Parlamentarium: a splendid introduction to the EU and European Parliament

A visit to the Parlamentarium in Brussels should be compulsory! It should not only be obligatory for all citizens – especially politicians – of the European member states. Non-Europeans should visit it too! Especially with recent events in Europe, ranging from the financial and refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, Brexit to the appalling murder of Mrs Cox.

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Book review: “Clarissa’s Comfort Food”

Her autobiography and several other of her books stand in my bookcase. This one was new to me and its price was nice. Moreover: who can resist comfort food? A whole cookery book full of it!

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Did it really change history?

This is the year the Battle of Waterloo is commemorated. Next week, it will be reenacted in fields near Brussels. John Lichfield’s article on the importance of this battle is quite interesting, as he debunks a myth or two.  Continue reading

Recipe: Brussels Pain á la Grécque

If you have visited Brussels, you may be familiar with “Pain à la Grécque”. Several Brussels firms have been selling it for decades. Two of these are close to Brussels’ beautiful Grand Place.

“Pain à la Grécque” used to be made on the premises of shops like Maison Dandoy. Though this is no longer the case, you can still buy it at their shop at Beurre or Boterstraat 31. I recently bought the minimum amount of their “pain à la Grécque” there. Their other shop, a tearoom, is down the Rue de l’ Etuve, near Manneken Pis.

If you are interested in a Brussels shop where you can still watch cookies being created on the premisses, just walk from Manneken Pis towards the Jacques Brel Foundation or museum. You walk uphill through the Rue de Chêne to the Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés. On your stroll up, you pass one of the few remnants of the medieval city wall and the Tour de Villers.

The nearer you get to the small square with the long name, the more useful your nose becomes. After returning to the rue de Chêne from the Tours de Villers, you might already be able to pick up a delightful cookie-smell. Don’t forget to admire work displayed at the studio of local artist and B&B owner Catherine Hunter at 25, Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés. The Delacre shop is right next door.

Delacre is my favourite shop for buying “Cigarettes Russes”. These are not Russian cigarettes, but wafers. The master-baker of this shop seems to come up with new flavours each week. Your kids will love selecting their own favourites and “smoke” them, while sauntering through Brussels.

As with the cigarette wafers, “pain à la Grécque” has nothing to do with Greece. It is also not closely related to a brioche, croissant, or similar soft loafs. Beware of biting or chewing it unprepared, as this may make your dentist rich.

For the “bread” contains an enormous amount of sugar. When the recipe was created, means to preserve food were limited. Weird E-combinations, artificial flavouring and colours, chemicals to enhance looks and appearances did not exist. Instead, adding lots of sugar prevented the “pain” from deteriorating fast.

A local guide told me how this thoroughly Belgian biscuit ended up being called a Greek loaf. Monks baked it and handed it out to the poor at a monastery along the Wolvengracht, the wolfs-canal. In Brussels dialect, “gracht” sounds like “gréch”. Speakers of French (the upper classes) turned this “brood van de gracht” into “pain á la Grécque”.

The Augustin monastery was confiscated when Napoleon’s troops occupied Belgium. The Wolvengracht disappeared as well. On top of both monastery and canal, a temple to Mammon was erected in 1801: the Brussels Exchange. This is no longer used as a stock exchange, but now regularly hosts exhibitions.

As for “pain à la Grécque”: the biscuit was invented to sustain Brussels’ 16th century poor and homeless. Nowadays, these are unable to afford the biscuits which cost over 5 Euro per two pieces. Check the ingredients and you will notice, there is no reason why it should cost the earth.

Want to try creating your own “Pain à la Grécque”? It requires patience, effort, experience. Here’s a recipe which I have not yet tested. So read it through carefully and think long and hard, before giving it a try. Though French spoken, the video of Dandoy chef mr Sassi explaining the whole process may be helpful. The link is included at the bottom.

Ingredients:

1. 250 gr plain white flour ( 2x 125)
2. 175 gr of milk
3. 25 gr of dry yeast
4. 4 medium sized eggs
5. 100 gr butter
6. 2.5 gr or a pinch of salt
7. 1.75 gr cinnamon
8. 20 gr dark brown caster sugar
9. 20 gr pearly sugar
10. Some candy sugar

Preparation:

Mix a dough of 125 gr flower, the eggs, yeast and milk.
Leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients into this dough.
Mix and knead till you have a firm, elastic, smooth dough.
Let it rest for another 15 minutes.

Roll the dough into a kind of sausage shape.
Start cutting off pieces weighing about 100 gr each.
Roll these into 45 cm long shapes.
Roll these through the pearly and candy sugar
Put the pieces on your baking tray which you have lined with slightly greased baking paper.
Let your batch rest for another 40 minutes.

Flatten the sugar-coated long shapes till they are about 4 cm broad.
Let them rest for another 35 minutes

Bake them in a pre-heated oven of 180C for about 20 minutes.
After taking them out of the oven, turn them upside down and cut them in pieces straight away.
Leave to cool and store in an airtight jar.

Youtube: Dandoy chef mr Sassi shows how to make Pain à la Gréque
Dandoy
Delacre
Jacues Brel Foundation

Best Fritkot in town slides down

Various papers and travel blogs, as well as the local tourist office, regularly publish lists of the best places to eat Belgian fries in Belgium. The fritkot at Place de la Chapelle regularly makes it into the top three of Brussels. It won’t make it on mine for a while.

I still hadn’t eaten a mitraillette there, but each time I visited, I noticed quite a few guests of the nearby Youth Hostel Bruegel eating them. So a few weeks ago, I asked for a mitraillette mergez, only to be told it was unavailable – despite it being listed on the boards on either side of the counter.

Being hungry, I settled for my usual petit paquet with one of the sauces listed on the boards on either side of the counter. The sauce Americaine was unavailable too, so I was advised to have the sauce Andalouse. This happened to be available at home, after I stocked up at my local Delhaize supermarket.(Scroll to the bottom of this post for a recipe.)

I was severely disappointed, but the queue was long. The man behind me, ordered the ordinary ration of Belgian fries with the Bicky sauce listed on the boards on either side of the counter. No problems with the Bicky sauce apparently, so I decided to bear this in mind for my next visit.

I put this experience down to bad luck. They may have been out of mergez. They may have been out of the sauce Americaine and a few others on the board.

But then, my next visit put me through a similar experience. I didn’t notice any mergez on display, so skipped the mitraillette – again. Someone in front of me had a mitraillette version though. It was huge and not served on a plate. Her fries flew everywhere. The local dove-population didn’t mind this.

My turn, so I asked for a petit paquette with Bicky sauce. No, no Bicky sauce with fries. It was a special sauce to go only with hamburgers. Why list it on the boards on either side of the counter among the fries sauces, I thought.

Remembering the previous visit, I asked what choice there was in sauce? Only four – though the boards on either side of the counter listed close to ten. Miffed again, I settled for a petit paquette with sauce tartaire.

Guess what? I got the petit paquette with a sauce. But according to the price-list on either side of the counter, I had to pay the price of the ordinary helping.

Guess what? Next time, I’ll head for Frit Flagey at the Place Flagey. Or I’ll grab a bus to the European Parliament and saunter through the Leopold park behind, it to the Place Jourdan. Its fritkot, Monsieur Antoine, always ends up first on any list.

In Belgium and other parts of the EU, local supermarkets sell a variety of sauces to go with your home-made French, Belgian, Steak fries. These include sauces like curry, mustard, béarnaise, peanutbutter, mayonnaise, and a great many others – including Bicky.

As the Bicky sauce is sold by a commercial firm, I was unable to find a recipe for you to have a go at recreating a home-made version. It actually consists of a yellow dressing and a separate sauce poured over your Bicky hamburger, with a helping of sliced gherkin and fried onions. Many people don’t like it.

On the other hand, why not try creating your own version of sauce Tartaire or sauce Andalouse to go with your home-made French, Belgian, Steak fries:

Sauce Tartaire or tartare sauce
Of course, this sauce is usually served with fish. But unlike with the Bicky ado: nothing to prevent you from serving this with a helping of fries. Please remember you have to mix the ingredients well to create a creamy sauce, but chopped ingredients should still be recognisable.

200 ml mayonnaise
3 tbsp drained and chopped capers
3 tbsp drained and chopped gherkins (depending on your taste: sweet, sweet-sour, or sour)
1 small finely chopped white onion or shallot
a few drops of lemon juice
3 tbsp chopped parsley
grounded pepper (and salt if you have to)

Sauce Andalouse
Quick and easy: mix two parts mayonnaise with one part tomato paste and chopped green bell pepper and ground pepper. This is a spicy sauce.

Elaborate version:
200 ml mayonnaise
2 to 3 tbsp of tomato paste
1 tbsp chopped green bell pepper
1 tbsp chopped red bell pepper
2 tbsp chopped red onion
1 tbsp drained and chopped capers
a few drops of lemon juice
grounded pepper (and salt if you have to)
mix everything into a smooth paste but which still allows you to recognize the chopped vegetables.