Posts Tagged ‘Food’

Brussels’ Hidden Gems 1

ImageEveryone knows that in Brussels you visit the Grote Markt (Grand Place), look for the Manneke Pis, and maybe stop by the Atomium, but if you have more than a day, here are a few things you really should try. First and foremost, enjoy the food! Belgium is well-known for chocolates (believe me, the more expensive ones are usually worth it; we loved some of the artisanal chocolateries in the center of town, but we also liked to get pralines and truffles from our local bakery–and don’t miss the pastries, cakes, pies, and other delicacies).

Fresh bread, rolls called ‘pistolets,’ and chocoladebroodjes (pain au chocolat) can be found at any corner bakery, and there are usually several to choose from within walking distance. We bought ours at Allemeersch a little boulangerie off the Place Jourdan, since that was near our apartments. There was also an open air market on the weekends, where we could get good cheese, butter, strawberries, etc. And of course, the grocery store supplied us with strong coffee, jam, and Nutella. Breakfasts on our little veranda were a joy when the weather was nice, which we were lucky to have for the first week or so before it turned cold and rainy again for awhile. You never know in Belgium! But most of our time in June was warm and nice, and we were glad to have jackets and umbrellas for the other days.

Of course, the other food you must try in Brussels are the frites. Fries eaten from a paper cone on the street (or take them home) with spicy mayonnaise sauce are hard to beat, especially while they’re hot. And the food is cheap, even at restaurants, if you get away from the touristy areas. We loved the fries on Place Flagey, though Antoine’s on Place Jourdan was also excellent and may have a little more old-fashioned ambiance, especially if you take your fries and sit at one of the many cafes that allow you to bring them in and buy a drink.

Once you’ve had your breakfast or lunch, though, you may be hankering for some Belgian beer. In Brussels, the traditional brew is Lambiek, a beer that is traditionally brewed using a natural fermentation process. We took our group of students to the Cantillon Brewery, which is operated as a museum. There we could see the shallow vats, where the beer is exposed to the bacteria in the air (found only in this valley of Brabant) that causes the fermentation to start, giving this beer a sour taste like sourdough bread.

We also learned how they age the beer in oak barrels and then mix differently aged lambieks to make Geuze or mix lambiek with whole fruit to create Kriek (cherry), Frambois (raspberry), Pêche (peach), or other flavored beers that are quite tart, yet very refreshing. Lambieks are an acquired taste, and not all of our students liked them, but some who weren’t beer drinkers normally found they liked these flavors more than other beers they had sampled. If you don’t have time for a brewery tour, you can still get traditional lambiek beers at several cafés in the city center, including brown cafés like Toon, A la Becasse, and Au Bon Vieux Temps. You might walk right by these, since they are literally a hole in the wall that leads down a narrow alleyway to the bar behind a store front.

Fruits of Summer

Indian PeachesTime to leave the poetry biz aside for awhile and write a little about food. Our local farmer’s market has kept us awash in fresh local produce all summer (when we’ve been in town), but the thing we love most are the peaches — well, those and the tomatoes and thai eggplant and corn and blueberries and eggs and… you understand (I hope!). There is one farmer who keeps us supplied with our favorite summer fruit from June to August, maybe even into September, thanks to the many varieties in his orchard. We’ve had white peaches and yellow ones, cling and freestone, but the latest are blood-red Indian peaches.

Though they are typically used for pickling, canning, or baking, we love to eat them raw. They are very fuzzy outside and a little firm and tart like a nectarine, but as long as you don’t think they ought to look and taste like a regular old grocery-store peach (often firm and flavorless if they’re shipped in from California), then they are absolutely delicious. And after months of sweeter, juicier fare, we revel in the dark red meat and the tangy flavor. We don’t even mind that they are a cling variety, having gotten a little bored with peaches that come right off the pit.

Growing up in Iowa, I never ate peaches like this. We had a peach tree in our back yard for awhile, though I don’t remember it ever producing very much. Our apricot tree did better for awhile, then died a noble death. Iowa winters were much better suited to apples, pears, and tart pie cherries. My parents also grew grapes, raspberries, and rhubarb–a fruit that’s hard to find in the South–so I’m used to a sweet summer bounty in the yard. Something was in season from June to October, and we always had enough to eat, freeze, and give to the neighbors.

We used to have a peach tree in our yard in Mississippi that did pretty well, until Katrina uprooted it. It produced one more harvest the next year, then died. It took us another year to give up hope entirely, and awhile longer to decide what and where to plant next. Now we have two peach trees that should bear in another year or two. We also have blueberries, quince, and figs, along with our garden full of tomatoes and peppers that don’t get enough sun to really do too well, but supply us with a little home grown produce now and then. And of course we have a forest of basil for the pesto we couldn’t live without.

And we’re very happy to have access to so many local varieties of heirloom peaches and other fruit. We’ve found a good farm for blueberries and picked a freezer full. We’ve bought blackberries and pears. Last year we even bought persimmons at the market and may try to pick some this year. And compared to grocery-store prices, the peaches and other produce we’ve bought at our local market have been dirt cheap — $3 – $5 depending on the size of the basket we choose, and a basket will easily last us a week, unless we decide to freeze some. And the flavor of locally grown, tree ripened fruit can’t be beat. So, if you’re near a local market and you see a strange-looking summer fruit, give it a try! It might be the best thing you’ve eaten in ages.