Like people, nations also possess personality traits. Some are exhibitionists, others are guided by ‘joie de vivre’ and some are simply subtle and understated. Surrounded by neighbors, each with their own unique strengths lies a country that is humble and quiet. Belgium. When one thinks of Belgium, we think of her in light of the finest of chocolate, the sweet smell of waffles, and that classic combination of ‘moules et frites’. Yet, she has excelled in so many areas that are unknown to most of us. She has churned out talents like Rene Magritte – painter and theorist of surrealism, George Remi of Tin Tin, Plastic Bertrand and George Lemaitre -inventor of The Big Bang Theory. But her work is not done and today Belgian artists are making waves on the global art scene. There is a lot to express and the Belgians are certainly doing it by way of food and art.
Navigating Belgium, culinary excellence is the only option when a country as small this is home to three distinct cultures and languages: French, Flemish and German. Order your food and expect to receive food that is prepared using the finest of techniques but presented without the fuss and frill. Order a beer and there is a good chance that it was made by the hands of a Trappist monk.
I strolled over to meet owner of Belgian gem ‘Petite Abeille’ in Stuy Town, Yves Jadot. The restaurant certainly echoes the Belgian sensibilities and sense of humor. There are portraits of Tin Tin plastered all over the walls, happy and very European blue and white checkered table cloths and an impressive display of over 50 Belgian ales. As I spoke with Jadot, it became clear that Belgium has exported a very limited view of its cuisine and culture. “People around the world that seek good food will often go to France, but has anyone ever wondered where the French go? Belgium!” said Jadot.
The critics have certainly recognized the craft behind the dishes at Petite Abeille and have not held back in sharing their excitement. Yet the food does not aim to dazzle, it aims to comfort, satisfy and provide nostalgia with native dishes of Stoemp Saucisse (mashed potato and leek with sausage), Carbonnade Flammande (Flemish beef stew), macaroni and cheese made with a sauce bechamel and the famous ‘mitraillette’ sandwich (literal translation -machine gun).
I couldn’t understand what could warrant any sandwich to be termed ‘machine gun’. And then it became clear, the sandwich was truly loaded. Also known as the hangover sandwich, this demi-baguette is intensely filled with hamburger, salted fries and sautéed onions. Just one warning, if you nurse a hangover with the mitraillette, both may soon become a habit.
1 tsp butter
2 small beef burger patties
1 cup of French fries, seasoned with salt
¼ cup of Sauteed onions
1) Butter and toast the baguette on a frying pan until golden. Smear one side with ketchup
2) Layer the inside of the baguette with the sautéed onions, beef burgers and French fries
Perhaps a nice cozy bed to jump right back into