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Moules Et Frites – Belgium National Dish – Day 32/Dish 16

February 7, 2010

I am grateful for the short journey to Belgium from Belarus.  The Transatlantic travel is hard on an adventurer.  This time we only have to backtrack to the head of the English Channel and come ashore at Oestende, a Belgian Port City.  Evidence of the wars that ravaged Europe during the twentieth century can be seen in the cement Pillboxes on the beach.  These hardened placements were meant to repel attack by sea and they lend a spooky air to the place.  Otherwise, this is a classic European beach-side town with bistros and tourist traps, and the occasional Cathedral thrown in to make it somehow more European. 

If you take the train from Oostende, it is a short 15 minutes to one of the most beautiful small towns in Europe, Bruges or Brugge.  Also known as Venice of the North, Bruges is a nearly perfect example of Gothic architecture and quaint European village life.  There are very few cars here and bicycles flash past with the ringing of bells echoing from the cobblestones. 

Bruges represents one half of Belgian Culture.  It is squarely in the Flemish region of Belgium and represents Belgian culture the way it probably was before the Germans invaded and the French adopted Brussels.  You can see shops full of the famed hallmarks of Belgium; chocolates, lace and, of course, beer.  With over 165 Breweries and nearly 800 beer varietals, Belgium is possibly the most famous Beer brewing country on Earth.  To learn more about Belgiums brewing history click here.

About a 1 hr train ride to the east is the Capitol of Belgium, Brussels.  To say it is different than Bruges is an understatement.  Home to the UN headquarters and nearly 2 million people, it is a far cry from Bruges our sleepy little Flemish town.  In fact, you will rarely hear Flemish spoken in Brussels, which prefers French.  So much so that it is affectionately called Le Petite Paris, the little Paris. 

Mannekin Pis - Famous and Beloved Brussels Statue.

The Gran Place in Central Brussels is indeed a beautiful square with stunning and unique buildings and a vast array of good shopping and restaurants.  It is a bustling city where you are as likely to see a student protest broken up by police as you are to hear a Parisian 3 piece group with accordions and guitar strumming a ballad while you sip white wine or better yet Belgian Trappiste beer, while taking an afternoon snack at a café.

Here is where I had the National Dish of Belgium, Moules Et Frites.  When translated it means “Mussels and French Fries”.  Belgians are fanatical about Mussels with annual consumption of the tasty shellfish averaging around 4.2 Kilos per person per year, compared with an average of .1 kilos elsewhere.   Belgium is one of three leading importers of mussels in the world.  Despite the name French Fries, fries originated in Belgium and “chip” shops are as popular here as bistros.  Of course, Belgians eat their fries with Mayonnaise.  And today, so shall we…

I give this dish a 2 for difficulty.  It is easy to prepare but requires several steps. 

CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION

Rating:

Appearance: 4 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Total: 12 out of 15

Mussels (Moules)

1-2 Kilos Mussels washed and debearded

2 cups white wine

¼ lb butter

2 cloves garlic

5 tbsp chopped parsely

Salt and Pepper

Discard any mussels that do not close when tapped with a spoon.

Add the wine and mussels to a large stock pot.

Steam the mussels on medium high for 2-3 minutes till the mussels have opened.

Strain the wine through a fine mesh colander and return it to a saucepan.  Leave the mussels in the stockpot, covered to keep warm.

Add the butter to the saucepan and blend into the wine with a whisk

Add 3 tbsp of Parsley, Salt, Pepper and Garlic.

Bring to a light boil and pour mixture back over mussels.

Allow to rest for 5 minutes allowing the grit to settle to the bottom of the pan.

Serve hot using a slotted spoon.

Serves 4-6 hungry people

Fries (Frites)

Ingredients:

6 large Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes

Vegetable oil

Salt

Mayonnaise for dipping (I added a bit of parsley and salt and pepper to the mayo for better seasoning.)

Preparation:

Wash and slice the potatoes into “Fries” approx 5-7 cm in length and ¼ inch square

Soak in cold water for ½ hour

Drain and dry thoroughly

Heat oil in a deep fryer or cast iron skillet to about 300 degrees 150 celcius

Fry for about 5 minutes in small batches; do not brown or crisp

Remove to a paper towel lined baking sheet and allow to drain the oil.

Turn the heat up to about 355 Farenheit or 180 Celsius

Fry again for another 1-2 minutes till golden brown

Remove from pan and drain oil.

Add salt to taste

Serve hot with the mussels.

Garnish with Mayonnaise for dipping.

Serves 6

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