Saturday, April 17, 2010

World Food Series #2 : Mussels (Belgium)

People are always surprised when I tell them that steamed mussels are the national dish of Belgium. If I had a penny for every time someone says "Oh, really?", accompanied by an astonished expression on their faces, then I'd be able to buy all the Liege waffles my stomach desires.

The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, the mention of the words "Belgian cuisine" conjures up images of fine chocolates, world-renowned Trappist beers, Belgian (technically Brussels and Liege) waffles, and Belgian (don't call them French) fries. So quite understandable for mussels to get lost in the shuffle. I'm still wondering if Brussels sprouts are in fact from Belgium, but I'll leave that question to be answered another day.

Mussels are usually served in big pots, and come in different flavors. They can be cooked in natural herbs, in white beer (usually Hoegaarden), provencale (tomatoes, onions), mariniere (white wine), or Thailandese/l'indienne (in curry). As with every dish, a side of pomme frites serves as an accompaniment, with mayonnaise and mustard as dipping sauces. This "weird" combination has also elicited a lot of incredulous responses, believe it or not.

On my trip to Belgium last summer, my friend Luc and I ate mussels a couple of times, and after seeing him frown and shake his head at my ineptitude in getting the mussel meat out, Luc offered to demonstrate the "proper" Belgian technique for eating them. The Belgian way requires the use of no utensils, and I found it to be quite nifty and conducive to the consumption of mussels. In short, brilliant!!!

Check out Luc's mussels eating demonstration in the video below. Even with no prior acting experience, he didn't appear nervous and performed his role confidently, needing only two takes.

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