27 November 2006

Thanksgiving in Belgium

If I have never mentioned how good the food is here in Belgium, let me do so now. Belgium holds few distinctions among its more popular neighbors in Western Europe. And what does make it unique--the EU, the beer, the linguistic divide--remains a source of pride for even the most humble Belgian. And as Belgium draws more tourists and businesspeople to its cities every year, so the restaurants have battled to bring this little country out ahead of its great rival in all things gourmet: France. Even the shabbiest looking brasseries in Belgian cities serve up their meals with great attention to taste and presentation. So it should come as no surprise that our Fulbright Commission pulled out all the stops for that greatest of American gastronomical events: Thanksgiving!

Every year the American Club of Brussels hosts an annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Sheraton on the Place Rogier. And every year our fabulous Fulbright director makes sure that all Fulbrighters are invited as guests of the Commission. Our dinner dutifully contained many traditional dishes--turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans--but, in a distinctly European twist, we also had fine aperitifs and a pairing of wines (red and white and NEITHER of them French!) The stuffing was our director's personal recipe, a wonderful combination of bread, nuts, raisins, and other dried fruits. The meal began with New England Clam Chowder, not nearly as good as you find in New England, but a reasonable substitute all the same. And the bread--well, both my stomach and my pocketbook decided long ago that I could live quite happily off of Belgium's beautiful artisanal bread, which is everywhere you go cheap and plentiful!

So, it was all mostly wonderful. I did have friends, self-proclaimed turkeys experts, who insisted that the turkeys were in fact just overgrown chickens, and the mincemeat pie was about 80 times too sweet for even me. Of course, no one headed the pleas of M, a Wisconsin native, to wheel out a TV so we could watch a little football. And at the end of the night I missed all the express trains back to Leuven and had to suffer through the local "stop and start" train, generally staffed by drivers who haven't quite learned to gently pop the clutch when pulling out of the station. But it was, in all, a nice little slice of home!

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