The weather in The Hague has been so nice for the last few days. People do more activities outside while sunbathing. Classes even have to compete with weather to attract students. With the sun come earlier and last few hours later, it feels like we are in a tropical heaven. But, for horeca people, it could be a disaster. Especially me.
This is the fourth month I’ve been involved in the business of horeca, a Dutch abbreviation standing for hotel, restaurant, café and catering. This business, especially related with food, is pretty huge in the Netherlands since Dutch people usually celebrate important moments by inviting people for dinner in restaurants or hiring catering services to provide meals for some kind of celebrations. Recently, the culinary tradition in this business is getting much richer with the coming of immigrants in the country (for Dutch Labour Inspection, it is also one of main areas where undocumented immigrants are mostly hired). We can easily find various cuisines from different countries such as Cuban, Kenyan, Indian, Italian, and of course, Indonesian.
For Dutch people, Indonesian food is something very familiar since colonial time, particularly introduced by Dutch colonial officers or private businessmen. At that time, these people did not only have it during their service in East-Indies, a colonial name for Indonesia, but also in their home country by bringing along with them Indonesian babu (domestic servants) to cook for them indische food. Due to this familiarity, it is no wonder that we can find so many Indonesian food centers all over the Netherlands. In general, they can be divided into two categories: toko and restaurant. Toko is the place where we can only buy take-away food [afhalen] (even if they provide chairs and tables to eat the food on the spot, it is likely that chairs provided are for less than 10 people), while restaurant is much more bigger in terms of space with the average carrying capacity more than 20 guests. With its special service, restaurant is usually organized in much more complicated way and thus usually much more luxurious and expensive.
Me myself work in an indische restaurant. The restaurant I am working now was founded in 1920s and is still quite popular among Dutch people (at least I heard that it still frequently hosts many group dinners from many important Dutch companies/institutions). A vacancy info from an Indonesian friend, who already works for the owner of this restaurant, brought me to work in this restaurant as a dishwasher every Monday and Wednesday. For us, the dishwashers, the word “DJ” is preferred to dishwasher since we wash and touch round plates like disc jockeys in discotheques.
At first, it was not easy to work as a “DJ”. Even the restaurant I am working in already uses dish washer machine, the work is still burdensome especially because I have to pay attention to a great deal of details. Every time I am about to start washing dishes, I need to prepare two buckets of warm water [with soap]. One is for spoons, forks, and knives; the other is a bigger bucket for plates, rice bowls, schal (a kind of plates for non-rice meals). The water must be hot or at least warm to make fat of leftover foods easily swept away (peanut sauce and bumbu semur are the things I hate the most, because they both are usually still there even if plates are already drown within hot water). When I am about to put them into washing machine, I usually have to make sure that there is no fat left in those plates, otherwise I will have to wash them again. Even if those plates are already cleaned, we need to dry them again so there will be no water stains/spots marked on those plates/spoons. The last stage is to classify them into their own containers, and this prevails especially for spoons which have different styles. Each of styles have to be put in their own distinctive containers, otherwise they will be mixed up and later destroy “the beauty of food service”.
I have to do all those processes for hundreds of plates, bowls, and schals since we have what Dutch people calls as rijstafel. This is a menu package consists of different meals put in different schals. For the most simple rijstafel for two persons, I will have to wash at least two big saucer plates, two plates, 6 schals, two bowls for rice and soup, plus 2 forks, 2 knives, 9 spoons (2 for eating, 1 for rice, and the other six is for 6 schals). Wine/coffee glasses and ice cream bowls are not yet included. For my shift, the heaviest burden is usually on Wednesday when we often receive reservations (resevering) up to for 60 people. Can you count how many plates, schal, bowls, glasses and spoons I have to wash that evening?
This burden is getting heavier with the sun coming up. It is not only because we have more guests than usual, but also because nearly all of them prefer to have their dinner in the back garden. It means that, after putting all the food in schals ready to serve, I will have to bring them along walking to the garden and hand them over directly to ober (waiter/waitress). It is an additional job since in fall/winter seasons guests are having dinner upstairs where I can send the food through an elevator in the kitchen. The situation usually gets more chaotic when we (my chef and I) run out our limited schals, or we forget some of menus and the clients are asking. In such a chaotic situation, if we have more glasses broken, they usually represent psychological stress which is passed on from chef to ober or vice versa. And of course, being part of all this food chain, I myself can’t escape from this stress.
That’s why I hate sun on Wednesday!
Prins Hendrik 21K
14 May 2008; 04.10 AM