Selling home-cooked food: a booming business between opportunities and controversy

Traditional Moroccan tajine | Photo by: Wikimedia commons

Home, delivery-only food businesses are booming in Amsterdam and Groningen as an alternative to traditional restaurants, but their hygiene is to be looked at carefully.

Big plates of couscous covered with colorful vegetables and juicy lamb fill the menu of OnlyTagine. Fatima buys fresh ingredients every morning, and combines them into delicious looking dishes that she sells to her customers, who regularly book their dinner days in advance.

“I moved here four months ago, and there was nothing I could do but sell food, so I started cooking,” says Fatima, from Morocco. Fatima cooks in her home kitchen in Groningen and then deliver the food herself. “Dutch people are really open to different cuisines, and they love mine, I guess because they don’t have one of their own.”

With restaurants reduced – in the best of cases – to delivery only, ordering food at home has become increasingly more common, and delivery services are thriving. Most of this year the choice has not been ‘where shall we go eat’, but rather ‘where shall we order dinner’. 

“I would like to subscribe to one of these delivery services, but they ask for really high percentages,” says Fatima Mushtaq, owner of the home bakery FOOD JOY. Mushtaq started her activity in Amsterdam before moving to Groningen four months ago, but she initially had to rely on free giveaways, since “the market is already saturated in Amsterdam, and I cannot afford a proper advertisement campaign”. Therefore, “I would just bring my products to people and events, and then I would ask who liked them to take pictures of them and post them on social media.”

It appears that such activities are not subject to much control by the government food authorities: “starting a business is really quick, you just need to get a license and be sure to always pay your taxes,” says Mushtaq who continues “My kitchen is really clean, but, honestly I have never heard of people who received hygiene inspections.” 

For the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NSFWA) “there is no distinction in private entrepreneurs and business entrepreneurs,” says spokeswoman Paula de Jonge; which means home-cooks are subject to the same hygiene rules traditional food business are.

At the end of 2020 the NSFW conducted a research which revealed that “only 4 ‘home-cookers’ out of 29” knew what the food hygiene regulations are, says de Jonge. As a result, around 8% of the food samples analyzed did not respect the regulations. For comparison, this figure was 0.6% in 2016 for general food samples.

Where home cooking clearly wins against professional kitchens is on tension levels: Mushtaq had almost given up cooking after working in a restaurant in Dubai a few years ago. “I could not stand the environment there, I worked 15 hours a day, it was too abusive and tense.” Although she assures that not all kitchens are like this, “one day the head chef just started shouting, throwing pans and kicking the refrigerator just because somebody had made a minor mistake. I was scared,” she says.

“Working by myself is somehow more stressful, as I have to take care of many more responsibilities, but I enjoy more freedom,” says Mushtaq. 

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