Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Beers & Frites

The food in Belgium is very good. They have fresh fish from the North Sea, great meat, beef, pork and lamb; they eat a lot of rabbit and, of course poultry. They have great vegetables and dairy. So, all in all, food in Belgium is solid and nice. Broadly speaking, France has had a huge influence on the food though there are local Belgian dishes.

The two most outstanding Belgian foods are chocolates and French fries. Chocolate we all know about. The big Belgian brand names Godiva, Galler, Neuhaus and Leonidas and Pierre Marcolini are well known. Besides this there are hundreds of small chocolate makers all over. The chocolates are really very good. You can buy a small bag of them everyday and eat them in the comfort of your hotel room. I do not know if Beer constitutes as food, but that is really top class.

The French Fries or Frites as they are called are really amazing. Remember they are non vegetarian. They are almost universally fried in beef fat or a mix of beef and horse fat. This is what makes the texture so crunchy on the outside and utterly soufflé like on the inside. You have stalls selling nothing but frites and sauce. Most Belgians like to have their Frites with Mayonnaise. Personally we liked something called Sauce Americaine. This was a creamy mayonnaise based sauce with some herbs, some souring agent and some curry powder. For some reason the Frites do not taste as good with plain ketchup, you need a creamy sauce. We ate Frites several times, however the best by a mile were the Frites sold by Frituur Josef outside the old Socialist Party building in Vrijdagmarkt a market square in Historic Ghent. Frirtuur Josef family has been making and selling Frites since 1898, so they know what they are doing. These Frites were exceptional. They are fried twice like all good fries should be. At the time you order they go thru the second frying process, they are drained salt sprinkled on them, sauced and served to you. I assure you they are delicious. If you are a Hindu stay away from this and all other Frites in Belgium.

Beers are big in Belgium. Bars have beer menus that list beers giving details like serving sizes [25 cl, 33 cl or 50 cl], type of beer [Fruit, Trappist, Lambic, Wheat] colour [Blonde, Dark, Black] and of course alcohol content. Reading all this can be as involved as a Wine list at a decent restaurant. Bars often have more than 50 beers on offer. Every bar will have a selection of beers in many types available on tap. We drank a few types but, honestly, a fruit beer – Cheery or Raspberry is OK so long as you have just a glass, the heavier dark beers are not the easiest to drink, to simplest and most uncomplicated is to have a simple lager which they call a Pilsner. These are like the beers we get in India.

What I find most interesting and to some extent touching is the love, care, knowledge and pride bartenders and waiters have with regard to the beer. The legal drinking age for beer is 16 and for hard liquor is 18. That should make us Indians proud. We do not allow drinking till 21 and 25. All bars have a large number of beers and beer glasses with branding. Every beer is served to you in that brand glass. And, on every occasion the bartender or waitress will place the glass down in front of you and rotate the glass so that the label faces you! Every time. Before serving you the beer, the glass in inverted onto a jet of water. This cleans the glass as well as cools the glass. Then the beer is poured in. The head is skimmed off with a sort of spatula, the filled glass is dipped in a basin of water to clean of the spilt beer and the glass placed in front of you, label facing you. Bartenders know what the beers taste like. This is the level of pride in the product and pride in service. Imagine the inventory control for the beers imagine the inventory control for the glasses.

Waffles are big in Belgium. They are pretty unique in Belgium. They are crisp on the outside and chewy. They are sweetened and are eaten as a sort of snack. Kiosks all over sell them. They are not the breakfast food we are so used to. You get them with a variety of toppings, from chocolate, whipped cream and fruits. They are good. You should have one.

This is as far as the snacks or street food is concerned. For more serious food a blog will follow.      

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