The Accidental Sneukeltourist

6 Jun

If you’ve seen the movie In Bruges, let me assure you: it’s true. Bruges is picturesque beyond belief.

No, I didn't just scan in a postcard.

And they’ve got great food and great beer! It’s like my own personal Euro Disney.

We arrived late on a Friday night, which happened to coincide with the beginning of Meifeest (May Fest). There was a big carnival, complete with lights and rides, plunked in one of the town squares, and drunken (but non-threatening) teenagers wandering the streets. And, of course, carnival food, which gave us the opportunity to try out two of Belgium’s specialties in their natural habitat, as it were.

Belgium is, of course, the birthplace of the waffle and of the fry. (I won’t call it French, since it’s of Flemish origin.) Waffles come in two varieties — the crunchy Liège or the chewy Brussels; this stall sold the crunchy kind. (If you’re in Chicago, you can get a pretty authentic Liège waffle at Baladoché.) My first waffle (in Belgium) was topped with another Belgian specialty, chocolate, and served hot. It was crunchier and denser than the American variety; it’s more like a cross between a sweet bread and a cookie. The closest analog I can think of is the canelé, which is probably just as easy to get in the US as a zuckerwaffle.

On your left, a zuckerwaffle with chocolate. On your right, frites with "special sauce."

The frites, or frieten in Flemish, are thick-cut fried potatoes, or what appear on American menus as “steak fries.” Frieten are a dish in their own right, rather than a side dish, and served with a mind-boggling array of sauces including the traditional mayo, something called “samourai sauce,” and even chicken vol-au-vent, which is a chicken cream stew. (Amusingly, many frietenkoten, or fry shops, have things like “Texas” and “New York” sauce, which I’m guessing have as much relation to the actual states as “French dressing” does to anything served in France.) We went with the great eating wisdom of “always get the special sauce,” and ended up with Belgium’s answer to animal-style fries: thick, crispy fries topped with curry-flavored “ketchup,” the ubiquitous mayonnaise, and onions. Digging in, we understood why the Meifeest-goers were willing to queue for 20 minutes for this snack. It’s the curry ketchup that ties everything together.

The signs of Spring

We try to eat a balanced diet, even on vacation, so we also partook in a Continental springtime specialty, white asparagus. White asparagus is produced when regular asparagus shoots, like Europeans during the long winter, are deprived of sunlight. The results are woodier but sweeter. Here they’re served Flemish-style, which apparently means with chopped hard-boiled egg.

More Continental delights to follow as SOK goes out for an anniversary dinner!

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One Response to “The Accidental Sneukeltourist”

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  1. The Streets of Chicago « Straight Out of Kampung - January 10, 2012

    […] foods (cheese! Beer! Real bacon!), rather than trying anything new. But you can’t keep a good sneukeltourist down, so I did do a little food adventuring — this time on the chilly streets of Chicago. The […]

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