Thursday, October 7, 2010

Carb-lovers' paradise: Belgium

Brussels. What a gorgeous little city. Old cobble stone streets, window boxes full of vibrant, red geraniums, crisp, cold mornings and plenty of sunshine. Yes, it was definitely a change from the some-what bleak landscape of Spain. Thanks to the lovely (I’m being sarcastic) folks at Ryan Air, we scored EU9 flights from Zaragoza, Spain to Brussels, Belgium. And by Brussels, they actually meant a 55 minute bus-ride outside Brussels. Jerks.

Anyway, with a shift in geography comes a lot of changes – temperatures shifted from early thirties to high teens; language shifted from Spanish to German, French and Flemish (take your pick...I choose German!) and the food shifted from protein-based and sweet-deficient to carb overload.

First assault on my feeble attempt-at-maintaining-figure: Frites mit mayo.

These thick-cut French fries with mayonnaise - or frites sauce which is a mixture of mayo and mustard - are everywhere in Belgium...and Holland...and Switzerland. Walking down to the park – hey, there’s a Fritkot, let’s get some frites. Doing a city tour and feeling peckish? Let’s get some frites! It’s just before dinner but I really feel like Frites! Hey, let’s get some. Pretty much any excuse you could think of, we would get us some frites. Served in a cornet (a cone shaped from newspaper) a variety of sauces are available to accompany your fries: curry sauce, mayo, ketchup, ‘special’. And the best part – you eat frites with a tiny little fork, provided by your Fritkot (I still have about 3 in my bag...all light pink).

Having written the above paragraph, I can now see why I may have stacked it on a tad. But come on, frites are SO good. And available in three countries I spent a bit of time in. And affordable. And delicious. And sadly, no, DEVESTATINGLY, they are fattening.

Of course, frites were not my only food-issue in Belgium.

Assault number two on the attempt-at-maintaining figure: waffles.

OK, so you simply cannot go to Belgium and not eat a Belgian waffle. As a sweet tooth and devout food worshipper, it would have been sacrilege to avoid eating a waffle and I would simply have never forgiven myself.

So I did what I had to do and forced Mr von Strudel to join me on my pilgrimage to the tourist centre where we found waffle shop after waffle shop right next to each other.

Now, a word from the experienced to the non-experienced: there are two types of waffles available in Belgium. There is the round waffle ‘with the sugar on the inside’ as our hostel staff member told us i.e. mixed into the batter, and then there’s the square waffle ‘with the sugar on the outside’. If you would like to sample a true Belgian waffle – go the square one, which is apparently the traditional Belgian waffle. As we were in the tourist centre, we got sucked into having a round waffle each – dripping in chocolate and ice cream mind you (and speculaas ice cream at that for those who have the privilege of knowing how awesome speculaas is). Not content with a tourist waffle, we went in search of a true Belgian waffle – and found one across the road. It was easy to taste the difference in the waffles: the Belgian waffle was lighter and eggier – definitely no sugar in the mixture. My preference though? As a candidate for sugar-induced coma in later life, definitely the sugary round, chocolate and ice-cream laden one. Authentic-schmautentic.

Love and marriage, horse and carriage, waffles and...?

CHOCOLATE. Meet assault number three.

His name is Belgian chocolate. He’s rich, smooth, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and is delicious. Seriously, I would marry Belgian chocolate if I could. We were actually rather restrained in the chocolate eating category and only went to one ‘Leonidas fine Belgian chocolate’ shop once. Although I did go a little crazy when I saw Milky Bars with speculaas in it. White chocolate and speculaas. Wow.

OK, so far we have frites, waffles and chocolate. We round out our offenders with that amber ale that has sparked a series of world-wide cafes to be named after it: Belgian Beer.

Yes, my readers, it was carb overload, and washed-down with that carbonated carb-filled beverage, beer. Well, what can you do when the local beer is Hoegaarden? We managed to sample quite a few beers (thanks to the bar within our hostel). We also managed to go to a micro-brewery which brews a very special beer that is only made in Belgium: Lambic. As I’m not very good with all the fancy beer language, I’m just going to paste Wikipedia’s explanation of what a Lambic beer is. I’ll round it out with what it tasted like.

Here we go: “Lambic is a very distinctive type of beer brewed only in the Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels) and in Brussels itself at the Cantillon Brewery and museum (that’s where we went!). Lambic is now mainly consumed after refermentation, resulting in derived beers such as Geuze or Kriek.

Unlike conventional ales and lagers, which are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer's yeasts, lambic beer is instead produced by spontaneous fermentation: it is exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, in which Brussels lies. It is this unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavour: dry, vinous, and cidery, with a slightly sour aftertaste.”

Well, sour is right. Lambic beer doesn’t really taste like beer much at all. We tried some fruit limbic as well – cherry to be precise. Had I not known that what I was drinking was actually beer, I would not have been able to classify what exactly the liquid was. Cherry lambic is red and has a slight fruit flavour to it, but is not sweet as one may expect. It was sour and actually a little difficult to drink. Definitely an acquired taste.

So there you have it folks. Belgium: not the country for people on a diet, but definitely the land for people who love carbs. I’ll see you all at chocoholics anonymous later. Like, in a year.

Fun links!

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