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.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

World Food Series #1: Skyr (Iceland)

Iceland is now in the news because of the volcano eruption that grounded thousands of flights all across Europe. Whoa! Not bad for a small country of 300,000 people who make a living primarily through fishing.

Hearing about Iceland makes me nostalgic about my trip there last year - there's so many memorable experiences to remember including the Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle, food in Rejkjavik - should I go on?

Speaking of food, one food from Iceland which I've developed a liking for is Skyr, a smooth, creamy yogurt that comes in different flavors. Thick, not-too-sweet, and best of all, non-fat!!! So far, I can only find at the the Whole Foods branches nearby, and although it is at least double the price of other brands of yogurt, that hasn't stopped me from cleaning out the shelves every time I visit! (I do wonder though whatever happened to the small bendable spoons that are supposed to come with each cup).

For more about the health benefits of Skyr, check out their official website.