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Connoisseur's Guide · Europe · belgium · Brussels · The incredible taste travels of Sirmais

Culinary Babel of Brussels

Author: Ilze Lasmane-Brože0 COMMENTS

Culinary Babel of Brussels

Foto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

Belgians love eating out and that accounts for numerous fantastic cafés in Brussels. Yet even more charming than a traditional meal in an appropriate indoor venue can be outdoor eating at some of Brussels street markets. Bio-markets are gathering the best farmers of the region, and everyone can find their favorite producer of cheese, sausages, honey, champagne or any other product there.

Foto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

It is not a usual grocery shopping, in fact, but more like picking and nibbling little bits and pieces from the huge assortment of delicious treats. Belgians enjoy eating right at the marketplace, standing at small tables, sipping wine or champagne, chatting and enjoying a truly wonderful and relaxing atmosphere. Especially leisurely and enjoyable such meals can be on warm and sunny Saturdays and Sundays.

Foto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

Belgium has been called the crossroads of Europe. Its street markets, too, are a true culinary Babel and an international melting pot of cuisines. A current craze is African cuisine, especially the less-known tastes of Ethiopia. And why not try it in a buzzing atmosphere of a marketplace, especially when everything is almost ten times cheaper than at an average Belgium supermarket?!

Foto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

Speaking of markets, flea markets are particularly popular and have achieved somewhat cult status in Brussels. The majesty of Belgian monarchy keeps reflecting itself in every tiny trinket there. Searching through those treasures, a special attention should be paid to Belgian laces, especially the famous 19th century Brabant or Mechelen ones, made with linen threads on machine-made tulle.

Foto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

Worth visiting are also charming and elegant antique stores offering centuries-old things side by side with, for example, furniture form the 60s, with a dazzling mixture of things in their luring shop windows.

Foto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

A special trait of those markets is comic book stalls. Comic strips are a unique form of art in Belgium and feature a wide range of themes from funny and innocent booklets to the most elaborately drawn porno comics. Comics are not a fad of their creators alone - they have an amazingly wide audience of fans and readers, too. It's not surprising that someone has been an ardent follower of one's favorite comic character for about 40 years! By the way, one of the two most translated French-language comics' writers is Hergé - the author of "The Adventures of Tintin", and over 200 million copies of this book have been sold to date. Another most translated Belgian author is Georges Simenon. His famous series of novels and short stories about Commissaire Maigret started in 1931 with Pietr-le-Letton (Latvian Pete).

Foto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

What does Belgian gastronomy tells about the country? Almost the same way as with Belgian lace, it's all about elaboration to the tiniest detail. It refers also to making French fries. It is well-known fact that French fries actually originated in Belgium. While their health aspects still ignite controversy across the world, there even exists a museum in Bruges dedicated to this dish - Friet Museum (www.frietmuseum.be). Belgians are very proud of their fritted potatoes, to the extent that scientific research papers are devoted to secrets of cooking impeccable fries. At the same time, French fries are often made in the most undistinguished shacks. Some of such places deserve special recognition, for example, Maison Antoine at Place Jourdain that is dating back to 1948.
Only 100 potato varieties are considered to be good for French fries; it requires two-step frying with absolutely fresh vegetable oil, and only a good cook would know the special gradation of temperatures and the duration of boiling.
Belgians also takes pride in their beer. Their beer brewing experiments have resulted in over 800 varieties of this beverage. There is even a special glass designed for each bear and an appropriate usage of glasses is strictly observed. By the way, Belgians drink an average of 150 liters of beer per year.
Lambic is one of the most interesting beer varieties. It is fermented in open warts with naturally occurring bacteria. This acidulous beverage is filled in champagne bottles, and opinions differ regarding its taste qualities.
Westvleteren XII beer is hailed as the best beer not only in Belgium but in the whole world. It originated in St Sixtus Abbey in Flanders, and its sales have been limited to 24 bottles per person. Moreover, resale is illegal!
A bear bar in Brussels that boasts a legendary status and a weird name La Mort Subite (www.alamortsubite.com) or "sudden death" is another attraction for beer lovers. It features an old-fashioned, romantic décor and has its very own same name beer, too.

Foto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

After street markets, potatoes and lots of beer, perhaps one might fancy something more exquisite, like good sea food. If you have a craving for mussels, there is fabulous place for that - the restaurant La Zinneke (www.lezinneke.be) cooks mussels in exactly 69 different ways! The best recipe seems to be the simplest one - mussels with white wine and leek. La Zinneke is one of the most favorite destinations of local foodies, usually packed full already from 7pm. Be sure to make your dining reservation in advance!

Foto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

Another equally superb sea-food place is an open air café Noordzee Mer du Nord (45, Rue Sainte Catherine). It's quite a robust street-corner café fitted with simple tall tables, yet serves the most delicious and diverse sea-food, starting from fish soups and all the way up to oysters. A rum van parks in the nearby square on Saturdays and Sundays making mobile weekend brunches last till late afternoon.
A charming attraction is also a lovely weekly market at the nearby Place des Chasseurs Ardennais opened every Friday from 13.00 - 19.00.

Foto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of BrusselsFoto: Culinary Babel of Brussels

Interesting facts:
-Europe's first casino La Redoute was opened in Belgium in 1763.
-The longest tram line in the world runs along the Belgian coastline in the length of 68 km.
-Velo culture is highly developed in Belgium and the country takes the 3rd place in the world in bike commuting after Holland and Japan.
-The Law Courts of Brussels is the largest court of justice in the world.
-Belgium boasts the deepest indoor swimming pool in the world. The Nemo 33 diving pool has a depth of 35 meters and is used for dive training.
80% of pool balls that are used around the world are produced in Belgium.
-The Belgian highway system is the only man-made structure visible from the moon at night.
-The first European skyscraper was erected in Belgian city Antwerp in 1928.
-The world record of acceleration (from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.266 seconds) was held by the Vertigo, the only Belgian sports car.
-One of the world's two first printed newspapers was published in 1605 in Antwerp.
-Belgium has the highest density of art collectors of any country.
-The first Neanderthal skulls were discovered in Belgium.
-Ludwig van Beethoven family had come from Belgian town Mechelen, situated between Brussels and Antwerp.
-The name of the euro currency was proposed and the design of euro sign (€) was created by Belgians.
-Brussel sprouts actually do come from Belgium and are grown there for over 400 years.
-Belgium city Gent was the 2nd largest city in Western Europe after Paris until the end of the 12th century.
-By the late 13th century Belgian city Bruges was a major center of cloth manufacturing.
-Belgium is famous for its comic strips. It has more comic makers per square kilometer than any other country in the world, even Japan.
-The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1840.
-Praline was invented in Brussels in 1912.
-Belgium produces 220,000 tons of chocolate per year, which is about 22kg of chocolate per person.
-The Brussels' International Airport is the World's biggest chocolate selling point.
Belgian Edward J. de Smedt invented modern road asphalt in 1870.

Lots of interesting facts about the culture and cuisine of different nations is featured in the new TV programme entitled 'Sirmais: Cult Dishes', aired on LTV1.

The 'Sirmais: Cult Dishes' programme is produced with the financial support of the RIMI retail chain and the European Commission Representation in Latvia at the Mistrus Media film studio.

Produced by Ilze Lasmane-Brože (GSM: 00 371 29104652; e-mail: kulta.edieni@gmail.com)

Photos: Epatastudio

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