Friday, August 6, 2010

Bruxelles, part I: theft and food

Celine and I took the train from Amsterdam to Brussels in the afternoon of July 31.  We hurried through the city to get to our train on time, but reallt there was no rush - our train was delayed 15 minutes.  This was a minor problem when we arrived in Bruxelles Central - we missed the first train to Genval, but they run every hour so we just waited a little while for the next one.  During the extra time, Celine looked for a phone to call her grandmother (note - there are also no public phones in Brussels, even in the train stations) and I reserved my ticket from Brussels to Avignon for the 5th. 
Ten minutes before our train to Genval, we went down to the platform.  The trains coming in before ours were delayed, and Celine went back up to the main level to make sure our train wouldn't switch to another platform.  I stayed down on the platform with our luggage: my two bags, my duffel, Celine's duffel, and Celine's backpack.  We were parked next to a huge column, with our stuff just to my right.  In the two minutes she was gone, someone up to me and asked me if he had the right platform to catch a certain train.  I told him I didn't know.  He continued on and told me someone had told him this was the platform and he wasn't sure; I told him I couldn't help him.  He thanked me and left.  A minute later, Celine came back down.

Five minutes later, just before our train arrived, we realized Celine's backpack was missing.

It had been set between the column and her big duffel.  When the man asked me the question, he must have had an accomplice who came around the pillar and snatched it.  I was so focused on trying to understand him as ha spoke in French that I never thought of the backpack; I didn't even know it had been down there to begin with.  There was nothing of great material value in the backpack, but lots of items with great personal significance: most of all, a USB key with photos from Celine's time in Ghana. 

I could go on and on.  But I won't.  I'll just say that it goes to show, you only have to turn your back for 15 seconds and someone can take your things.  Always, always pay attention and be careful!!

On to happier things... Celine and I went to Brussels because her family is from there.  Her immediate family has lived in Michigan for the last 10 years or so, but her grandmothers and many of her aunts and uncles and cousins all still live in Belgium.  We stayed with Celine's maternal grandmother, dit Bonne-maman, who lives in Genval.  She is wonderful.  She was so kind and thoughtful, but she can also be hilarious.  The five nights I spent with her were great. Genval is on a little lake, on the other side is the Château du Lac:


It's a beautiful, peaceful location.  Just beyond the Château is the railroad, where they are doing construction work to add extra lines - hence the crane in the background.

When I was eating home cooked meals much of the time in Brussels, I did not take pictures of my food, but I did get to try a number of local specialties:

Maatche - (I hope I spelled that correctly) raw marinated herring filet (still with bones and scales), served with raw onions - something I would never have ordered on my own, but it was actually not bad: very smooth and pleasant on the tongue with a nice crunch from the onion, and strong but not overpowering fish and onion flavors.  Though I did feel like I was tasting it for the rest of the night...

Cailles - quail, served with potatoes in a tomato-onion sauce, which was super-bon, as they say) 

Tomates-crevettes - raw tomatoes stuffed with the tiny crevettes grises (grey shrimp) from the Northern coast of Belgium in a mayonnaise sauce

Filet Américain - raw ground beef mixed with mayonnaise, an egg yolk, and lots of spices.  The version I had from a local traiteur tasted something like a spicy ketchup, with a pleasant soft texture.  It was eaten on bread like a spread

In restaurants, I was better able to take pictures. 

Moules-Frites - the Belgian classic.  Mussels cooked in a casserole (pot) with celery, onion, salt, and pepper in a little water - the traditional preparation.  The freshness of the mussels really gets to shine through, though the broth was a little too salty for my taste.  The frites were, in this case, a fairly standard fry, though they were just fresh from the fryer.  And what better to accompany this than a Belgian beer?

Moules
Moules, frites, et bière

Waterzooï - a warm, homey dish of chicken and vegetables in a creamy broth.  This was comfort food at its most basic.  Simple and perfect for a chilly day.

Waterzooï

Speculoos - a very common cookie throughout the area; I bought mine from Dandoy, a well known and well respected patisserie in Brussels.  The cookies are shaped like men in profile, wearing a bib and a dress and a a funny little hat.  They have a very buttery aroma, and taste like a gingersnap without too much bite.  The texture is a perfect buttery crunch.  I can see why they are so popular.


Gaufres - or, as we would say in the US, waffels.  They come in two major varieties: Bruxellois, which are light and fluffy with a crisp exterior, and Liègeois, which are denser and covered in sugar that sticks to your teeth when you bite in.  There are waffel stands and trucks everywhere in cities, especially where there are lots of tourists.  Most sell them with all kinds of toppings - chocolate, fruit, whipped cream, ice cream.  Be sure to get it freshly made.

Celine, with gaufre
Of course there's the chocolats, too... but for that, we'll have to wait till Bruges.

Coming soon: what we actually saw and did in Brussels, besides eat (and visit the Bruxelles-Central lost and found).

A bientôt,

1 comment:

Kate said...

Val! YOU ARE SO COOL!! I love your blog! Your pictures are fabulous (as should be expected coming from you)and I even love your title "gastronomical ramblings"! (Please excuse my punctuation- does the exclamation point go inside the quotation marks or outside of the above?!) Be safe & I can't wait to read more.