Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Taste of Travel: Belgian Waffles and French Fries

I've always loved waffles, and Belgian waffles in particular. On the day I was in Brussels, the thing at the top of my list to do was eating waffles. Second on that list was eating French fries.

I realize the two foods don't really go together (except on a list of foods that might not be very healthy), but I'd read somewhere that the Belgians invented French fries, and that they fried them twice, making them extra crispy.

After a bus tour through the city, my family a
nd I stopped for French fries. Little stands selling them and waffles are all over the place, so it only took a few minutes to find one. Waiting in line, I eagerly anticipated sinking my teeth into the authentic version of one of my favorite foods. I watched the oil in the fryer bubble as a fresh batch of already-fried fries was dunked, and salivated when I saw them pulled out and stuffed into a conical paper wrapping for the couple in front of me.

Then I was horrified when a giant glob of mayonnaise landed on top of them, and two miniature forks were thrust into the top of that.

I was sure the couple would loudly protest and order a new batch, but instead, they dug into their fatty feast with relish, blobs of mayo sliding down the sides of greased fries as they stuffed them into their mouths as fast as they could.

With trepidation, I approached the smiling stall owner and ordered my fries sans mayonnaise. The cheerful, plump man nodded knowingly and respected my New-World tastes. He handed me a little trough of ketchup to go with them, and a pair of those tiny forks.

Not wanting to look like a barbarian, I used the fork and ate my fries.

They were delicious.

I don't know the calorie count, nor do I care. Double-frying the fries is an excellent idea, and one that we should adopt in the States. They still tasted like good French fries I could find at any number of places in America, but the twice-fried texture put them over the top.

After digesting the fries for about 10 minutes, I had to stop at a waffle stand. I saw two locals heading away, waffles in hand, and caught a glimpse of a creamy white substance smeared on top. I really, really hoped it wasn't more mayonnaise.

Fortunately, it was whipped cream. I applaud the addition of whipped cream to nearly every food, but for my waffle, I went with a traditional topping of powdered sugar and vanilla bean ice cream. My sister went the healthy route and added strawberries to hers, then topped it with whipped cream.

As with the French fries, the Belgians handed out an innovative tool with which to better consume the waffles. It looked like a fork, but one of the outer tines was serrated, so the thin plastic could easily cut the waffle into manageable bites. (yes, I know that's a spoon in the photo. I was holding the fork).

I thought it was an excellent idea until I sliced the side of my mouth when I pulled the fork out. I swore and numbed the sudden pain with some of the ice cream, and advised my sister to be careful.

Far from accepting the advice of an older sibling in the spirit I gave it, she looked at me with a "well, duh" expression.

In spite of my minor injury (which was nothing ice cream and a few beers couldn't cure), I loved the whole eating experience in Brussels. The waffles tasted the same as they do over here, but I figured being able to say I'd had them in Belgium would be a good point in any future game of one-upmanship (which I inherently loathe but sometimes feel compelled to participate in).

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