Food is a key to open the gate, on a delicious path way into another culture. My Ethiopian wanderlust takes me to a whole new world, yet again to explore and learn. Belgium is the destination and food is the tour guide into this rich culture and history.
To be specific and to take on my food adventure one detail at a time, FLEMISH REGIONAL DELIGHTS and CLASSICS which usually can be found on many local restaurant menus, gave me an exciting direction to start.
Of course for many people including me, the two world’s best treats jump to mind at the mention of Belgium: Chocolate and Beer. Obviously my gastronomic journey in Belgium instantly made me to realize that there is more to it.
Little local eateries where locals hangout is always my first choice to taste authenticity. For certain dishes, I was blessed enough to experience home cooking at typical Flemish household – Belgian food cooked with passion and love by a lovely family. I don’t know if I can get any closer to this rich culture than this.
As much as I believe Traveling expands your horizon, I am also an avid advocate that you don’t really need to actually go anywhere to learn about another culture. As I also love being transported into another world through travel books, cook books and travel shows.
While learning about another culture through food, ironically it seem, but I discover more about myself and the culture I grew up in. Ethiopian dishes are more inclined towards legumes, grains, certain vegetables and spices. Usually the spicier and the hotter the better for many Ethiopian taste palate.
As an Ethiopian, my taste bud is accustomed to earthy, spicy, sourish and very hot rather than very rich and creamy which I am actually experiencing here in Europe and which can be overwhelming at times. Obviously certain dishes I can’t really try like Chicory Ham Roll, because as an Ethiopian Orthodox religion devotee, Pork is not allowed to eat.
Of course when opportunities present themselves like this – actually be in Belgium in this case – I grab it fervently and try to be as present as possible to let the experience pass through me, leaving it’s cherished mark behind so I can always carry it with me and sharing it with the world in honoring my passion.
As a lover of caressing divine details, I couldn’t resist the temptation of visiting the chocolate museum in Brugge. The mesmerizing details and history behind this world’s delicious treat – from cacao beans to chocolate – nourished my soul as much as an extremely good Belgian Chocolate would.
Another museum also dedicated to another gastronomic symbol of Belgium – Frites. Many of us knows this particular treat as French Fries, however the general idea which the name possibly indicates can be changed instantly after an authentic experience in Belgium – a land from where it is claimed to be originated.
After visiting Friet Museum in Brugge, which beautifully caress the details and the origin of Belgian French Fries. After being at one of the local friture, which usually occupied by the locals and of course after savoring twice fried, perfectly crisp, full of flavor, comforting and aromatic friets cut into the size of lady finger and smothered with rich homemade mayonnaise as Belgians would… I couldn’t help to believe that Belgians owns it indeed.
Sea Food is also an important part of Belgian cuisine as Belgium borders the sea. As an Ethiopian Sea Food is a whole new world to discover, it is not only because Ethiopia has been a landlocked country for the past 26 years, but also Ethiopian cuisine doesn’t really incorporate sea food except certain kind of fish usually Telapia from its great rift valley lakes dotted along the southern part of the country, Lake Tana and other lakes scattered around the country.
So on top of indulging my curiosity with Rick Stein’s Seafood Odyssey, I happily seized the opportunity to immerse myself on the sea food culture in Belgium.
Mussels and prawns are popular and I was fortunate enough to enlighten my taste palate with home cooked hearty mussels by my Belgian husband. It made me feel like, I tasted the sea. The white wine in which the mussels cooked in and the parsley gave it another dimension.
I learn different kinds of sauces are integral parts of Belgian cuisines. The green sauce that Belgians are known for is on top of my favorite list. What makes it even more interesting is the 12 herbs it is made of and the story behind it.
Paling in ‘t Groen (Eels in Green Sauce) is one of Flemish regional delights. Legend has it, this was one of the favorite dishes of Emperor Charles V. The very devout catholic Emperor insisted that 12 different kind of herbs being used in preparing this dish, 12 herbs representing each apostle.
The combination of different kinds of herbs – Mint, Parsley, springs of tarragon, Basil, Sage, Watercress, Chervil, Lemon balm, Sorrel, Bay leaf, Savory and Nettle (now replaced by Spinach) – gives it deep green color.
The smooth texture, greenish and earthy flavor in combination with perfectly cooked Eels, was divinely delicious.
Smakelijk! And Dank uwel! – are two words, a traveler in a gastronomic journey in Belgium would quickly pick up.
To Be Continued…