Hallo! Bonjour! Wilkommen! One of the things that makes our next country, Belgium, so interesting is that that many things seem to happen in threes. It is comprised of three main regions: Flanders, which primarily Dutch-speaking, Wallonia, which is mostly French, with some German-speaking communities, and the Brussels-Capital Region, which is a mix of French and Dutch. Dutch, French and German are also the country’s official languages. Belgium’s tricolored flag, which we’ve tried to recreate above, also follows the pattern of three (though many countries’ flags also have three bands of colors).
With wintry precipitation in the forecast for yet another weekend, Derek and I welcomed a sojourn in Belgium, even if it was more a mental escape than a physical one. If we had the ability to bring the weather of our globetrotting countries to us, I’d gladly welcome Belgium’s, where winters are typically mild, with more rain than snow.
We began globetrotting earlier than usual, on Friday night, by watching Private Property, a French-language Belgian film. French actress Isabelle Huppert stars in this movie as Pascale, a divorced woman who lives in a Belgian farmhouse with her adult twin sons.
To get some more background on the country, we also watched two YouTube clips: an animated short that critically looks at Belgium’s complicated political structure, and a short film outlining five things American tourists might dislike about Belgium, and five things they probably would really like.
On Saturday morning, we breakfasted on bread, cheese, and jams. Even though the “Belgian waffle” is a common breakfast item on American restaurant menus, Belgians don’t actually eat waffles for breakfast. Our more authentic meal reminded us of similar breakfasts we’ve had of breads and cheeses while globetrotting in Austria and Russia.
After breakfast, Derek went grocery shopping, while I went to a yoga class (I had done my shopping earlier in the week). A quick Google search confirmed that there are yoga studios in Belgium, so I’d like to think that my Saturday morning might not be so different from a young woman living in Brussels or Ghent (most of the search results were from those two cities).
Once I returned and had the chance to freshen up a bit, Derek and I headed to Brookline, where we went to The Publick House, a bar/restaurant in Washington Square. Since Belgium is widely known for its beers, we would have been remiss if we hadn’t ordered any. On the left is Derek’s Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux, a winter saison, and on the right is my Dupont Biere de Miel, a honey saison.
The Publick House also serves a well-known Belgian dish, moules frites, which Derek ordered for lunch. Moules are steamed mussels served with frites, also known as fries, and some bread to mop up the broth. Derek’s pot of mussels came with a second empty pot, which he could use for discarding the empty shells. I had a veggie burger, which is definitely not Belgian, but at least it came with fries, so with those and my beer, I did get to share some of the Belgian experience.
Mercifully, the snow held off until we arrived home. We shared a Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bar (from Belgium) filled with a speculoos cookie spread, which is quite popular in the country. Belgium is also known for its chocolate: several brands of chocolate we’ve familiar with today, such as Godiva and Guylian (the latter most recognizable for their seashell-shaped truffles), began as Belgian companies. Many consider the Belgian city of Bruges the chocolate capital of the world.
For dinner, Derek made us tartines, or open-faced sandwiches, spread with cheese and topped with thinly sliced radishes, and an endive gratin. Traditionally, the endives in the gratin are wrapped around slices of ham, though our vegetarian-friendly recipe called for “meatless” ham instead, and Derek opted for Tofurkey slices, since that’s what he found at the grocery store.
Here’s the gratin cooling a bit while Derek slices radishes for the tartines:
And what our plates looked like:
Our movie for the night (accompanied by a snack of Belgian dark chocolate squares) was Dutch-language comedy Everybody’s Famous! Factory worker Jean gets laid off from his job and kidnaps the country’s number one singer, Debbie, so he can blackmail Debbie’s manager into making his daughter, an aspiring singer herself, a star.
Both this movie and the previous night’s Private Property revolved around parents and their complicated relationships with their nearly adult children–a theme that I think a lot of people, including non-Belgians can relate to.
While the typical Belgian breakfast may be bread, cheese and jams, I did read that on Sundays and on special occasions, Belgians purchase croissants and other pastries for breakfast at local bakeries. Derek and I are lucky to live near several bakeries, but since a mix of rain and snow had been in the forecast for Sunday morning, we decided to play it safe and bake some frozen Trader Joe’s croissants for ourselves instead. Although we brought out our large jar of marmalade again, we ended up eating the croissants plain because they were tasty on their own.
We looked for Adventures of Tintin comics online, since the series was created by a Belgian cartoonist, Georges Remi, who went by the pen name Hergé, but couldn’t find full strips to follow. (Another cartoon originally from Belgium that Americans probably already know of are The Smurfs–yes, the blue little creatures.)
Since we still felt that our knowledge of Belgium was still lacking, Derek located the following YouTube video, which gave us an aerial tour of the country and some history.
For lunch, we reheated the leftover endive gratin and assembled more of the radish tartines.
Since it stopped precipitating early and the sun was shining, Derek and I took an afternoon walk to Zinneken’s, a Belgian waffle shop near Harvard Square. Zinneken’s sells two types of Belgian waffles: the Liege, which are made soft and chewy, and made from a dough with pearl sugar, and the Brussels, which are lighter and crispier, and made from a batter. You can get either style waffle with your choice of toppings. Derek and I both chose the Liege waffle with melted Belgian chocolate, and he also asked for strawberries on his.
In taking a picture of our waffles, I also tried to get in some of the icicles that were part of our window view.
Sunday dinner was my turn at making a Belgian meal. I prepared a Belgian-style seitan stew, a vegetarian take on carbonade flamande, a Belgian beef stew with beer and stoemp, mashed potatoes mixed with other cooked vegetables (the recipe I used called for onions and leeks). The stew was a bit sweet for my tastes, but the stoemp helped balance the meal out.
Since Derek’s nut allergy prevents him from eating Nutella (which is commonly used as a sweet spread in Belgium), he decided to make his own nut-free chocolate spread, which we ate on toast as we watched one last Belgian film, the French-language and stop-motion animation A Town Called Panic, which is based on a Belgian TV show by the same name. The movie even featured a scene where a Nutella-like substance is being spread on toast.
And here’s the trailer for the film, which was odd but entertaining:
Belgium kept us very well-fed and entertained this weekend, even though there are a lot of aspects of the culture and history we didn’t even begin to cover. You might think we at least covered Belgian food well enough, but we did skip visiting Saus, an eatery known for their frites and Liege waffles, and didn’t plan ahead to buy Belgian’s famed Neuhaus chocolate, from the chocolatier Au Chocolat, which, like many of its Boston Financial District neighbors, is closed on the weekends. Derek also pointed out that, oddly enough, we didn’t make any dishes with Brussel sprouts. And the list of things we missed only gets bigger if we include items other than food. But since we know that globetrotting is by no means the equivalent of actually traveling to a country, we’ll just have to resolve to go to Belgium someday!