Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Foodies Rejoice!

Today has been a great day for eating amazing food.

Breakfast was our usual whatever-people-want, with MeiMei's Choco-Muesli, JieJie's dipping eggs, John's coffee, and my Special K with red berries.

Uniforms on, school bags packed, and it's off to the #7 tram, switch to the #8, get off at our stop on Lange Leemstraat and head to school. Remind MeiMei to kiss & hug because she's already showing her new headband to her teacher. Peel JieJie's hands off my thigh as she makes a big show of wanting me to stay (same thing at her Virginia school--we see the giggle in her eyes now when she does it, so it's not a concern).

John and I walk back toward our place, stopping at a nice cafe on the Wapper, a few doors down from the Rubens museum. We've been here before and like the Boulanger, which includes two individual pots of coffee, with little chocolates of course, and a basked of croissants, butter and strawberry preserves. This has become date-time, this period between drop-off and 10am when stores open. We don't do dinner and a movie anymore, it's leisurely breakfast and it's great!

This morning we decided to go to the National Maritime Museum at the Steen castle on the Schelde River. It is a really nice museum, and all museums are free the last Wednesday of the month (today) - what luck! In the museum we enjoyed a fine collection of all things having to do with the history of the Port of Antwerp, from paintings to artifacts to the many many many models they have of different types of ships that have docked here. In the most impressive room toward the end of the exhibit halls, you start by looking at a dugout canoe from the earliest recorded history here, and end up looking at a fascinating cross-section model of a luxury steamship operated by the Red Star Line between Antwerp and New York. My dad in particular is going to want to spend some time there, as his dad was in the U.S. Navy and my dad has always liked boating-related stuff.

On the way back to the apartment, we went through the always-impressive Grote Markt with all the guildhalls overlooking the square and the Brabo Fountain. I hope I never take that view for granted. We wanted to grab some chocolates just to have around, but little did we know we were going to get an education about Belgian chocolates!

It was 11am when we walked into a chocolate shop just off the Grote Markt. We were the only ones in the shop for the next half hour and the shopkeeper takes such pride in what he sells, it was a truly amazing shopping experience. I asked if he had an assortment. He asked if it was a gift--I said sheepishly no, it's for us, just to have some in the house. He got a gleam in his eye and started asking about our tastes. Did we like dark, milk, or light chocolate? Did we like marzipan? Nuts? Nougat? Caramel-butterscotch? Marshmallows? Grand Marnier? Cognac? Were we American, French, ?? We answered the questions and said we were American. He said "I know what you want" and started throwing all kinds of chocolate into a small bag. I'm thinking it's going to get expensive, but I was too interested to care.

Along the way, he handed us all kinds of samples. Here--try this dark chocolate with cocoa powder...Americans like it. Here--try this framboise and taste how the flavors bloom one at a time, chocolate, raspberry, cinnamon, and chocolate again, and never too sweet. Here--try this thin slice of dark chocolate that children like to melt on their toast. No don't eat it yet--hold it to the light first and see how it shines. That's how you know it's good. Do you like this? It's a crunchy caramel--toffee, I said we called it. He told us about the amazing eggs that will appear on his shelves before Easter, Picasso eggs he called them. And hollow eggs that you hang by ribbons. and eggs filled with candy confetti. And on and on.

Finally, the piece de resistance. He turned the radio off in the shop so it was totally silent and held up a cube that he said was dark chocolate covered mocha marshmallow. Listen! he said. And he broke the marshmallow--I swear you could hear tiny air bubbles popping right there in the shop. We tried the candy (John is NOT a marshmallow person) and agreed it was just heavenly. The girls would love a strawberry one. I can't wait for Easter!

The damage for the whole big huge bag of assorted chocolates, enough to last us til next payday, was only 15 euro. The shopkeeper talked a lot about how Americans think they are buying Belgian chocolates but that what we are getting is made so that it lasts a year, and "real" Belgian chocolate is only good for a month. He kept using the word "fresh," a word I've never heard associated with chocolate. You really can taste the difference though, and you can tell that there's real cream and butter in some of the fillings, which would make the "fresh" idea make sense. I believe we now have a favorite chocolate shop. If you go to Antwerp, go chocolate shopping at Chateau Blanc on a quiet morning when you have time to be spoiled with enough samples to fill you up for the day!

Lunch was with the girls, at the Frituur Die Witte near their school. A Frituur is a place where you can get all different kinds of fried things, especially french fries--ahem, Belgian fries. We had a mini order of fries (a kleine is huge) with curry ketchup, my new favorite condiment, and also a breaded hot dog called a currywurst, and a chicken/onion kebab deep-fried and sprinkled with spices. The girls raided the fries till there were none left, and JieJie had a second currywurst. Not something we're going to do a lot of--they use beef lard in the fryer so it's delicious but extra-unhealthy--but it was a delicious treat for a Wednesday afternoon.

Tonight's dinner will be at a neighborhood restaurant called Eetcafe 't Injaske. I'll probably order the Dagmenu (menu of the day) because it's a great way to get a good value and try a regional specialty. Last time the dagmenu there was trout wrapped in salmon in a cream sauce with leeks and mashed potatoes and it was yummy.

We've also learned how to order beer Antwerp-style. You can order a "Bollecke" (BOWL-uh-kuh) which is a kind of beer DeKoninck makes, or you can order a "Pintje" (pinch-ya) which is a small glass of the house beer. I'm not a huge beer drinker but when in Antwerp...

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