Monday, 12 March 2012

Things I like about Belgium

I spent most of last week in Ghent researching a gastronomic travel feature that included a visit to Gruut (love the fabulous Brune), various restaurants, churches, bars, sweetshops and a ‘nibbling’ tour, but here are five things that make me love Belgium so much
  • In the Belga Queen, after I have finished my glass of Boon Kriek (memorably matched with cured trout and a blue cheese sauce), the waiter asks if I would like a glass of draught Rodenbach because it comes from his home town. ‘It would make me very happy if you had one.’ And it made me very happy and went well with the shrimp croquettes, while the Boon Mariage Parfait was a dream on the right side of the bed with the Charolais tartare.
  • Then there are the two middle aged women in the Surinamese restaurant Faja Lobi where I go for a restorative lemongrass soup — one is drinking Westmalle Tripel and the other is drinking Orval. No big deal, no need to go on about women and beer, it’s a given — where did we go wrong in this country?
  • Then there is the guide who takes me on a gastronomic tour around old Ghent on Tuesday morning and tells me how her grandmother is a big lover of Westvleteren and that she uses two cars (and two separate license plates) so that she can get two cases of beer when they are available; about how her dad comes from Poperinge and likes Hommel and about how her mother loves Westmalle Tripel and might have had one not long after she was born (the guide that is). At 11am, after we have visited a butcher and a cheesemaker and she says how about a beer…
  • When I arrive at my hotel, the manager is having a drink which is Chimay Bleu, I don’t see many hotel types in this country doing that (oh and isn’t having a coke with a meal a sort of infantile breast-sucking gestural reaction — I noticed a couple of English-speaking corporate types doing it).
  • A man and his marital problems and his lovely dog buys me three Rochefort 10s in the pub and that is what pubs/bars/whatever are about — stories, beer and instant friends. 
Oh and on the way home at the Raven in Bath, the landlord goes around offering a meat pie free because an order was mucked up. Art Brew’s Monkey IPA is a decent English-style IPA as well. 


  1. You have neatly illustrated my expectation of what a civilized society's approach to good beer should look like as opposed to how it shouldn't.

  2. Some faith restored in what is all to often a cynical world of "me first, me second", and good to see the language of beer working effortlessly in so many different settings. By the way, I love the anecdote of the grandmother duping the really can't blame her! :)

  3. Thanks Alan, met Sriram a couple of times when the British Guild of Beer Writers did an awards dinner with him, seemed a nice cove.
    Cheers BB, the anecdote was brilliant, beer as part of the normal daily language without a) sounding like a nut or b) having to explain why you like beer, it’s as common as talking about fish, eggs or orangeade

  4. Oh dear, ATJ. I had no idea it had come to that. Come visit and I'll show you what ten bucks of pork shoulder and a pound of apple wood and charcoal can do for anyone.

  5. This is great -- a vision of how things could be in Britain if we could just stop being so self-conscious about *everything*. Think this relates to the point we were making the other week about Belgian brewers waxing lyrical and somehow not sounding pretentious, where a British brewer doing the same would get booed.

  6. Belgium - yeah. Look, I love Belgium. I speak both French and Dutch, but I'm writing in my native language, English, although I'm not English, I'm Irish. But after living thirteen years in Belgium, in two separate periods I feel more Belgian than anything else. I quite understand the Walloon/Flemish divide, and sympathise with both groups. However Belgium is actuslly full of very happy people who don't know they're happy - partly because of the admittedly awful weather and partly because they just don't realise how horribly boring Holland (where I also lived) is and partly because they don't realise how riven by dissention France (where I also lived ) is. BELGIUM IS GREAT. YOU'RE BLOODY LUCKY TO BE THERE! Salutations, Goede avond, bye bye!