Brussels & Bruges, Belgium – I’ve died and gone to heaven
May 13, 2011

Start leading a healthy life style and it is only natural that your taste buds will slowly mature and seek out more complex flavors. A decade ago I would have drank a Budweiser. But ever since my compulsion to almost completely eradicate sugar from my diet, my beer cravings have turned “dark”.

If you know your beer, then you no doubt have savored a Belgian beer or two. It does not take long to see Belgium’s love for brew is steeped in history. Although in 1900 Belgium boasted over 3200 breweries, now just over 100 still exist. Despite the massive decline in numbers, you can find specialist beer bars serving over 500 different kinds of beer.

In times past, some of Belgium’s finest beers were brewed by Trappists, a silent order of Cistercian monks – Chimay being one. To induce a second fermentation process yeast is added at bottling, so make a careful pour to avoid disturbing the bottom sediment. While many Abbeys have licensed their beers to commercial breweries, such as Leffe, brew standards remain high.

As of late, a thick dark stout with hints of coffee and a tall creamy head is next to impossible to turn down. Almost as rewarding and surprisingly complex is a Witbier or “white beer”, Hoegaarden being a more mainstream brand. While most beer is made from barley, white beer is made from wheat, making it light and refreshing. Take a minute and savor the subtle hints of coriander and orange peel, laced in cloudy sediment.

Little wonder why Brussels and beer have gone hand in hand for ages. Very interesting to note is the peculiar air that resides along the river Senne that flows through Brussels, home to a natural airborne yeast called Brettanomyces. Brewers for centuries simply left their wheat-beer wort uncovered for the air to naturally add its yeast. Once fermented the beer is then moved to wooden casks. After a year or more drinkers can finally enjoy its slightly winey edge called Lambic, another typical beer in Brussels.

All this drinking would quite possibly increase ones tolerance to alcohol. This is certainly evident in the sheer strength of some Belgian beers. Single (around 3%) double (around 6%) and treble (around 9%) are all dwarfed by beers reaching in excess of 12%.

It is evident that Belgians know how to drink, but they also know how to eat. A tradition linked to festive occasions, freshly made and sprinkled with icing sugar, gaufres or wafels are an indulgence you cannot pass up! Simply the name Belgian waffles rolls off the tongue like something you learned in elementary school. There is nothing quite like watching your fork cut through the corner of a thick Belgium waffle, as the intoxicating sweet scent hits your nostrils. Do not let the sheer thickness fool you, these waffles are light as air with a subtle crispiness, a wonderful display of melt in your mouth ecstasy. Eat to your heart’s content and still walk away feeling satisfied, not bloated nor lethargic.

Belgian chocolate is world-renowned and for good reason. Belgian chocolate manufactures use high-quality cocoa beans and generous amounts of cocoa butter. Traveling to Belgium and not sampling chocolate would be equivalent to touring Paris and not stopping to gaze at the Eiffel Tower. While the majority of hand-made chocolates here are pralines, you get the sense they know what they are doing and have been doing it for a very long time. Handmade Belgium chocolates are generally inexpressive, sampling a handful might only set you back a Euro or two. Start small as these chocolates are very rich and you will get your fill very quickly. Go in hungry and leave feeling like a million bucks, as there is nothing quite like watching someone slip on a fitted white glove, select and then package your chocolates in a highly appealing baggy.

Belgian frites (fries) are arguably the best fries in the world. Surprisingly despite the thickness of cut, these fries are plenty crunchy. Fries are submerged in two oils with different temperatures until crisp and served with a heap of mayonnaise.

Belgians have enough confidence in their home-grown beef that they eat it raw, Filet Americain style. While I was not brave enough to try that, I did enjoy Moules (muscles). Traditionally muscles are served in a big bucket along with fries. Muscles in white wine are a good place to start, but be sure only to eat the muscles which have opened.

So whatever your tastes buds, there is something here for you.

*Source material: Top 10 – Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent

“Beer” photo provided by Chow

“Waffle” photo provided by Flickr user: nibblekibble

“Chocolate” photo provided by Flickr user: Leonidas Belgian Chocolate

“Fries” photo provided by Penguin says Feed Me!

“Mussels” photo provided by Lets Talk More


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You’re up, Europe!
May 5, 2011

What do Brussels, Bruges, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon all have in common? In short, ME!

While we recognise how fortunate we are to travel, it has been an outrageously long two-year wait since my wife and I have stepped onto European soil. Once in your blood, travelling is a powerful self-indulgence, next to impossible to ignore. Needless to say, our next adventure was long overdue.

Many homebodies shutter at the very thought of: getting lost in winding cobblestone studded streets, zipping their way through over crowded streets on a scooter, pointing to a completely unrecognizable item on a menu, gazing straight up to admire hundreds of year old architecture while a city seems to revolve around them, or making over emphatic gestures while getting directions from a local who does not speak their language. But to an adventurous traveller this is a recipe for freedom, a chance to feel completely alive, to temporarily push aside any responsibilities and contrive an onslaught of selfish gratifications.

Six cities in seventeen days and a long list of local delicacies to indulge in. This trip is shaping up to be yet another amazing journey for the books, but a complete nightmare for the waistline. Say hello to six European cities and goodbye to Mr. Six-pack. The fact that much of our transportation involves getting around by foot, you would think this would offset any ill effects due to bad eating habits. But like every trip prior, I am expecting that loud SNAP from the switch in my brain, immediately causing me to devour everything in site.

It is the same story every time; while perusing the salad section on the menu of the very first restaurant all hell breaks loose! I suspect it has something to do with multiple overwhelming sensations constantly flooding my various senses at any given time. The eye catches sight of a local strolling by as he leans gently to the side, slightly tilting his head to better hear the whisper of his embraced female companion, as he smiles and pulls her closer. Behind you, you may hear the whooshing sound of small cylinder cars, tightly wound scooter engines zipping around like screaming bees, bicycles almost silently slipping by if were it not for the air they push aside, or the flapping sound of numerous wings lifting from a square in a hurry, as a flock of pigeons give way to a young child’s attempt to trample them through. The smell of dusty, damp, almost musky air, that could only be attributed to aged interiors of museums, palaces and churches, lingers in your nostrils as you imagine the greatness that once stood in that very spot. Little wonder why your sense of taste is dramatically heightened and honed as you touch different foods revealing their unique textures. This grand concerto of culminating sensations provokes a perfect storm of vivacious flavours.

Follow me as I tantalizingly savour many sinful cheats in Europe. But whatever you do, do not try this at home! I will be the one enjoying the flavours. Why? Frankly, because I worked my butt off for it.

“Good food is like music you can taste, colour you can smell. There is excellence all around you. You need only be aware to stop and savour it.” -Ratatouille-

*Photo provided by themed home decor


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