Saturday, January 28, 2012

Waffles, mussels, chocolate, beer & fries

After my first visit to Christmas markets 7 years ago, I told myself I had to come back at some point to see European Christmas markets again.  I remember standing there in awe, surrounded by all the sights, smells, and sounds - spices, hot mulled wine, gingerbread, cookies, chocolate, ornaments, sparkly lights, huge cathedrals, people everywhere, every street covered & was an experience of wintery fairy tale proportions.

I knew I'd have to make a trip to see Christmas markets in December before going home, so after lots of online research, I settled on a weekend trip to see two of the best: Brussels, Belgium & Cologne, Germany.  

First stop Friday night was Brussels, with a big market starting at St. Catherine's cathedral and stretching back to the giant ferris wheel, with rows of sparkling booths in between.

After spending a good amount of time at the market, I headed to the other part of town where there were supposed to be more booths, food stalls, and decorated streets.

Little did I know, there was a massive lit-up city hall square, complete with an epic light show.

I was walking down the street (fries in hand), jumping from chocolate shop to chocolate shop, when I suddenly heard opera music blasting at full volume from the direction I was headed.

I picked up the pace, certain there was something spectacular happening, and sure enough, I rounded the corner to an amazing scene...a movie-set-looking square filled with people, including a building that looked like a castle, displaying an massive sound & light show.

Here's a quick video I took:

If you've ever seen Chasing Liberty, the Mandy Moore movie where she's the President's daughter (no, I don't OWN it or love it.), there's a scene where she's in Prague, and she rounds the corner into the main square filled with people watching an opera being displayed up on the side of a building, and she's of course surprised, amazed, and generally in joyous awe upon this discovery.  Take that scene, insert in Brussels, I was Mandy Moore, exactly, down the placement of running around the corner into the square.  Except I had fries in my hand because I'm a fatty.  Which leads me to my next point.

The bounty of deliciousness.  I'm fairly certain that the 7 POUNDS I gained over Christmas can be traced directly to this weekend of eating.  Brussels is known for french fries, waffles, mussels, steamed escargot, chocolate, and beer.  And I had it all!  In fact I had waffles 3 times in a 12 hour period, just to be safe.

Vin chaud (hot wine) & waffles

Frites (fries)
Chocolate truffles
Steamed escargots
Belgian brew

Dating back to monks in 1074.  1,000 years?  Seems authentic enough. I'll try it.

Grilled bratwurst...good looking Belgian police officer ordering bratwurst...what?  Oh I didn't even notice, I mean that's not why I took this picture, it was just the bratwurst. Only.

Let's talk waffles.

My first was the famous Liege waffle, which is made by a long process involving yeast and rising and waiting and a special type of pearl sugar that caramelizes on the exterior of the waffle once it starts cooking.  The brioche-like texture is similar to biscuits & heaven.  I got this one topped with Speculoos cream, which is a gingerbread cookie version of peanut butter. Uh, yah. Take as much time as you need.

Are you weeping?  I am.

My 2nd waffle of the evening was the classic Belgian waffle with powdered sugar.

And the 3rd was a another Liege waffle, in the morning for breakfast. Even though waffles are considered dessert in Belgium, I claimed ignorance and blamed my American roots because I had to get one more before I left.  Good morning, Belgium!

Before catching my 2pm train, the one thing left to try was mussels from Brussels. I read about this great seafood stand that is always packed with locals, and people get little plates and eat it standing up outside at the counter.  The Brussels specialty is "moules frites", steamed mussels w/ fries, so when I saw "moules parquet," I assumed it was, what, a packet of mussels or maybe I'd get a paper cone of fries piled with mussels. Great.

Except "moules parquet" is actually raw mussels.

Yike...I...this...wasn't what...oh well.  I had 3 or 4 (I'll try anything), and then envisioned myself having some sort of allergic reaction and being stuck on the train to Germany in a horrific condition (I've had unfortunate violent reactions to clams & oysters before.  Picture me vomiting uncontrollably across the beautiful town of Monterosso, Italy.  So you can understand why I get nervous about eating out of shells sometimes, particularly when they're raw and I've never had them before).  I happily finished my other plate of fried fish goodness and left for the train station.

Coming up next, Cologne!

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