The Four Food Groups in Belgium

I spent most of the last week in Belgium with my cousin; we wandered the medieval streets of Bruges, hauled ourselves up the monument at Waterloo, and sought out the major buildings of the European Union in Brussels. It was a great time, and we did a lot. But just as importantly, we made sure to sample from each of the four major food groups in (tourist) Belgium: beer, waffles, frites, and chocolate.

?, Bruges (only found in Bruges--this one was my favorite)

Ongerfilterde Palm at the Bruges Beer Museum, Bruges (only found in Bruges–this one was my favorite)

Zot, Bruges (one of two beer companies still brewing in Bruges city limits)

Zot, Bruges (one of two beer companies still brewing in Bruges city limits)

Most beers brewed in Belgium have their own glass, and woe to you if you use the wrong glass for your beer. Apparently, it actually causes the beer to taste different. I didn’t test this theory, but anyway you can see that most of the time I had a glass, but occasionally I had to be a philistine and drink from the bottle.

Garre, Bruges (the house bar, which isn't just found in Bruges, it's only found at this one bar--it was my second favorite)

Garre, Bruges (the house beer, which is one of the most rare–it’s found in just one bar in the entire world; it was my second favorite)

Hoegaarden, Brussels

Hoegaarden, Brussels (this is the only beer I’d ever had before–we’d just arrived in town and the restaurant’s beer list was surprisingly limited, otherwise I would’ve been trying something new, like I did everywhere else)

Grimbergen, Brussels

Grimbergen, Brussels

I skipped the shitty-beer-drinking part of college and went straight to being a beer snob, since my boyfriend at the time introduced me to expensive imports and I couldn’t go back. So I was in heaven in Belgium, surrounded by trippels, dobbels, blonds, weisses, and other delicious varieties of beer.

Caulier, Brussels

Caulier, Brussels

Orval, Brussels

Orval, Brussels

Westmalle, Bruges

Westmalle, Bruges

Vedett, Bruges

Vedett, Bruges

Belgians eat waffles plain, no chocolate or whipped cream or anything. Well, sort of plain–they coat the waffle lightly in a sugar syrup that dries quickly and gives it a sweeter taste. The waffles I grew up eating for breakfast were much lighter than the ones here, which are denser, more like cake. Delicious waffle cake.

The Full Tourist--don't care!, Bruges

The Full Tourist–don’t care!, Bruges

The Belgian way, Brussels

The Belgian way, Brussels

I already knew I liked fries with mayo, from my visit to Amsterdam a few years ago. So I was able to confidently order frites with mayo here, although in some places there are a lot more sauces you can try. The secret to the tastiness of Belgian frites is that they’re fried twice, giving them the perfect crispy exterior.

Frites and Belgian beef stew (there was mayo too, didn't make it in the shot--and yes, we had frites properly in paper cones too, but never took a photo)

Frites and Belgian beef stew (there was mayo too, didn’t make it in the shot–and yes, we had frites properly in paper cones too, but never took a photo)

The chocolate in Belgium truly is divine. Every map and tour guide reminded us that Belgians normally just buy cheap chocolate in the supermarket, like everybody else; the fancy stuff is for tourists, gifts for aunties, and special occasions. I suppose that’s because if you were eating the real thing all the time, you’d stop eating anything else. The bonbons are called pralines, which initially confused me, as I looked for nuts, and indeed, pralines often have a hazelnut paste or ganache inside, but they don’t always. Confused? Don’t worry, just point blindly at the display case, and you’ll come away happy. (Um, unless you have a nut allergy, then good luck!)

Pralines in the Brussels airport--there are no photos of the other chocolate I ate, because I never paused to take a photo, but they are aesthetically pleasing as well as delicious

Pralines in the Brussels airport–there are no photos of the other chocolate I ate, because I never paused to take a photo, but they are aesthetically pleasing as well as delicious

Beverage Service Not Included

Storage space was limited on the train

Storage space was limited on the train, apparently

The train from Poland to Hungary was perfectly pleasant, once I moved out of the car with the busted A/C. I ate a lunch I’d packed wrote in my journal. Judging by these empties found in the bathroom sink onboard, other passengers were passing the time differently.

Then I got to Budapest and saw an elderly woman holding up a “rooms for rent” sign negotiating price with a mohawked man, and a woman in a spangly shirt sweeping out the train, presumably before going clubbing. I liked it right away.

The Good, The Bad, and The Silly

The Good:

Read this fantastic New Yorker article on Park51. I have yet to hear any arguments against the building of this community center that don’t come down to racism, unwarranted fear, and/or Republican politicking.  Also, c’mon ADL, you’re better than that.

A lot of this piece from Ta-Nehisi Coates resonated with me (but don’t worry, darlings, I’ve only just started, I’m not leaving you yet).

A great look at what global feminism can mean.

The FDA approves ella, the 5-day emergency contraceptive. Now, I agree that EC is only partially effective, because you may be using protection that fails (e.g., a broken condom) and not know about it in time to take the EC. But for those who do know their original protection failed, or for those who weren’t using protection, or for those who were assaulted and had no chance to use protection, this is a crucial drug.

The Bad:

Well, crap. It’s all about the money, still.

A thoughtful, interesting look at racism in the anti-whaling debate in New Zealand and Australia

We’re sexualizing girls at younger and younger ages, yes, but their bodies are also maturing faster than ever before — and that is a problem we can, and should, do something about.

CSI is not ironclad — lab scientists in criminal trials all too often get it wrong, and real people are affected.

Why are people so willfully stupid? (And of course, if he were, so what?)

The Silly:

My dad sent me this link with the message, “Looks like you’ll be fine on your world trip….” Well… true! Thanks, Dad.

A cool gallery of color photos from 1939 to 1943 looking at rural and small town America — check out Chicago’s skyline and the newspaper headlines pasted to the window. A gripe about the presentation: in the captions, the only time race is mentioned is when African-Americans are depicted. Whites are once again the default. (Via my friend Mike.)

What have you been looking at this week?

Milwaukee = Beer. Also, It’s Pretty.

Let’s try something new. I’m going to write about visiting an actual place, not just the preparations to go there or the abstract ideas about going there. One of my goals with this blog is to produce travel writing that people actually want to read. Not just a dull recitation of facts or a trite realization that underneath our differences, we’re all the same. Or at least I won’t go that route unless totally necessary. Like, if everyone I visit takes off their human suit to show me their identical alien bodies, then maybe I will concede that underneath our differences, we’re all the same green Martians. But I hope it doesn’t come to that. Anyway. Milwaukee.


Length of Trip: 12 hours

Traveling Companions: Sessily, T & K

Method of Transportation: car, walking

Money Spent: brunch — $16, brewery tour — $7, gas money — $5, fancy pants dinner — $40, TOTAL — $68

Sites Visited: Pabst Mansion, Comet Cafe, Lakefront Brewery, lakefront and Milwaukee Art Museum, Roots Restaurant and Cellar

Unless you are heartbroken, good weather improves any situation. If you are heartbroken, good weather is only proof that the entire world is doing better than you are, and is happier for it. But if you are feeling grumpy, or frustrated, or even morose, a good dose of sunshine and blue skies will work away at your discontent until you give in to a more favorable outlook on the world around you. And if you are already happy, and with friends, and traveling to a new place, then good weather makes your friendship seem stronger and the visited city more hospitable. Directions are easier to follow, wait times seem shorter, and food tastes better.

How fortunate for us, then, that this past Saturday was absolutely gorgeous — 80 degrees and sunny. Milwaukee being on Lake Michigan, there was even a breeze floating through town that cut the heat just the right amount during the early afternoon. Milwaukee has a nice set-up along the lakefront, with a lot of wide paths, public art, and bikes and things for rent. T said he wanted to just look at the outside of the art museum, and I thought that seemed a bit pointless until we came upon it:

Milwaukee Art Museum -- the ship sailing into Lake Michigan

Milwaukee Art Museum -- the ship sailing into Lake Michigan

That art museum wants to go sailing on Lake Michigan, and I want to join it. How delightful would it be to cruise around the expanse of blue while touring the fourth largest collection of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings contained in one museum in the country? Answer: very. (See how I snuck in that fact there, despite previous promises to stay away from such things? But it’s a cool fact, you like having it, don’t lie.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I should inform you that the Milwaukee lakefront really is beautiful (just look at that photographic proof), and the day really was lovely, but that I possibly found them even more so due to the fact that I had a fair amount of alcohol throughout the day. In the city of PBR, Miller, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, and several craft breweries, are you surprised? I accompanied my delicious brunch of BACON PANCAKES (yes, they mix the perfectly crisp and juicy bacon pieces into the pancake batter and it is as good as it sounds) with the equally delicious Brunch Box, a beermosa with amaretto and Guinness mixed in. Beermosa, you say? Why yes, mix up some orange juice with a white beer and you have yourself a fine drink. The other ingredients just perfected it. (Thanks to Nick at Comet for inventing this drink.)

BACON PANCAKES thank you, Comet

BACON PANCAKES + maple syrup = brilliant

After this very good start, we went to Lakefront Brewery and got the best deal for my money in a long while. Seven bucks got us: a tour of the brewery, a souvenir glass, access to the riverfront deck, a coupon for a beer at participating bars in the area, and four 6 oz. pours of beer right there on the premises. I did learn a couple of things about the brewing process that I’d been curious about (what are hops? oh, that is the actual name of the plant that they take the flower from to add to the beer, etc.), which previous attempts to clarify by half-coherent friends at loud bars had not satisfied. We all made sure to try every beer available on tap, and shared our samples with each other. Everyone else enjoyed the Riverwest Amber, and while that was quite good, my favorites were the Fixed Gear (I guess the hipsters in my neighborhood affect me more than I thought) and the Rendezvous (a French Ale, they said, which seemed to mean close to a Belgian). The entire experience was only made better by the presence of a bachelorette party made up of women of all ages in the most ridiculous fancy dresses they could find. I’m talking 80s prom dresses, a Snow White/Belle from Beauty & the Beast hybrid, and a lot of tulle. I didn’t take any pictures of them, but here’s a picture of the giant beer mug that the Milwaukee Brewers mascot used to jump into (via slide from his game-watching balcony) every time the Brewers scored a home run. The mug is now housed at Lakefront Brewery:

Brewers mug at Lakefront Brewery

have some beer

While on our 3rd pour of free beer, Sessily, T, K, and I got into a discussion of perception and reality. No, it wasn’t a faux-deep “we’re all just specks in the universe, man” conversation. T said that he couldn’t remember the last time he was surrounded by so few hipsters (we live in Logan Square, an area of Chicago pretty well known for its trendy bicyclists), and we all agreed that yes, our fellow brewery tour participants were far more likely to attend sporting events than art-noise concerts, shop at The Gap rather than thrift stores, and hold a steady 9-5 instead of a part-time cafe job. (Please enjoy today’s edition of Stereotypes: Making Your Point Faster Than Truth Can.) Anyway, I said that Milwaukee has been voted drunkest city in the nation, and it’s a city of industry besides, so it’s got a reputation for being coarse, a little rough and tumble. In fact, most of the Midwest is probably seen in those terms by outsiders, I said. K, who is from Portland, Oregon, countered that he’d never thought of the Midwest in those terms; rather, everyone on the West Coast assumes the Midwest is full of unfailingly polite, boring types. True, I said, outsiders have that mostly insulting view of rural Midwesterners, but if you mention Chicago, St. Louis, or Milwaukee, they’ll tell you to watch out, those are dangerous places. Sessily pointed out that rural Midwesterners contribute to this idea of the cities being especially dangerous and shady, so the cities get it from all sides. (Also, now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I lumped in Milwaukee with those other two — does anyone think of Milwaukee as dangerous? Probably not. Sorry, Milwaukee. Please continue to give me beer.) It was an interesting discussion of how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how those perceptions affect the actual place we live.

We only day tripped to Milwaukee, and there’s a lot more to see, so I plan to be back sometime this year. But I can already say that the parts of town I saw were lovely, and the people, yes, were friendly. My takeaway, though, comes back to that delicious barley-and-hops concoction, beer. I was passing through the brewery gift shop, and a woman was trying to trade in her plastic taster cup for the souvenir glass. “Not til you finish your drink,” the gift shop attendant said. The woman looked warily at her almost-full glass. In other cities, maybe she would have been shown mercy. Maybe other cities would offer her as much time as she liked to finish it. But this is Milwaukee. This is The Nation’s Watering Hole. This is beer. The woman’s friend turned to her and said:

“This is Milwaukee. Slam it.”

Lakefront beer

This is Milwaukee. Slam it.