thegrumblingtummy

"No love sincerer than the love of food"


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La bonne bouffe en Belgique

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One of the many chocolatiers in the Galerie st Hubert

Roughly translated as great grub in Belgium which is what this post is all about.

A couple of weeks ago my mum and I took off for a mini break in Belgium.  She was mostly interested in the shopping and I was mostly interested in the food.  I had heard that the food in Belgium was outstanding and with national treasures such as chips, chocolate, waffles and beer it is easy to understand why.

We did not have the most auspicious start to the trip from a gastronomic point of view.  Half an hour before our flight my poor mum was to be found in the public conveniences being a little bit sick – a wee bug we thought (actually the onset of shingles!) My hopes of eating our way around Belgium began to fade.  However she is a trooper and thankfully rallied pretty quickly – onwards and upwards – quite literally.

We were staying at the fantastic Dominican Hotel which is bang smack in the centre of Brussels.  It is a Boutique Hotel full of design genius and quite possibly the nicest gaff I have ever had the pleasure to stay in.

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Hotel Dominican – the courtyard

This is of course a food blog not a travel blog so first of all a word about chocolate.  In Brussels the chocolatiers are impressive both in quality and quantity.

 Belgian chocolates are rated as some of the best in the world and believe you me they take it all very seriously!  There are thousands of varieties to choose from, Truffles and pralines galore and of course  with Easter only a week away they had gone all out with fantastic eggs, some of them larger than my four year old!  The  Galerie Royale St Hubert is a stunningly beautiful and achingly sophisticated walkway which houses a selection of restaurants and shops  and It is also choc-a-bloc with chocolatiers – yum!

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Easter madness

I bought some chocolate (of course) but there is no need to put your hands in your pockets to sample this Belgian speciality.  Samples abound in the choccy shops of course but the real treat was the amount of freebies you are given in coffee shops along with your drink.  In one memorable and rather adorable tea room in Bruges we ordered a coffee and were given 4 chocolates and a flourish of whipped cream to boot.  It seemed rather excessive but you will not find me complaining about such decadence.

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Free chocolates with coffee and cake – obscene but we liked it

 

We were based in Brussels but we travelled to both Bruges and Ghent and it was in Bruges that I sampled the best waffle I have come across.  Again we were in a coffee shop which dished out chocolates willy nilly (cue sugar rush) but it was the waffle with chocolate sauce, banana and cream that stole the show for me.  The waffle was large (always a very good start) and light as air.  The banana made me feel worthy and who can resist lashing of warm silky Belgian chocolate sauce and whipped cream.  “Do you know you can buy waffle machines?” said mum.  I tried to ignore her and I am still trying to ignore that such wonders exist – it would be a very bad idea for me to be able to recreate such splendour in my own home.

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Heaven was found in Bruges

 

A word about eating in the right place and eating in the wrong place.  Everybody knows that you should never ever eat in  the restaurants with all the lovely outside seating around the main squares.  Great for a drink but when it comes to eating you are looking at daylight robbery for  rather substandard produce.  But for some inexplicable reason we found ourselves doing just that in Bruges.  It was at this average establishment that I came across the Croque Bolognese.  I am not sure what I expected but I was a little taken aback when I received a standard Croque Monsieur with big dollops of  bolognaise all over the top of it – literally.  I couldn’t help but wonder what John Torode would have said about this had it turned up in the Master Chef kitchen.  It was two meals in one and the bolognaise make the toast all soppy.  It didn’t actually taste too bad – it was just really odd! Finished it all to make sure there was something else in my tummy apart from a great big goblet of Leffe Blonde.

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It is an obscenity really but I ate it all up

I once went to Verona and after perusing the beautiful shoe shops  I settled on a pair of black boots.  Leather boots from Italy, how fabulous I thought, Italian leather I thought.  I thought wrong!  On getting the boots back home I noted that they were “made in India”  There is a point to this story.  We stumbled across the most achingly Belgian cafe in Brussels located in the Galerie St Hubert.  Let me paint you a picture – artisan breads lined up behind the counter, coffee and hot chocolate served in bowls not cups, everything is organic, everything is wonderful,  it is my absolutely perfect cafe.  Each day I have a huge bowl of oats with almond milk, cranberries and walnuts – it is divine.  Mum feasts on organic boiled eggs with artisan sourdough soldiers.  I looked forward to breakfast every day – this cafe was an absolute highlight for me.  One of a kind, what a find.  Except it wasn’t!  When I got home and goggled this fantastic venue to rekindle memories I realise that it is indeed a chain.  There are dotted all around Europe and there is some in London.  So although it is still absolutely wonderful it is not quite as unique as I had hoped.  If you are in London or Europe then you ought to give it a try – there is one in Notting Hill!  Le Pain Quotidien

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I loved this cafe – not quite a unique as I thought

 

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Artisan breads and pastries galore

 

 

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Oats, rice milk, walnuts and cranberries – breakfast of champions – and me!

 

The other stand out meal was in a little brasserie recommended by the staff in our hotel, they promised a taste of Belgium.  It was called ARCADI and was a small bustling Bistro serving delicious and affordable food and seemed to be frequented by lots of locals, always a very good sign.  The tables were small and a little bit cramped but I thought it all just added to the old style Brasserie feel.  Food here is simple and tasty.  I opted for a crepe with chicken and vegetables and mum opted for the famous chicken vol-au-vent with fries.  My crepe was extraordinarily tasty considering the inside included spicing rather than a sauce and the vol-au-vent looked sublime.  It is true what they say about fries in Belgium – they are special – so so crisp on the outside and beautifully fluffy on the inside.  Tis a rare gift.  The staff were friendly, the wine was flowing and the lemon meringue pie to finish was fit for a king.

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The wonderful Arcadi

 

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Vol-au-vent and chips – how deliciously 1980s and very Belgian

Some notes to finish off

A note on chips – I planned to have a big poke of chips slathered in mayonnaise at some point in my trip.  Not a difficult thing to achieve considering these are offered on every corner, but it just didn’t happen!  I even visited the chip museum and learned that French Fries were so-called because American soldiers mistakenly thought that they saw French soldiers making them when they were in fact Belgian.  But when it came to the cafe selling fries at the end of the tour I had to decline having just eaten the croque bolognese obscenity and a vat of beer!

A note about beer – bloody love Belgian beer.  Pretty much stuck to the blonde beers and as I was with mum it was not a boozy break but what I had was glorious.  Nothing beats a glass of beer the size of your head in the sunshine.

Note on Ghent –  go there!  It is truly beautiful and a bit more real than Bruges, which to my mind is a very pretty outdoor museum with lots of shops. Ghent is amazing and I will return.

Final note on Belgium  – it is a superb place to visit.  Most people  looked at me blankly when I said I was going there for a long weekend.  The unspoken word was WHY?  I will tell you why:  it is clean, sophisticated, beautiful, friendly, historical,  a shopping heaven, cultural and best of all it has great food.

 

Beautiful Ghent

 

 

 

 

 

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2014 FOOD FESTIVALS – MAKE A DATE

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Here are the 2014 dates for all these fantastic foodie events going on this summer and beyond.  So grab your diary and save the date.

Again this year I apologies to my friends south of the border – there is just too much going on down there to list.  I hope that you might be tempted to pack your weekend bag and take a trip to try out the bonny festivals North of the border …

Have I missed an event?  Let me know and I will add it in

TASTE OF GRAMPIAN 7 JUNE  THAINSTONE CENTRE, INVERURIE  http://www.tasteofgrampian.co.uk

One day event giving you the opportunity to meet local producers and sample the food from Grampians larder.  Expect beautiful smoked salmon, creamy fudge, shortbread and much more.

OPEN FARM SUNDAY  8 JUNE  http://www.farmsunday.org 

This is free and takes place in locations across Scotland.  Farms open their doors or should I say gates to allow visitors to experience the smells of the farmyard and really get in touch with the land that feeds us. So come and feed your senses on Open Farm Sunday. At a farm near you.

CRAIL FOOD FESTIVAL 14 & 15 JUNE  http://crailfoodfest.co.uk/

This great two-day festival includes an indoor food market with the addition of a Tasting Hall this year. You can also learn to cook up s storm at the Chef’s Theatre, take part in the popular lunch at the Harbour and for little ones there is a full children’s programme planned. It’s a cracking one to go along to and this blogger is again proud to be part of the blogging team – watch out for my very cheesy post!

 

HOPETOUN HOUSE HORSE TRIALS AND COUNTRY FAIR  26th – 29th JUNE http://hopetounhorsetrials.co.uk/

For a really relaxed day out listening to a spot of live music and eating some fab food head to the Hopetoun Country Fair.  For many the main draw of the weekend is the horse trials but I can take or leave neighing beasts. For me it is all about the food.  It is a small festival with a big personality.  You will find great food to taste and once you settle down in the beautiful surroundings you won’t want to move.  This was a winner for me last year.  Read the blog about it https://thegrumblingtummy.org/2013/08/12/a-litte-festival-with-a-big-personality/

 

AFTERNOON TEA ON A STEAM TRAIN – throughout the summer http://www.bkrailway.co.uk/

Ok so not a festival but a great thing to do and worthy of a mention on my summer food list.   Enjoy a traditional afternoon tea of freshly made sandwiches, cakes and homemade scones with clotted cream and Scottish jam served with a pot of coffee or tea aboard a lovingly restored steam train.

 

ROYAL HIGHLAND SHOW 19 – 22 JUNE http://royalhighlandshow.org/

Foodies – trot past the tractors and  coos and head straight for the food hall where there are almost 100 companies featuring their quality products as well as a line-up of some of Scotland’s top chefs demonstrating their culinary skills.  The Highland Show is a fantastic day out (especially if the sun shines). Its a busy one thought so sharpen these elbows.  It is also not the cheapest festival in town but well worth it.

PITTENWEEM ARTS FESTIVAL  2 – 10 AUGUST http://www.pittenweemartsfestival.co.uk

Not a  food festival of course BUT it is one of my favourite festivals of the year (not only because it was where I grew up long before  there was a sniff of an arts scene).  In between seeing the art EAT some food.  There is a big tent selling top-notch grub down at the harbour and various fabulous places to hang out for cake and coffee too.  Finish your day off with fish and chips from Pittenweem’s chippy.

FOODIES FESTIVAL 8,9,10 AUGUST http://foodiesfestival.com/event/edinburgh-inverleith-park/

This huge foodie event is again held in Edinburgh’s Inverleith Park.  It really is a must for any foodie.  As well as hundreds of stands showcasing fabulous local produce there is a cake and bake theatre, chefs theatre, a children’s cooking theatre,  pop up restaurants and so much  more.  I somehow managed to find myself in VIP section last year with fizz – fingers and toes crossed for this year!

DUNDEE FLOWER AND FOOD FESTIVAL 5 – 7 SEPTEMBER https://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/event/42

Despite all my good intentions I missed this wee gem last year and hope to rectify the situation this year.  This three-day (ticketed) event  is Tayside’s top lifestyle event.  The Festival offers the best in food, horticulture and live entertainment, with a packed weekend programme including free cookery and gardening demonstrations, children’s activities, a craft fair, live music and TV celebrities. Now what’s not to love about that.

ABERDOUR FESTIVAL  1 August – 10 August http://www.aberdourfestival.org.uk/

This is the second non specifically food festival I have included. I briefly lived in Aberdour and really liked this festival and it does include food – honest.  There is a beach day where you can partake of the BBQ whilst watching the fabulous regatta, eat home made cakes which are always on sale and it is always nice to watch people struggle on the Donkey Brae Run whilst you sip on pimms and munch a puddledub burger (hope Puddledub are there this year – they normally are!)

FORTH BRIDGES FESTIVAL EVENT – SCOTLAND INVITES THE WORLD FOR LUNCH – 6  September

http://www.forthbridgesfestival.com/events/scotland-welcomes-the-world-to-lunch/

This particular event is part of the ten day Forth Bridges Festival where heaps of exciting things are going on. This lunch takes place in both North and South Queensferry and commemorates the first Forth Bridge crossing in 1964. Visitors and local diners will enjoy a delicious taste of Scottish food and drink at decorated tables  set up in both towns, linked via large screens . The  food will have a distinctly 1960’s flavour and guests will be encouraged to dress in 1960’s garb.   As well as the lunch there will be a food market.  All in all this sounds like a great fun and rather unique event.  Keep an eye on the website for details on tickets.

HUNTLY HAIRST FOOD AND FARMING FESTIVAL – 6 & 7 SEPTEMBER http://www.huntlyhairst.co.uk/

Huntly Hairst is a great celebration of local producers, food and farming.  I am a bit early in posting my events listing this year and Huntly Hairst have not confirmed there programme of events as yet but safe to say it will include a big old farmers market an a variety of competitions for those who reckon they are a dab hand at baking!

LOCH LOMOND FOOD AND DRINK FESTIVAL 6 & 7 SEPTEMBER  http://www.lochlomondfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk/

This festival, now in its ninth year promises “tasty trials, sumptuous suppliers, festival fun and interesting information” .  20,000 folk flock to the area for this festival  – that in itself speaks volumes.  Definitely going into my diary.

SCOTTISH FOOD AND DRINK FORTNIGHT 6 – 21 SEPTEMBER  http://www.scottishfoodanddrinkfortnight.co.uk/

A luscious fourteen days celebrating all that is fabulous about Scottish produce.  There are tastings and special events across the country so keep an eye out on the website for more details nearer the time.

GOLDEN SPURTLE PORRIDGE MAKING CHAMPIONSHIPS  4 OCTOBER http://www.goldenspurtle.com/

The 21st annual World Porridge Making Championships will take place in the Scottish Highland village of Carrbridge. So good it has to go on the list.

BBC GOOD FOOD SHOW 17 – 19 OCTOBER  http://www.bbcgoodfoodshowscotland.com/

Head over to this blinding event at the SECC. Its huge and you should get your elbows at the ready but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  It is one of the best places to try and buy the best of Scotland.  In attendance amongst others – Ade Edmondson, James Martin, James Morton, John Torode,  a lone hairy biker, Tony Singh.  To be honest John Torode alone would make me part with my cash.

 

ST ANDREWS FOOD AND DRINK FESTIVAL 22 NOVEMBER – 6 DECEMBER (provisional dates)

http://foodfest.visitstandrews.com/

This is a  grand celebration of  Fife’s wonderful produce, natural larder and renowned chefs.  There will be chef demonstrations, tastings, special Festival menus in venues across town, an extended Fife Farmers’ Market with pop-up restaurant, and events involving a wide range of delicacies.