Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Belgium - Mussels

My love affair with food began in Belgium. I was six and my parents and I were on our way to Israel to live for two years. My father was assigned to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. To get there, we decided to take the scenic route through Europe. We spent several days in London and then flew to Amsterdam to pick up our new car, a Fiat. We spent the night in Amsterdam, then drove to The Hague the next day, and then drove on to Brussels. We eventually ended up in Paris, our last stop, before we flew to our new home in Tel Aviv.

Our drive through Europe was glorious. We drove mostly through the countryside, past picturesque farms and little towns before we arrived at the old city of Brussels. We stayed in a hotel that was built in1696. I wish I could remember the name of the hotel or how I felt to be staying in such an old place.

That night my father wasn’t feeling well and he stayed back at the hotel while my mother and I roamed the city streets. It was a lively place, even late at night. I remember I felt very grown up to be out so late and with just my mother. That’s what was so special about that night, never mind that I was in Brussels surrounded by beautiful boulevards, grand churches and 17th century buildings.

Eventually, we walked into a packed restaurant and sat down. A waiter came over and asked us what we wanted. I stood on my chair and peered around at what everyone else was eating. I saw a lady at the table next to us eating mussels.

“I want that!” I said loudly and pointed to the woman’s plate.

“Are you sure? You’ve never had mussels,” my mother warned. But I insisted. My mother shrugged and told the waiter to bring me what the woman at the next table was having.

The waiter showed up with an enormous bowl of mussels. I ate every one of them and then told my astonished mother that I wanted more. From that day on I told everyone that my favorite food was mussels, and I first ate them in Brussels.

For my Eat Planet project, my family and I went to a restaurant called The Fat Belgian in Toronto. It was a small, two-story establishment in the heart of the city. We sat at a table by the window on the second floor. From our seats, we could observe city life in action: people swiftly walking to their destinations in the darkening night sky past restaurants, shops and beggars who had planted themselves on street corners. Directly across the street from us was a Hooters.

“What’s so special about Hooters?” John asked after Kevin and I discussed how I had never been to that restaurant.

“The waitresses have big boobs,” I said matter-of-factly. John gave me an embarrassed smile.

“And,” Kevin piped in, “they have good chicken wings.”

“Yes, let’s not forget,” I added.

When our waitress came over we ordered the mussels and fries, a typical Belgium cuisine. I also ordered a dark Belgium beer, and Belgium waffles for dessert. We ordered two types of mussels. The fat Belgian mussels were steamed in Dekoninck draft, toasted walnuts, leeks, Gruyere cheese, butter, scallions and tomato concassees, and we ordered the Mussels Mariniere. They were steamed in a white wine butter sauce with scallions, tomato concassees, Sambuca and butter. Our meal was simply scrumptious,

Belgium shares borders with France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. They have three official languages: Dutch, French, and German.

“If we were living in Belgium,” I teased John, “maybe you would be taking Dutch or German immersion instead of French.” John takes French immersion in school since Canada has two official languages: French and English.

I also mentioned how Belgium may have the highest quality of life in the world. This is due to many things including excellent healthcare, housing, education, a low poverty rate, and good food.

While I sucked down my Mussels Mariniere and reminisced about my lively night in Brussels with my mother, the people across the street were being served burgers by big-busted women. Inside The Fat Belgian we were enjoying one of the finer things in life: eating delicious, quality food in an atmosphere of warm ambiance. Kevin, John and Julia and I were clearly in a different world – a better world in my estimation.

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