Europe 29.06.16

Wednesday the 29th

The fleeting moments of Wednesday prior were only an amuse bouche to tantalise my cravings of Mortsel. De Vlegel and the Wednesday Markets we visited only in passing, and I was determined to return to both for a thorough feed and some fresh treats. There were plentiful pastries available inside the food trucks which had encircled the lot, as if they were strategically placed to tempt the produce shoppers with a treat once their bags were full with vegetables. One caravan, dedicated solely to mattentaarts, spiked my interest. A Mattentaart is a pie-like pastry that is so well reputed that it has earned status as a Protected Destination of Origin (PDO) Product. This means that the Mattentaart can only be called such if it were made in its birthplace of Geraardsbergen in East Flanders. The tart itself is made with puff pastry and dry curds to give the texture of a cheesecake inside its crunchy casing. Also available at the markets were fresh waffles in a variety of flavours! Vanilla, chocolate, chocolate chip, speculoos, frangipani! I filled a bag with a few of each for later…

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With a fair bit of writing to catch up on, I arranged a postcard destined for my best friend in Australia, a belated birthday card for a friend whose friendship dates back to the womb, and my travel notebook on the desk in front of me. By the time a fresh mint tea was delivered to my table, I had completed two of the three tasks I had set out to scribe in this time, and I did not have to wait much longer until mum and her mother joined me. I was always nervous to see Moemoeke. One year prior I had followed my parents into her private room at the palliative prison wherein she resides only to be mistaken for a stranger. I have taken every opportunity since, as selfish as that seems, to avoid her home and instead prefer to anticipate my family with their coffee orders at the nearby Cafe Kamiel. For the second time this trip, relief washed over me as my grandmother was wheeled through the door. A bright smile of recognition filled her countenance and I sprung from my stool with equal enthusiasm to embrace my Moeke!

That afternoon, we engaged in a rendez-vous with my mother’s best friend from her teenage years and daughter who had been my best friend since before we were born. Marie and I used to keep in touch as pen-pals, and although our dedication to this communication has lapsed with age, she still holds the honorary title of Best Friend from Belgium. Whilst us daughters are sometimes still robotic in our conversation, mum and her best friend pick up from the ; every time they reunite – and true best friends they are. They giggle as though they were still thirteen years of age – I never see mum have so much fun as when she is with Goel. Once the husbands had joined our posse, we went to the Koninck Museum and Brewery to immerse ourselves in a mix of hops and history synonymous with Antwerp. The beer and the city are connected in their shared logo of a hand with fingers pointed towards the sky. Imprinted on the port of the quay and on the neck of the beer bottle, this symbol is intended to signal to passers-by they must halt and pay the traders’ toll. The next room was a lesson in beer glasses, with hundreds of globe shaped glasses levitating towards the ceiling. Guided by an interactive display, we traversed through the various stages of beer brewery and the history which characterised this particular beverage. We finally exited the exhibition across an elevated bridge from which we could view the precise process of cheesemaking in a studio below. A beer on the house! Marie and I both selected a Liefmans Kriek Brut, described as a delicious red drink emanating an aroma of marzipan and the sweet odour of warm cherries.

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“IN BIER ZITTEN WEINIG VITAMINEN, DAAROM MOET JE ER ZOVEEL DRINKEN”
An ancient Dutch proverb stating that dubious quantities of beer must be consumed into order to benefit from the low vitamin content within this fine drink.

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Marie and I left our parents to their adult conversations and their fancy beef fillets and made for a meal by the water. The walk on the quay was a window to the summer shared by many locals whom lined the docks on picnic matts. We took a table at one of the trendy new eateries which had opened up overlooking the ornate sailing ships towed to the harbour. The repurposed warehouse had been furbished with a free-standing kitchen surrounded with long tables you would expect to find in a beer-garden. The interior was trendy, with a lounge area equipped with ample books and crates for extra seating, but the winning factor was definitely the menu. Sprawled over a whiteboard was a flow chart of steps to help determine the perfect dining combination with a check-box next to each item. So aptly named was Balls and Glory that the restaurant speciality was, of course, very large and delicious meat balls. To me, it seemed a weird concept until I saw it in its glorious material manifestation on a bed of mash or salad. I ordered a curry beef ball on a bed of fennel feta salad, and Marie ordered the chicken ball on sweet potato stoemp (AKA mash). YUM!

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