Tag Archives: mussels

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.


London: That Happened

12 Jul
cask ale is good mkayyy

cask ale is good mkayyy

So I’m sitting in my hostel in Brussels right now.  I just got off the train from London and I’m running on about 3 hours of sleep.  I don’t know what to do besides deliriously blog about London, because I can’t get into my room for another 3 hours.  This hostel, Meininger Hotel, beats the shit out of London’s Phoenix Hostel.  That’s just a fact.  I’m not complaining; The Phoenix had a bar and all, but this place is huge, hip, and has a giant bar and really good Belgian beer just everywhere.  I am definitely giving it the thumbs up.  It was also only around $20/night or something stupid like that.

Anyway, London.  I had a weird experience there, because I didn’t feel like I wanted to take part in any of the typical reindeer games.  By that I mean I didn’t want to go back and look around at palaces and guards and crowned jewels and shit.  They’re very cool and historic, but I checked them off my life about 9 years ago and felt little need to re-do any of those tourist attractions.  And let’s be serious: would I rather spend money to go on a glorified Ferris wheel (the London Eye) or beer and food.  That’s not even a question for anyone with whom I’d associate.

So the day I got into London, I just sort of randomly chilled out and ate a sandwich and drank Jack and Cokes at a nearby bar to try to cope with jet lag.  It worked out alright, and the next day I felt pretty good.  I guess that was Monday.  On Monday, I putzed around London to get a feel for where everything was and went shopping.  I have a budget and all that good shit, but that didn’t stop me from blowing around $200 on a really cool scarf and shirt at a sick boutique I found.  Oh well.  I never think of it as spending.  It’s just investing in my personal brand.  It’s all just accounting (making categories for spending to justify everything).  I digress.

Monday night, I met up with my friend, Giselle, who I’ve known since the good old days of pre-school.  She is spending her summer interning for an English bank, so we met up for dinner to catch up at a random bar.  We didn’t eat anything quintessentially English, and since the bar had little in the way of interesting beer, I went to my go-to gin and tonic mode.  Anyone who was excited for me to go to London and immerse myself in the mysterious, sexy traditions of real ale is probably face-palming hard right now (because I totally have an abundant following like that).  Don’t worry though, all you fans out there; after dinner I made a small pilgrimage.

Since Giselle is currently “real person” status, she went home to go to sleep like a responsible intern.  I decided to check out a pub recommended by Time Out London for its cask ale.  The Jerusalem Tavern.  I was being lazy and defeatist about figuring out the tube situation, so I splurged on a cab over.  When I got there, I walked into this cramped hole-in-the-wall bar at which an Italian bartender (Italian Stallion, to be honest) was busy flirting with a Spanish girl at the bar.  In a very English comedy kind of way, an average looking English dude came to take my order while the picturesque couple switched to Spanish and ignored everyone else in the bar, even though Italian Stallion was on the clock…So average dude’s name was John.  John the bartender became a fast friend that night, since I am now That Person Alone At The Bar.

After my first pint, the St. Peter’s Best Bitter, I was ready to talk beer with Señor John.  All the cask ales on draft there were from St. Peter’s brewery.  And try them all, I did.  John was very chill about letting me taste the beers first, just as any bartender might be, but a taste tended to be about 4 oz of beer.  Over the course of the night, I bought 3 pints of beer but probably drank 5. It wasn’t my fault; John said from the outset that English cask ale is meant to be had about 10 of.  That just kind of sat at the back of my head the whole night.  The beers I tried included the Best Bitter I mentioned, a St. Peter’s Mild, a St. Peter’s Porter, a St. Peter’s Grapefruit Ale, a St. Peter’s IPA, and a St. Peter’s Ruby Red Ale.

The beer I was most surprised to enjoy was the grapefruit beer.  I like fruit beers, but I’m wary of them, because they often taste bitchy. This grapefruit ale was actually really refreshing and citrus-y.  I think it was cool because the smell of grapefruit really livened up a pale ale that was being served close to room temperature.  Maybe I should take a second to introduce the idea of cask ale, for those of you who don’t know the ways.

Cask/real ale is a style of beer rooted in English tradition.  Basically, instead of a brewery force-carbonating and kegging their beer, the brewery will “prime” their beer with sugar and yeast to facilitate natural carbonation, and then the beer will be served out of a cask in a direct draw pump.  That means the beer continues to change over the course of its useful life, drying out more toward the end, and morphing flavors slightly over time.  The beer is not refrigerated, so it comes out closer to 60 degrees F–something offensive to many people who aren’t used to it.  Those who appreciate cask ale are said to think of its changes like a change in the weather.  Maybe the ale isn’t as good one day over another day, but it’s just a fact of life.  John definitely had opinions about which beers were doing the best the day I was there.  It’s kind of like aged cheeses, if you can think of it from that perspective–sometimes a harder, crumbly bloomy-rinded goat cheese is good, but of course everyone loves it the more it ripens and gets all gooey and dank and delicious.  These are living foods, so we have to recognize them as such.

After drinking those beers in addition to other classic English cask ales, I joined the side of the divide that likes cask ale.  It reminds me of a Spring day; it’s not cold but not overly warm.  It’s refreshing but not overtly quenching.  Restrained hopiness and maltiness allow you to just sit and think about other things as you drink it as opposed to getting punted in the mouth by an American Double IPA, for example.  That’s what this beer is for.  Drinking while hanging out and shooting the shit with friends or getting some work done.  Or if it’s too early to start drinking and you don’t want to admit you’re about to start drinking anyway.  Most of them hover around 4% ABV, so they really are sessionable beers.

So after I drank more than my fair share of cask ale (learning happens fastest in total immersion), John gave me a free Scotch quail egg, since I had the drunk munchies.  I walked around for a bit after leaving before going home and noticed that the bars and clubs in London close pretty early.  It seemed last call was mostly around 1:00 AM.

The next day, I wandered aimlessly again during the day.  However, I stumbled upon Regent Park, which was a really nice walk.  Later that evening, I had a dinner reservation at St. John, a restaurant I’d been dying to go to since I was about 15 or whatever.  When I got there, I found the interior pretty cool if fairly bare-bones.  I sat down and perused the menu for a while before inevitably ordering the famous bone marrow with parsley salad in addition to mussels with cucumber and dill.  I originally planned on drinking beer with the meal, but the restaurant’s beverage list was 100% wine, so I decided to just let the beer thing go for a night.  I ordered a glass of the house Bordeaux to start, just because I was being super indecisive.

I have to be brutally honest: that wine was really pretty not great.  Besides it just being a little simple and too high in acid, the restaurant really served it too warm.  That was a sad experience for me.  The next glass I ordered, a Provencal red, was better but also far too warm.  Why, St. John?  Why?  Anyway, I didn’t let the wine get me down.  The food was delicious.

The mussels dish was really fresh and so up my alley.  I don’t know what to say about it besides…how could chilled mussels with cucumbers, dill, capers, and vinaigrette be bad?  It was definitely one of those dishes that reminds us that simple is often better.  So did the bone marrow.  What is better than hot, fatty cow substance spread on toast with coarse salt, parsley, shallots, and capers?  This is one of those dishes that’s kind of not fair.  I mean, when you have bone marrow, it’s kind of a gimme.  You just put it in the oven and know someone’s going to have beef fat dripping down their chin with a stupid smile on in a short period of time.  That’s just a life fact.  And I was the goof smiling that night.

On my way to dinner, I was having a cynical discussion with myself in my mind about the institution of dessert.  Where did it come from?  Why do people want to eat random sweet food after having a full meal?  “I want diabetes after I finish my dinner,” said no one ever.  Well…the answer came to me in the form of eccles cake with Lancashire cheese.  It was my waitress’s suggestion.  Looking back, I just don’t quite know what happened.  It came out with the Balvenie 12 year old Scotch I ordered, and I kind of just went crazy on it.  I’ll admit it was my first time with an eccles cake…But I will never see life the same again.

It’s just a pastry filled with spiced dried currants, but it was so damn good.  With the cheese, it was just so fucking delicious.  It reminded me of the holidays, but I don’t even care it’s July right now.  Any time my mouth is like twerking after eating something, I’m open to the situation.  Anyway, I left feeling like a whale.

The next night, I went out to some bars with a group of girls from my hostel.  It was a good-ish time, but I spent about $90 on drinks without successfully getting trashed, and these betches were a little crazy.  Not that they could out-drink me or anything.  Definitely not that.  I just didn’t expect a group of 26-year olds with lives to act like they were in high school.  It made me question all those young teachers I had in elementary school.  Were they out hooking up with random dudes at bars while I was at soccer practice on the weekends?  I shudder to think.  Anyway, moving on.

Yesterday was my last day in London, and I just didn’t do much of anything.  I had a beer and a sandwich only to make up for the previous night’s wonky spending situation.  And then I went to see “Thriller,” this Michael Jackson musical.  By myself.  And that is when I knew it was time to leave London.

The moral of the story is: cask ale is good and don’t expect 26-year-old girls to know shit about life or even heavy drinking for that matter.

Hello, Brussels.