Discover more from Feed The Muse
In Search of Pink Elephants
The cobblestones are wet and a bit slick as I walk across La Grand-Place. It has been raining off and on for most of the day and even though the sun is now out, it is chilly. And damp. The air holds the damp and cups your face in its hands, keeping you chilled. Wind rushes down certain streets with enough bite to remind you that, contrary to what the daffodils are selling, winter is not quite finished. And in multiple taverns and tea rooms along the connecting streets, there are enticing fires with the promise of banishing the chill. But I do not want to sit inside. As pleasant as that may sound, I want to sit outside at a certain bar owned by a pink elephant on Greek street and enjoy a glass of Delirium Tremens as people stream by, eating waffles or cones of frites. Other than visiting the market, this is my favorite thing to do to get the sense of a place. Just sit outside at a cafe or other establishment with a coffee or drink and watch the world pass. The owners of the competing Greek restaurants prepare for the evening rush as they extol the virtues of their particular offerings to those who pause just a moment too long in front of the menu.
As I sip the heavy blond tripel, the thought occurs to me that Brussels is what happened to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory after it expanded and added beer to the menu. The foods that Belgians are good at and that remain in people’s memories long after they leave are equally delightfully good and nutritionally suspect; Chocolate, beer, waffles, and frites covered in mayonnaise-based sauces. Each elevated to its highest form of epicurean art. They are foods that make people happy. They are foods that instantly change one’s mood. And it may be one reason that the Belgians have such a well-honed and vast sense of humor. Laughing comes easily while biting a crisp, hot, frite cooled with a bit of mayonnaise, while sipping a Trappist ale that comes in at nine percent alcohol. A praline, you ask? Don’t mind if I do.
‘He who does not wish for little things does not deserve big things.’
– Belgian Proverb
I tend to eschew the touristy in favor of the more local, authentic experience. However, there is a reason the touristy things are touristy. As I’ve grown older, I have shifted a bit in my stance. Like going to Niagara Falls, if you accept the tackiness and embrace it fully, it is quite fun. So embrace being a tourist, if even only for a bit. Take the hop on - hop off tour bus to get an overview of the city; take the carriage ride through cobblestone streets if you have it in your budget; go to the old part of the town that the locals avoid; these things too, have their place on the itinerary.
I finish my beer and grab an order of frites with Andalouse sauce and head to the smaller square to watch as the sun turns the tops of the buildings a pale gold. I watch as visitors from all corners of the globe buy their frites and waffles piled high with Nutella and whipped cream. Others sit along the square and enjoy their shrimp croquets or mussels in the glow of late afternoon.
I head to a bookstore near my hotel to explore their vast inventory of comics. This country is the kingdom of the comic strip. Every subject, every story, whether it be fiction or historical, can be found in comic form. The Walking Dead, Star Wars, graphic novels, and Tin Tin all share space within the four walls of the store. I purchase a hardcover copy of a popular US Disney show as well as a Little Prince tea mug with the advice, “let the stars be your guide,” printed in French beneath the iconic red plane. I don’t need another mug, but the phrase makes me smile.
I drop my treasures at the hotel and then head out to meet my wife and do another of the touristy things that one does when in Brussels — dinner on La Grand-Place. Yes, there is better food to be found in other parts of the city, but I didn’t come here for the quality of the food; I came here to enjoy the view of the ornate facades of the guildhalls and the gothic spires of the Hôtel de Ville, lit in white and golden light, glowing in the night like sandcastles reaching towards the moon above. Other tourists walk in the square as we enjoy our dinner as a three-piece band with a distinctly Latin vibe entices random people to spontaneously dance in the middle of the square. People are joyful. Music fills the air. And I am with my favorite person in the world. These are the moments why we travel. To break the patterns that make up our day-to-day lives. To be placed outside of our comfort zone and find joy. To hunt pink elephants through the narrow streets of Brussels.
Belgian Frites with Sauce Andalouse
Belgian frites are special. And they are the original. Legend has it that they were created one winter when the local waters froze, depleting the supply of the small white fish that shops fried and served with mayonnaise. Having plenty of potatoes, the shop keepers cut the potatoes into roughly the size of the fish and fried them as a replacement. It is our own fault that they have been misnamed. In WWII, US soldiers were in Belgium and were served frites. Hearing those serving the frites speak French, when they returned home they started asking for and calling frites French fries. We must now right this wrong.
The secret to great frites is two-fold. First, soak the cut potatoes in cold water to remove excess starch. Second, cook the frites twice letting them cool for a bit in between. This creates a crisp exterior and fluffy, creamy, interior.
4 large potatoes
2 cups vegetable oil
Salt to taste
Wash the potatoes and peel them. Cut them into even-sized 1/2 inch wide sticks or use a french fry cutter.
Place the cut fries in a bowl of cold water and let them soak for at least 30 minutes. This will help remove excess starch and make them crispy.
Drain the water and pat the fries dry with a clean towel.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the oil reaches 325°F (163°C), carefully add the fries in small batches and fry for 3-4 minutes or until they are pale and partially cooked. Remove the fries from the oil and place them on a wire rack to drain.
Increase the heat to 375°F (190°C) and return the fries to the pot in small batches. Fry for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until they are golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oil and place them back on the wire rack. Sprinkle with salt while still hot.
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 green onion, finely chopped
1/4 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp smoked paprika
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, tomato paste, and lemon juice until well combined.
Add the chopped green onion, green and red bell peppers, salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika to the bowl. Mix well.
Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Cover the bowl and refrigerate the sauce for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together.
Serve the Andalouse sauce as a dip for your favorite snacks, such as fries, grilled vegetables, or seafood.
You can adjust the amount of salt and black pepper according to your taste preference.
If you prefer a smoother texture, you can blend the sauce in a food processor or blender until smooth.
The Andalouse sauce will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Thanks for reading Feed The Muse! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.