (Indonesian) Surinamese restaurants and food stalls in markets and even in some supermarkets; Surinamese Creole and Black and “Negro” restaurants and fast food outlets also serve bara and roti. Some Dutch Whites and Turkish food stalls are seen selling bara. Roti (dhal puri and paratha) is also very popular and served in all Surinamese Dutch restaurants, and it is sold in most mainstream supermarkets not much different say from New York where chapati and naan can be bought at mainstream supermarkets in Indian neighborhoods. In NYC, dhal puri and paratha are not routinely sold at NYC supermarkets; these Guyanese or Trini type rotis are sold primarily in Indo-Caribbean fast food outlets.

As I browsed walked the streets of several Dutch cities on King’s day and over the extended holiday weekend, at public markets and at parks and malls, kids of all background cried to mommy for a bara and “a fres” (soft or sweet drink). So the kids to the old age all love bara. And it is a very tasty bara – fare more delicious than a bara served in Guyana or Trinidad or the US. And the sauce accompanying the bara is peppery hot. Besides mango chutney, there is also a very spicy (red hot pepper) alou chutney (like a soft chowkah) that I have not see any where else. Whenever in Holland, try the bara as the people of Holland do.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram