Has anyone ever heard someone saying, “Everyone likes Belgians”? I’ve actually heard it many times. I once asked my Belgian colleague, “how come you guys have a reputation of being Mr. Congeniality?”. With a big smile, he said, “Because our country is so small, we are never important enough to anyone. Your chance of running into someone pompous or arrogant is very small in my home country”. Though his comment sounded a bit “stereotyped”, it had some truth to it. I never saw so many kind-hearted people concentrated in such a tiny place, except when I was cycling through the charming towns of Belgium.
When my bike broke down on the road, a stranger stopped to help fix it. When I stopped pedaling to take a break, an old lady, who was sitting outside on her porch, invited me for a cup of tea. When I walked into the century-old farmhouse, the family invited me to join them in their kitchen to cook and eat with them. Everyone was unbelievably friendly.
Even the Belgian policemen were pleasant. In Ghent, I got lost. It was just too dark to find my way to the house I was supposed to stay at for a night. I marched into the police station to ask for help. The policeman, who greeted me at the door, first asked me if I was tired and then gave me a cup of coffee and a pastry. The other policeman came out with a map and walked me to my destination. The following morning, I ran into them when I was about to leave Ghent. They stopped to shout, “it’s YOU!” with huge smiles. Happy to hear that I had a great night with the hosting family, they sent me off to the next town with big hand waves. I really loved every single Belgian I met in my journey around the country.
Hoping to visit them again soon, I’m making my favorite Belgian mussel dish tonight. First, I wash 5 lbs live mussels in cold water and pull away all the barbs. Separately, I heat 2 Tablespoons butter in a thick pot and sauté 4 shallots (chopped) and 2 celery stalks (chopped) with 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1 teaspoon tarragon. Then, I add a ¾ cup New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and bring it to boil. Subsequently, I add mussels, cover the pot and cook for 5-10 minutes at high heat. Lastly, I add some celery leaves and a 1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley to the pot and cook for another 5 minutes. These fresh mussels, cooked with herbs and veggies in the butter and white wine stock, are delicious! And, dipping bread in the flavorful white stock is like putting my hand in the candy jar. I just can’t stop eating until I am wiping out the bottom of the bowl with my bread… yumm!
I pair my mussel dish with an unfiltered Belgian ale with 8.5% alcohol, “Moinette Blonde”. It’s a great weighty “beer” to match the moderate weight of the butter-wine stock. Plus, its herbal bouquet aroma and the flavor’s great balance between sweetness, bitterness & fruitiness make it a perfect complement to the Belgian-style mussels. My dinner is very satisfying, just like my trip to Belgium was. I hope you enjoy the discovery of the “very satisfying” Belgian-style mussels. Happy cooking!