I think I told you before about being half Belgian half Portuguese right? Well if not here it goes: long story short, my Mum is Portuguese, my Dad is Belgian and they met in Belgium 30 something years ago. I was born in a small coastal town in West Flanders, Oostende (Ostend), and we lived there for only a year before moving to Lisbon, Portugal (Mum says she was too cold).
Regardless of being raised in Portugal I have a very strong Belgian heritage. After all my dad is Belgian and half of my family still lives there, so we often go back to spend time with the family.
Living in London, Ostend is now much closer, so the hubby and I took last Friday and Monday off and went to Belgium for a long weekend.
Now I know it is foodie Wednesday’s today and you’re probably thinking where’s the food? Truth is I am still stuffed! I ate so many good things it’s almost impossible to keep track (but I have). I think that’s always the case when you visit Grandma’s though. It must be some kind of Universal truth: Grandmas cook the best things and always have sweets.
Note: for me all the things we ate are ‘Belgian Dishes’, because we always eat it when we’re there. But maybe it’s just family dishes more than typical Belgian food. Just saying, don’t expect to find all of the following delicacies in restaurants when you’re visiting Belgium.
As we ate a few sandwiches on the train we weren’t that hungry when we arrived, so for lunch we had ‘tomatensoep met balletjes’, which is tomato soup with small meatballs. This is most definitely a traditional dish, and we have it almost every time as it is one of my favourites (Grandmas always cook your favourite stuff don’t they?). We ate it on ‘repeat mode’ until there was no more soup left.
Friday evening we had my ultimate heavenly meal: meatloaf with mashed apples and potato croquettes. I mentioned before how gifted my Belgian family is when it comes to the art of meatloaf. But honestly this time even my Grandma topped herself: it was just delicious! I think I had like five slices and loads of apples. The apples are super easy to make: you just peel a bunch, slice it really thing, put it all in a pot with some cinnamon, sugar and a tiny bit of water and let it cook. And you got yourself a bit of heaven.
Saturday was my favorite day though as we had my cousin’s late birthday party, and I got to help my Grandma and Auntie prepare all the food. I love a bit of family bonding in the kitchen. There we were – 3 generations of women cooking and chatting. Sounds super cliché, I know, women in the kitchen, men watching football or doing whatever, but the important thing is that we love cooking. Especially because we get to gossip and have a few laughs whilst doing it.
There were two main dishes we had to prepare:
– Tomate met Crevettes (shrimp stuffed tomatoes – very typical)
– Bloemkool Mimosa (cauliflower with loads of things – I think this one is a family thing)
We started with the tomatoes. Now you may think you can go to the store and buy prawns or shrimps, but the fact is these delicacies are made with a very specific (and tasty) type of shrimp: Grijze Garnaaltjes (grey little shrimps). These shrimps are found mostly in the North Sea, and Ostend so happens to be positioned in the North Sea Coast. Although you can now buy it frozen in supermarkets, my aunt tells me it’s not nearly as good.
It was an ‘all hands on deck’ situation, as peeling these bastards is not an easy task. The shrimps are very tiny and you don’t want to waste any of it, so there’s a technique to peel it: push in the middle, twist gently and pull the tale first and then the head. They’re so tiny though that sometimes you end up losing a bit of meat that gets stuck in the little shell.
After that it’s easy: you slice the tomatoes in half, remove the inside. Add some mayo to the shrimps (not too much), stuff the tomatoes with this and sprinkle some parsley on top. Voila, delicious.
The Mimosa is a bit more work, the cauliflower needs to cook, and you have to boil some eggs. After boiling you need to separate the egg whites and the yolks and chop it to little pieces. You’ll also need some of the shrimps and a bit of ham sliced and chopped very thin and small. And then it’s like creating a sculpture, a work of art. You decorate the cauliflower with all of the above, in layers. One layer of mayo (to help it stick), egg whites, ham, shrimp, and finally the yolks (so it kind of looks like a Mimosa flower).
We prepared a few salads (lettuce, cucumber) and cold potatoes (with mayo or vinaigrette) as sides, and had an amazing meal. Most of all, I had a great time learning all these family and traditional recipes and catching up with the girls. And of course Dinner was fun too.
The other days we had leftovers – which is one of the best meals in the world – steamed fish with vegetables (to balance a bit of the calories) and a delicious pork steak with endive and apple salad.
To top all of this, of course we had tons of Cote D’Or chocolates after every meal, and a few ice creams.
Ten kilos later we returned home to the UK.
I have to add, the weather was lovely and as it is on the beach side, it’s the perfect weekend break if you live in London. We grabbed the Eurostar to Brussels, which only takes about two hours, and there switched trains to Ostend. It does get quite packed in the summer though, so make sure to book in advance. And although you probably won’t be going to Grandma’s house, there’s several amazing restaurants, the beach is beautiful, it’s a very pleasant town to visit and it’s only 15-20 min train ride away from Bruges and 40 min away from Ghent, two of the most beautiful cities in Belgium.
I leave you with some pictures of the wonderful sunset. I for one can’t wait to go back.