27 Dec Travel Tuesdays #5 – Belgium
After a slack Christmas period in terms of my blogging output, I at long last return, renewed of life with festive zeal and Christmas vigour, on hand with new recipes from my rather untraditional Christmas meal, which won round my initially sceptical sister. But for now, as it is Tuesday, I shall kick off this post Christmas blogging buzz with everyone’s favourite (no, ok, fine) Travel Tuesday’s. In which, for any newcomers, I recount my 2014 European, pre plant based eating adventures from my very own e-book ‘Travel Like a Foodie’. Today we are in Belgium…
To be honest, I felt like I couldn’t truly appreciate the gastronomic treats that Belgium had to offer; I’m not too keen on waffles, I feel that chips (frites) are amongst the most overrated of all the foods and I am one of those bores who calculates their sugar intake, meaning I didn’t overly indulge on their famous chocolates.
I did enjoy Belgium yes, but I feel as though I liked the idea of Belgium (particularly Bruges) more than I actually did. I was in some way victim to a Flemish variety of Paris syndrome (where one’s expectation of Paris are not by its reality). Let’s take Bruges then, I expected a place where I could mill around and just wander. Stumble across something old, sit by a canal, letting the hours drift away. I wanted to swan in and out of narrow lanes, plucking chocolates from free sample trays (I make exception to my sugar counting when free stuff enters the equation). However, this image was shattered when hoards upon hoards of tourists had the cheek to come and clutter up the place. I made my way out of the main tourist area to find solace in my thoughts. I came across a canal, a bench and no one else! In that brief moment I had found the Bruges of my hopes and expectations. Ah, blissful peace. An all too short while later, a maintenance van came and stamped all over my dreams (literally, I was just drifting off). With a wry smile, I arose from my slumber and went to join the crowds!
I found myself in some lovely little eateries whilst in Belgium, two of which you can now read about, lucky you.
Vlamingstraat 12, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
I was after a good breakfast in Bruges and stumbled across Prestige. Perfect poached eggs atop sautéed mushrooms, a cup of tea, toast, cake, fruit skewer, three types of jam, lovely service, plush, comfortable, regal interior. If I was one for Snapchat, I would have captioned the picture below, ‘Life’s good’ or ‘greedy bugger’; either one would have been applicable. Overall, a really lovely place, just gorgeous.
Must go rating:
Rue de l’Amigo 1, 1000 Ville de Bruxelles, Belgium
Now, I don’t want to slag off or dismiss an entire city on the evidence of a two night stay, but I’m going to. Brussels didn’t do it for me. The parts I saw I found to be a little grotty and just generally unwelcoming. I was excited to be staying on the doorstep of the (supposedly) beautiful Grand Place, then disappointed to find it covered in scaffolding.
To cheer myself up, I chose the only way I know how to and treated myself to a nice meal, any excuse! I circled this particular restaurant, Bocconi, a few times, but initially dismissed the idea of eating there due to the hefty prices and the fact it looked a bit posh. However, the seed had been planted and as I was traveling alone, I had no one to talk me out of it, so by the third circle of the restaurant, I entered (oh the joys of solo travel!) The restaurant was half empty (or full, depending on your disposition), but the receptionist still went to go and ask whether there was enough room… for this table of one. Perhaps a baby faced teen, adorned with scruffy jeans and slightly worn trainers are not their usual clientele. Fortunately, the receptionist came back and I was granted a seat… as I say, the restaurant was half empty. No full! I’m a positive person really, I meant full!
My sister once asked me ‘If you had to choose one food to live on for the rest of your life, what would you plump for?’ Thinking pragmatically and looking for a foodstuff that would sustain me, my original answer was porridge. After learning that there were no such stipulations (she looking at me with disgust for saying porridge*), I quickly changed my answer to bread and butter. I love the stuff. The bread basket on offer at Bocconi is what I imagined when I revised my answer to my sister’s question; the single best bread basket I had on my trip; yes beating the bread offered at Osteria Francescana and yes, I kept such a list!
*She went for chocolate.
I went for bread crusted lamb (just what I needed, more bread), with fondant potato and some sort of jus for my actual meal. The lamb itself was beautifully tender, never have I had to chew so little when eating a piece of meat (no offence mum). The fondant potato lacked a little cooking however and it needed cooking with another few chunks of butter for James Martin to even consider going near it. The food was presented very well, but portions were minuscule, so much so, and I didn’t want to, but I ‘had’ to order dessert to compensate.
For dessert, I couldn’t see pass the Tiramisu. Mainly because it was titled ‘Bocconi’s Tiramisu’, implying to me that it was some what of a speciality dish. What was served was a pretty standard Tiramisu, lacking the real coffee/alcohol punch that I like. However, its accompaniment, a coffee sorbet, was gorgeous and certainly delivered the coffee hit as promised. At nine euros however, it annoyed me a little. The tiramisu could have been found in any (decent) Italian restaurant and did not justify its price in any way, shape or form; ok maybe in the form of a delicious coffee sorbet, but in no way or shape!
It sounds as though I didn’t enjoy the meal, I certainly did and would recommend it if you’re ever in Brussels (though, contradictorily, I recommend that you never go to Brussels, ever!), but one has to be critical when paying, what I feel was over the odds. If eating at McDonald’s, I wouldn’t be complaining that the chips were over seasoned or if I found a chicken foot in my big mac! Also, never go to McDonalds.
Must go rating:
7.5/10 – Mainly for the bread and the fact it was as good as any landmark I saw in Brussels. The restaurant being almost opposite the Manneken Pis. I’d go as far as saying to not even stop to glance at it and instead head straight into Bocconi.
Tot ziens/Au revoir Belgium
Barring a few highs, Belgium didn’t cover itself in glory when it came to its cuisine. Frites and mayonnaise unfortunately not just a sick, horrible rumour, but an all too real occurrence in Belgium, something the locals readily lap up. I imagined it was a combination some Flemish student came up with one day when hungover, rather than a national dish. I mean, to be fair, I’m not a huge fan of chips anyway, but to serve them with mayonnaise is just… wrong! The chocolate though, from what I tried, was rather good. See, I like their chocolate, I’m not just a Belgium food racist! It’s just that I don’t like chips, or mayonnaise, or waffles. Actually come to think of it, I’m not too fond of mussels either, which in Belgium they serve with, yep you guessed it, frites! Unbelievable.
But enough of the food and to the country itself. It is perhaps because ‘In Bruges’ is one of my favourite films, one i’ve seen multiple times, but there was a slightly dark, ever so spooky, gothic atmosphere one feels in Belgium, particularly in Bruges.
Walking home late one night, if it wasn’t for a pair of Northern Irish boys I had met earlier accompanying me back to the hostel, not only would I have gotten lost, but I probably would have been too scared to move. Making our way through small lanes, ducking under gargoyles, there is something definitely eery in the air.
It wasn’t all tranquil and canals however as I was expecting. Leaving Ghent/Gent train station for the first time, I was greeted by the loud, unmistakable and quite hideous noise of electro dance music. Yes, an electro dance music festival… in Belgium, I didn’t sign up for this! Youths walking around shirtless, bumping their heads to and fro’ to the senseless racket that is modern music. Each to their own and all that, but come on, that sort of ‘music’ is objectively rubbish!
Quite an in depth analysis of Belgium and it’s cuisine there I think you’ll all agree.
As I say, expect recipes to hit Tofu and Tempeh in the next few days, if indeed I’m not hit with post festive blues and I once more neglect my blogging duties.
Enjoy any remaining time off you may have, but if you’re already back at work, don’t worry, there are some more bank holidays coming up! Yay for banks and their holidays.