Tag Archives: moules frites

Brussels: Food, Lack Thereof…

18 Jul

Last time I posted, I had just gotten into Brussels from London.  I was exhausted and penned my English sagas on a comfy leather couch in the lobby of my hostel/hotel.  I am once again exhausted on that same couch, mulling over the last week.  You see, I feel you have to go kind of hard at least one night in each city, and last night was kind of it.  So I’m sitting here with a fat bottle of sparkling water and a (hopefully) safe “sandwich Americain”—steak tartare on a baguette.  Tales of last night come later.

To preface this post, I will mostly be discussing activities rather than food, because I barely ate here.  What?  No Belgian food?  I know.  Well, I ate a little, but I can basically count the items on one hand, because I drank so much beer that I was basically running on straight abbey ale the whole time.  Sorry.  For a detailed run-down of the beers I tried here, check out my post on Getinmegullet.  I know it seems sacrilegious not to consume all these great beers alongside classic Belgian dishes, but to be honest, I have a budget and little interest returning to the US the size of a sumo wrestler.

I arrived in Belgium Friday and had a kind of relaxed evening.  I got settled in the hostel, which is really actually a very inexpensive awesome hotel (Hotel Meininger).  The only reason it’s cheap is that it’s six to a room, but there’s housekeeping daily, a full bar, a roomy lounge, a kitchen, a pool table, outdoor tables for sunny weather drinking—pretty much everything you could think of short of a full restaurant.

full bar at the hostel--holla!

full bar at the hostel–holla!

Anyway, I met this Aussie girl in my room when I got in (these Aussies are everywhere; I guess there was a prison break down under).  We decided to go to the bar and drink, since it was kind of late to start exploring.  We got talking with another Aussie (told ya) and a “lad” from Scotland.  It was then I found out that no one stays in Brussels very long.  Each of these travelers was only staying the night, and I was staying six days.  Cool!  Well, it was for the best, since fitting in all my beer and food into one day might hurt a lot.

The next day, I walked around Brussels for a while and went to A La Becasse, a beer bar recommended to me by a friend.  I got a flight of sour ales, which was delicious and a good start to the trip.  Afterwards, I went to Delirium Café, the destination beer bar with a record number of beers in stock.  I had a few beers and then joined some random British dudes for a round of framboise lambic.  They were pretty entertaining, and because of my high level of beer consumption, they were enthused about becoming fast friends.  Even if I couldn’t even really understand one of the dudes due to some awkward other-English accent he was rocking.  I left them to their English devices after the bar and went to grab some dinner.

At one of the cafés near the center of the city, I got a behemoth order of moules frites.  It was pretty good.  The mussels were a little small, but it was a whole pot of mussels, so I found it worth the price (over $20).  To be honest, I couldn’t stop eating the fries with mayo, which was really the saving grace of the meal.  I think I just went back to the hostel and passed out after that, because all the beer followed by a big meal sort of snuffs a person out.

moules frites

moules frites

The next day, I got up at a decent hour to go to the international market a couple miles from the hotel.  It was pretty cool but very crowded.  For the first time since I’d gotten to Europe, fresh fruit and veggies abounded, so I got some apricots, a giant fig, and some tomatoes for breakfast.  And then I grabbed a demi baguette.  And then I couldn’t resist trying this bread that looked like a twelve-inch English muffin, so I got that too.  But it lasted for days, so I didn’t have to buy food until about Wednesday.

After the market, I went back to the hostel and chilled.  One of the girls that arrived the day before was down to go out for beers, so we walked to a Delirium Café offshoot.  She was stressed about her adapter getting stolen, so I insisted she drink it off.  Just one Delirium Nocturnum later, she was telling stories of her boyfriend who enjoys listening to Taylor Swift.  Since I was on a comfortable drip of Tremens, I was OK with it, though.  And T-Swift doesn’t kill me too bad.  When we got back to the hostel, I grabbed an Orval downstairs, because sometimes enough is never enough, and beer for dinner is usually OK with me.

Delirium Tremens, AKA my appetizer

Delirium Tremens, AKA my appetizer

Monday, I mostly subsisted on some remnants of bread and tomato and sort of vagabonded about, drinking beers at various cafés and bars along the way.  I believe Monday is the day I went to see a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit in a museum.  What that basically entails is that the museum was showing constructed machines/inventions from da Vinci’s notebooks.  It was a little depressing, because most of them seemed really funny and apparently would never have worked.  But actually, da Vinci’s shit really paved the way for much of our modern engineering, so yay for da Vinci.  I am bad at museums.  They make me really tired, and I always feel like I should be more excited while walking through them.  Maybe they should have Red Bull check points along the way.

Da Vinci designed this scuba suit...

Da Vinci designed this scuba suit…

Most of my entertainment Monday and Tuesday came from these two new Australian girls in my hostel room.  They were really chatty and kind of just sat in bed all day eating Belgian chocolate and watching British and Japanese game shows.  I don’t really know what they were doing.  But they probably didn’t really know what I was doing either, because a lot of my days involved taking beer naps around three in the afternoon.

As an aside, I am really digging this steak tartare sandwich.  It’s doing wonders for my head.

So Tuesday, I again ate a little bread and a tomato.  Sorry.  Mostly, I walked all over Brussels to find out how much there was outside the center of the city where all the tourists hang out.  I found a couple of churches, the financial district (yawn), some cool little streets with cafés and boutiques, and that’s pretty much it.  I scored a fairly inexpensive Van Halen record, which is always nice.  During my sojourning, I happened upon a beer bar I meant to go to—Moeder Lambic.  The bartender was really friendly, and he guided me to some cool beers that really hit the spot after all that walking.  I meant to go back there, but it’s a little depressing, because they have a cool bottle selection that is mostly 750 ml bottles and therefore out of my loner price range.  It’s cool, though.  After that, I went back to the hostel to hang and drank double gin and tonics for dinner.  Always a good choice.

A church.  Everywhere's got em.

A church. Everywhere’s got em.

Yesterday was Wednesday, and if you already haven’t stopped reading this fairly mundane post, you will find out that I finally ate some Belgian food.  I got a waffle for breakfast, which had to happen at some point.  It was good, but nothing beyond my expectations.  For lunch, I got sausage stoemp, one of the quintessential Belgian dishes I’d been hearing about.  Yep, it was just mashed potatoes and sausage.  But it was good, and it went well with my Kwak beer.  It was also really filling, so I kind of rolled home after it.  Later yesterday evening, I kind of craved some sort of nightlife.  Or something.  Maybe a social environment.  So I went to Celtica, a bar that serves decent beers for two euro a pop.  And I drank three strong beers in rapid sequence.  I was talking to a dude at the bar who was fairly impressed with my beer-consuming abilities, but he didn’t offer to pay for any of them.  It’s really a shame, but I read somewhere that the Belgians think of it as feminism.  I think feminism is when girls never have to pay for alcohol.  So that’s the one downfall of Belgian culture.

Sausage stoemp.  Had I eaten more than half of it, I might've had a chance later that night...

Sausage stoemp. Had I eaten more than half of it, I might’ve had a chance later that night…

Anyway, after beer 3 and no solid food, I realized I was full on beer but also tanked.  I decided to leave but got a little lost, which is pretty hilarious considering I’ve made that walk many times since getting here.  I stopped somewhere on my way home and got a drink, but then I must’ve gone back the way I came, because it took my about an hour to get home when it should’ve taken about twenty minutes tops.  But I have to admit, some of that beer needed to be walked off anyway.  And I might’ve gotten some frites with mayo somewhere in there.

Anyway, it’s time to leave Brussels.  I don’t know if I would have liked it so much if the first map/guide I read hadn’t started with something like, “Brussels is ugly, but you have to either love it or accept it.”  It really kind of is in a lot of ways.  When I got here, I was like, ‘da fuckk?’  But because of the self-deprecating honesty of the guide writers, I became psyched about it.  I would say Brussels wins the beer category, gets a decent mark in the food category, and loses in the feminism category.  In addition to the non-purchasery of drinks for girls, there is a high incidence of street harassment happening here.  And I’m like, if I lived here, I’d want to wear a burqa every day too (fairly present Muslim population here).

Tomorrow, I’m going to Munich.  The moral of this story is: you can successfully replace food with beer as long as you drink water.

Feast of the Seven Dishes: Christmas Eve Overload

27 Dec

This year, we  would be traveling to foreign lands (my uncle’s house in CT) for Christmas dinner.  For Christmas Eve, however, we would be home, and my mom and I wanted to have some tasty tapas-style dishes to enjoy while awaiting the fat man.  Every year, we’ve thought about doing a feast of the seven fishes, Italian style.  Hence, instead of breaking out cured meats and all, we chose a more seafood based menu.

Looking back, we did not have seven fishes, but we did have seven dishes.  Trying to please everyone in my family of six, we also made some sliders and Kraft mac and cheese.  On the whole, though, our menu was great and we all enjoyed it…

Oysters on the halfshell

Scallop carpaccio with tuna tartare and uni

Moules frites with beer and chorizo

Blanched veggies with anchovy dressing

Sloppy joe sliders

Kraft mac and cheese

Cheeses

Fresh oysters with Champagne is a natural combination.  For us, however, the Champagne did not survive long enough, so we enjoyed oysters with…Pinot Noir…It was fine anyway; the oysters were still great.  I don’t think oysters and Pinot are a match made in heaven, but who’s to judge?  We downed our fresh Blue Point bivalves unadorned and delicious.

Blue Point Oysters!

The scallop carpaccio with tuna tartare and uni was a take on one of the dishes in my recent favorite cookbook, Coco.  I really kind of just riffed on the concept, creating a bright lemon and ras-el-hanout dressing for the sliced scallops, mixing chopped tuna with egg yolk, thyme, grains of paradise, and (gasp) butter.  The uni was a finishing touch.  The dish was balanced: the uni was creamy and briny; the scallops were clean, sweet, and complex with spices; and the tuna tartare added fullness and fragrance.  This was a Christmas treat to remember.

deliciousness.

Next up were our moules frites.  This dish was my attempt to bridge safer foods that my brother likes (fries, whatup?) and more sophisticated eats (the mussels).  Since I’m a big fan of accenting seafood with meat, I started my dish with sauteed chorizo and onion.  After browning the sausage and sweating the onions, I added some Raging Bitch amber lager by Flying Dog brewery and reduced until I had a tasty broth.  In went two pounds of mussels!  Although I forgot this dish on the stove, by the time my mom was all, “where are the mussels?”, they were just steamed to perfection.

Even though I love fries, I decided to make a very delicious fried potato dish–patatas bravas–for the frites component.  Basically, patatas bravas are just cubed fried potatoes with a spicy sauce and aioli drizzled all over them.  I served both sauces on the side, but they were great–I made my aioli with lime juice and then divided it in half.  While I left one bowl of sauce plain, I added about a teaspoon of sriracha and some smoked paprika to the other.  That was amazing.

mussels baby!

patatas bravas!

We also made some blanched vegetables with an anchovy dressing from Coco.  They were colorful, delicious, and a little less fattening than certain other dishes (ahem, moules frites…)

radishes, sunchokes, beets, and cauliflower.

I wanted to make something more hearty, but I’ve made so many kinds of sliders that I started to think of other possibilities for cute sandwiches.  What about sloppy joes–those messy childhood friends of mine?  I browned some minced chuck, added onions, garlic, ketchup, and spices, and served the mess up on wee buns.

sloppy joe sliders

For my brother, a self-professed picky eater, who ironically loves eating and enjoys cooking, we made some Kraft Mac and Cheese.  I can’t blame him, because that stuff is like crack for babies, and I’ve loved it since childhood…But you know…

As far as real cheese is concerned, we chowed down on some Manchego, Midnight Moon by Cyprus Groves, and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.  Tasty, tasty.