In recent years, vegan food has become more and more common and people often choose a vegetarian meal. The lunchroom ‘Beter & Leuk’ located in Amsterdam, has an extensive vegan menu. Even though it is not close to most tourist attractions, it’s jam packed every day around lunchtime.
Text and photos by Bart Jacobs
The vegetarian lunchroom, ‘Beter & Leuk’ in Amsterdam East almost looks like an antique shop, with mismatched vintage chairs and tables with scratched tops. Pillows and plants are scattered all around the room, breaking up the industrial look of the worn floor and exposed concrete. Behind the counter, two young women are cleaning up and preparing for the busiest time of day: lunchtime.
This place actually started out as a clothing shop in 2013, but a few years later a new owner took over. It then became a lunchroom, “with a focus on vegetarian dishes,” says Anne, who has been working as a server at ‘Beter & Leuk’ for three years now. “At first, the plan was to sell vegetarian meals, but we quickly started cooking vegan meals as well. A lot of people liked it, and soon we offered gluten free and dairy free food as well. Nowadays, we just want the lunchroom and restaurant to be a place where everyone can come and have something to eat.”
Recent research from IRI Netherlands has shown that over the last two and a half years, sales of vegetarian meat has risen by 50 percent in the Netherlands. At the same time, nine percent less meat was sold. This fits into a trend that people are becoming more and more aware of how they deal with food. Many restaurants offer vegetarian or even vegan options for their customers and the range of vegetarian products in the supermarket is growing as well. But the trend isn’t limited to restaurants and supermarkets; even fast-food restaurants are changing their menus. Burger King is now offering a vegetarian Whopper for example, while McDonald’s also sells vegetarian ‘chicken’ burgers.
It’s lunchtime and at ‘Beter & Leuk’ all five tables are occupied. A group of four young women are eating salads at the big table in the middle of the restaurant, while scrolling through social media, discussing their weekends. At a high table next to the window, Louisa and Paul from Portugal are having cake and coffee. “We’ve read so many good things about this place on the Internet,” says Louisa. “We really wanted to come here, I was almost as excited to come here as I was to go to the Van Gogh Museum”, Paul adds. Meanwhile, bicycle couriers come in regularly to pick up orders. Behind the counter two young women are working non-stop. One of them is cooking and preparing meals, the other is making coffee and helping customers. Despite the hustle and bustle, they keep a smile on their faces.
An elderly couple walks in and asks the two waiters about the menu. “We have a whole range of different options,” says the woman behind the counter. “I can make you a weed burger – made of seaweed. There’s also a day special, which is a vegan rendang served with rice or quinoa. I can serve you a vegetarian lasagna that just came out of the oven, it’s made with eggplant and tomato”. The couple give each other a look of confusion, but decides to go with the day special. “It’s not too spicy right?”, they ask the server. “No not at all, it tastes like a mild curry, it’s a little spicy but just have a little rice with each bite and you’ll be fine,” she assures them.
“Would you like something to drink with that?”, she asks and points to a fridge next to the counter. The man and woman look at the refrigerator and all the diet options. The saleswoman comes to their aid, “we also sell water”. Their food is ready and the couple sits down at one of the tables. “So, what do you think?’, asks the waitress. The couple doesn’t want to talk with their mouths full, so they raise their thumbs in response. It looks like the vegans have recruited two new people.