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In April (yes! April) I took a bag of my Flemish Grandmothers’ favourite chocolates from Belgium to Australia and asked all of my former folk to tell me how much they loved them. Turns out my Big Nuts were quite impressive.

Some choice quotes:

“My life had a gaping hole in it until Chris slipped in his Big Nuts”

“My wife really gets it off on my Big Nuts”

“When it comes to that special treat, nothing beats that rich velvety feel of my Big Nuts”

“Thanks for giving Chris some Big Nuts to bring back to Australia! We generally have just regular sized nuts here, so thanks very much!”

“Citycat riders choose Big Nuts”

“It’s not often in Australia I’m handed a pair of Big Nuts”

World of Chocolate, I hope you’re taking notes. Try and keep up.

Tasty Tasty Tasty!

For the past six months or so I’ve been cautiously walking past at brisk speeds to ignore Hilde Devolder’s chocolate shop, out of fear of enjoying her products to a point that I’d become a daily customer.

Whilst walking my dear Neapolitan friend through the charming streets of Ghent, Hilde’s shop jumped from behind a parked bike, and my game was up. We had no choice but to venture inside.

Hilde specializes in tiny boxes of even tinier chocolates, each piece measuring no more than a square centimeter. These tiny sizes mean equally tiny amounts of guilt, which can lead to an entire box consumed in minutes, instead of the typical hour or so chocolate giants like Neuhaus or Godiva command.

Highlights from the first box include the peanut brittle, marzipan, and whatever that last one I had (especially biscuity in a way a biscuit could never have been).

For easter Hilde has prepared a large variety of amazing creations, some of which I may try to export back to some lucky non-blog-reading parents come Easter time.

Hilde presents an amazing challenge to the Belgian chocolate industry – her choice of tiny chocolates makes sharing a joy, and stopping consumption all the harder!

Neuhaus, consider yourself warned!

Bicky Burger, finally in chip form!

In October I was blown away that Australia had decided Vegemite made a sensible decision for a chip flavor.

Lo behold my return to Belgium, and the stores are now lined with limited edition ‘Bicky Burger’ chips, commemorating one of the more unattractive members of the Belgian food chain.

A ‘Bicky’, marketed here as a burger, is in fact a sugary bun holding a deep-fried round blob of meet extracts, usually covered in ketchup and mayonnaise, and always served with a grotte pakje friet (large packet of fries). It is a staple food group for many teenagers in Belgium, though despite many attempts to stomach one, I’ve never been able to get past a single serving of fries. These deep fried burgers tickle my gag-reflex significantly more than my fancy.

Whilst I can’t condone the real deal Bicky, I didn’t even flinch at the idea of bringing home a packet of its namesake chip. They smell, taste, and look much like your typical ‘tomato’ flavoured variant, and leave a nicely unsatisfying film all around the inside of the mouth, fingers and nostrils – likely quite similar to the burger it is modeled after!

Smiths Vegemite chips

Back home in Australia for a few weeks, only to find the Australians have taken their love of Vegemite to the logical conclusion..

Good grief. Going to try my hand at Stoverij for the family tomorrow, having tracked down a couple of rather expensive Chimay Blau bottles, and discovering that cows in Australia do have the same types of meat as they do in Belgium.

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For reference, the restaurant selection at Brussels airport is so poor that a burger (allegedly intentionally) misshaped into a heart is actually the best option.

Came with a salad and a beer. Nice one Belgium.

Just a few Mondays ago I threw all my undies in a bag, collected all the change from all the pockets and hit the road, stopping off in Lyon and Cote de A’zur before hitting the final destination: Italy’s (and possibly Europe’s) finest retreat: Piemonte.

Nestled up between Turino, Milano and Genova, the hills of Piemonte offers some of the best wine regions in the world, delightful restaurants and incredibly beautiful (and cheap!) B&B’s.

One of the best pieces of advice for any new region is to track down a local’s favourite restaurant. Be warned though asking a local about food may lead to a very long discussion (and almost certainly only in Italian) – so just learn to nod and agree and keep your most-likely-non-Italian-ear trained for Nouns. This is probably my next best piece of advice. Listen for street names, type of cheeses and wines. If you don’t speak the local tongue do your brain a favour and skip the pronouns, articles and verbs and stick straight to the important bits by listening for names of cheeses, wines, restaurants and any other useful noun. Adjectives might also prove useful just in case the person you’re talking to makes a clear distinction between “shit”  and “fantastic”.

Whilst staying in Villa Pallavicini (amazing people making amazing wine), we asked around for a good pizzeria. The general response was to head direct to Pizzeria da Pietrino, famous for their astounding menu of ‘crema’ based pizzas. Proprietor”Little Peter” has long moved on from the all too familiar pomodoro ‘n cheese, opting instead for brocolli, aubergine, truffle or even salmon as the foundation of his creations.

Check the menu out below,  set your taste buds to jealous, and then book your summer holiday ASAP – Piemonte is calling!


Ketchup burger, Ghent

Ketchup burger, Ghent. Come to Belgium for the burgers, not the hamburgers.

Last month I took a few weeks off work and went to New York for a few weeks of Burgers, Beers and Brooklyn (in exactly that order), and came back surprisingly 5 kilograms lighter than how I departed. Perhaps it’s the tastiness they don’t put in their beers, or the insane amount of times I walked from one side of Manhattan to the other searching for whatever it is I was searching for.

It could also be that I completely substituted my standard Italian based home cooking with Burgers. Really, really, good. Burgers.

Since I’ve been back in Belgium, I’ve had hourly cravings for really, really, good, burgers. So much so that I took it upon myself yesterday to track down a burger joint here in Ghent.

Unfortunately, the prize just wasn’t there for me. Ghent has (so far) one known burger place (discounting the terrible ‘Quick’ and ‘McDonalds’ variants): “Ketchup“, located smack bang in the middle of the pedestrianized mall of downtown Ghent.

The menu is burgers, fries, and hotdogs, and respectably priced shitty beers. The fries taste like your standard Belgian ‘frit-kot’ (Fry house), and the burgers are pretty much exactly what I expected from a Belgian trying to make a Burger – a Belgian bread-roll (crunchy on the outside, soft and nothingness on the inside), meat that has just a little too much non-meat inside it (they loooove putting herbs and breadcrumbs in their mince, what is this place?) covered in enough tomato sauce to make any other ingredient a little unnecessary.

I’m told that there are a few places in Antwerpen that sell a decent burger, so before I dismiss this country as a burger waste land I should embark on the 40 minute drive east.

I miss New York, though I miss her burgers ever so much more!

Shake Shack burger, Mets Stadium NYC

Shake Shack burger, Mets Stadium NYC. I don't remember much about the game (I think it was baseball?) however this burger was worth the price of entry + airfare alone.

Whilst trying to work out if today was indeed my parents wedding anniversary (it isn’t) I found this old email I sent them nearly five years ago.

It’s one of my many late 2006 rants about I didn’t particularly like the town of Ninove, the first ‘town’ I lived in upon arrival in Belgium. I find it interesting to see how my love of the place hasn’t changed much since my first initial impressions.

Ladies and gentleman of the blog-o-sphere, if you ever find yourself moving to Belgium, I would recommend avoiding Ninove as your first port-o-call. Perhaps go there once you’ve fallen in love with Gent or Antwerpen or heaven forbid Bruges, but whatever you do, don’t allow Ninove to be your introduction to this beautiful country.

Ninove is without doubt the smallest town I’ve ever attempted to live in. There are no shops, no restaurants, no signs of aaaany nightlife.. I’d be crazy to move in here! Having said that – I would certainly spend a lot less money, but whats the point of making money if you can’t spend it?

This afternoon I’m going to head into the “downtown” of Ninove and try to set up my first non-Australian bank account. Apparently all I need is a letter from my employer, which I have (including my contract), so hopefully it’ll be a breeze. The downside is that I’ll have to walk there, a mere half hour hike, however it rains here all day long! I’ll have to get one of those dryzabones next time I’m in the country.

Are those things even made for rain? I have no idea what they are really. regardless – I’ll have to make a start by buying at least an umbrella. Everyone at work was shocked when I told them I only owned one, and that it was in Australia! People here have multiple umbrellas on them at any one time, so the lady I’m living with (in her B&B) gave me one from her car’s backseat.

Apparently Ninove is going to try and get some work with the company that brews Fosters in Europe, that would be funny.. I’d be working at a pseudo-Aussie brewery in Europe! Imagine that. I hope they don’t make me drink the stuff!

I bought a Duvel beer last night for less than a Euro. It was so strange, I’ve never bought one for less than AU$7! I felt rightly royal.

Living in my B&B has been a little tough in the evenings, I don’t have any kitchen facilities, and the only food is in town (half an hour away) – so I’ve gone the past two nights without anything for dinner. This I plan to change tonight, when I go into town. Apparently there’s a pub that will serve me some pasta – I’m ITCHING to eat something that isn’t on a bread roll. eerp.

Incidentally Belgium makes the second best bread-rolls in Europe. If you’re ever in the country I thoroughly suggest you stock up on bread, unless of course you’re coming via the land of the best bread-rolls in Europe.

Ahhh Germany, you and your bread can come over any time.

Last night my dear Ghentlelady prepared her incredible Flemish favourite Stoofvlees, an incredible stewed meat based on dark trappist beer.

Unfortunately I was so overwhelmed by the culinary experience that I forgot to photograph the moment, however here is her recipe handed down from generation of beer-drinking-belgian to another so you can try it at home, should you have a ready supply of Rocheforte 10:

  1. Cut up a kilo of Chuck Casserole steak into nice big chunks
  2. Heat up a fry pan, and get it nice and hot!
  3. In a big pot, brown an onion with some butter, let it rest
  4. In the big hot fry pan, melt some butter and the cook the meat on high heat until it’s nice and crusty
  5. Add meat to the big pot with the onion
  6. Add your trappist beer to the pan (not the big pot! the pan!) and whisk the crusty crap from the meat together with the beer making a bizarre sauce. Don’t let the beer boil, otherwise you’ve wasted a fine fine brew.
  7. Place your trappist sauce into the big pot
  8. Add a few bay-leaves (three or four), thyme, and then the ultimate grandma secret: A piece of white bread smeared with Dijon mustard on both sides. This will add not only volume to your brewing stew, but also add a whole lot of awesome.
  9. Let the stoofvlees stew on low heat for a few hours, adding a little more water (or beer, though the flemish recommend drinking beer from here on) if the liquid gets low.
  10. According to legend, stoofvlees tastes better if you leave it to sit for a day, so once it’s cool, put the pot in the fridge and go eat some fries and a beer, or something.
  11. The next day, boil some patatoes, heat your stoofvlees, and eat like a king.

You may wish to get some more Belgian fries insted of the boiled potatoes, but that’s only if you live in Belgium – because you can not get good fries outside of the land of potato. This is just accepted fact.

Whilst served in most Flemish restauarants, you’ll rarely find two stoofvlees’ the same. Some add chocolate (Ghentlady opinion: This is just crazy), wine (destroys everything), sugar (far too sweet) or corn starch (makes sauce horrible). However in my seasoned opinion there is very little you can do to make beer + meat go wrong.

Next time you’re in the imported beer aisle, get a Westmalle Dubbel or Rocheforte 10 (though possibly also a Leffe Bruin, but this is only if you are really desperate) and go get stewing.

Unless of course it’s Thursday, and you’re at home eating vegetarian the good ol’ fashioned Gent way!

Antonella's freshly prepared Pesto

One of the truly remarkable discoveries of the past thousand years is the amazing combination of basil leaves, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil and grana padano – Pesto is without doubt the most delightful of condiments.

Every time I make the sojourn to my corporate headquarters, my first stop after indulging in a local stracchino pizza is down to Antonella’s store in Nervi (as seen on Google Street View) where I stock up her freshly prepared Pesto, wines and tasty tasty cheese.

The pesto is so damn good that my girlfriend won’t let me return to Belgium without a fresh supply, which leads to us eating Pesto at great volume for a week until the ever lasting pot finally gives way to emptiness.

Today she’s out working on the boats (link), so I’m at home on lunch duty. To prepare a batch of the most amazing pasta in the world, here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Pesto from Antonella’s store (you may have to fly to Genova for this)
  2. A pot
  3. Water in the pot
  4. Salt to put in the water in the pot
  5. A source of heat underneath the salted water in the pot
  6. Pasta (your choice of variant) to put in the pot once the salted water in the pot is boiling
  7. Six to ten minutes of waiting for pasta to cook in the boiling salted water in the pot
  8. Drain pasta, preserving the cup of pasta broth
  9. Put pesto in with pasta, slop some of the broth in with it (don’t let it get too runny)
  10. Grate some parmigiano reggiano over the top
  11. Eat the most amazing meal of your life.

My lunch for the week...

An equally tasty variation of this simple dish is  ‘Penne alla Portofino‘, where we add some tomato passata (mashed up tomato, boiled for a while), which is quite popular when you’re down to the last scoop of Antonella’s pesto.

In short, go to Genova, camp out in Nervi for a while, and spend a lot of money at Antonella’s store on Via Oberdan, Nervi. You’ll love yourself for it. She’s been working the same store the past 27 years, and is terrified of the fattening properties of Belgian chocolates. She also doesn’t understand why an Australian would choose to live in ‘the grey and silly Belgium’.

Without access to her Pesto, sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here too!