Ever wondered what kind of food Brussels bureaucrats eat? Probably not, but I’m going to tell you anyways. I moved to Brussels a few weeks ago for a traineeship, and this has massively changed my food habits. Gone are the student days of lounging around in the kitchen, watching food shows on iPlayer whilst slow-cooking Coke & BBQ pulled pork. I now spend most of my awake hours at work, in heels and a suit, munching away on bananas and coffee and whatever else I can cram in between my supervisor’s various requests. However, there is one saviour through this new anti-food culture: the EC’s subsidised Plat du Jour.
Plat du Jour means plate of the day, and is the most basic of the canteen-food that gets served here. It is normally a plate with some kind of meat or fish, additional carbs (rice or potatoes normally), sauce and vegetables. There is also a soup that comes with it, and a bit of bread. This canteen feast keep you from suffering with blood sugar depression, and only costs €3.75! (Don’t worry, precious tax money are only used to subsidise the food of starved stagiarires, not well-paid bureacrats). And it isn’t always a feast.
My worst plat du jour experience so far was in our neighbouring building at Berlaymont, where I was served incredibly dry slices of beef (just look at the threads hanging off it in the picture above) with cold cauliflower and potatoes with thick skin. At EEAS it tends to be alright, as you can see from the other images (all but the above are from there). And at my first day at Madou, I had a delicious bloody steak with gratin dauphinois and decent béarnaise sauce.
The soup you are served with the Plat du jour is often a bit of a token soup, I would guess it’s flour mixed with stock and some dried vegetables. It does not taste of much, but it comes free with the plat du jour so I’m not complaining. I just don’t eat it. So far, I’ve been grateful for the canteen standards, especially with the discount, however I have a feeling they do not meet Berlin standards. In the German capital canteens are often open to the public. The best canteens in Berlin are apparently the Nordic Embassy ones (I’m saying this without bias, it’s just what I’ve heard), and I can’t wait to visit them for some of their €5 venison ragout with home-made mash. In any case, attempting to pass the security staff at the EEAS, as a member of the public, would be overkill no matter what they were serving.
As long as the weather allows it, the best option for eating around the Commission buildings in Brussels may be to get a good baguette or sandwich and enjoy the autumn weather in a park. There are sandwich bars spread out both inside and outside the Commission buildings, and they serve nice stuff – the last weekly special in the EEAS was a carpaccio and parmesan sandwich. But since the weather seems to have definitely turned this weekend, I suppose that will be a preserve for the summer stagiaries. Until then, it’s all Plat du jour for me.
I know Quesadillas are technically Mexican, but the whole idea is simply cheese and some other ingredients trapped inside a tortilla to create melted awesomeness. I took this idea really liberally and made quesadillas with goat’s cheese, feta, beetroot and chopped herbs. Yes I am probably as far as I could be from real quesadillas, but it was really good and sometimes you just have to use what’s left in the fridge.
This can hardly be called a recipe but you will need:
- Goat’s cheese (the crumbly kind)
- Feta cheese (blue cheese would be amazing too now that I think of it…)
- Chopped herbs (I had chives, parsley and wild rocket).
- Tortillas (fresh corn ones if you can, it tastes nothing like the Old El Paso/Sainsbury’s/Discovery flour tortillas – sadly I only had that kind this time).
Start by heating up a non-stick frying pan. Throw a tortilla in there (no oil or butter!) and leave it until golden. Turn it around and start adding the cheeses. On top of the cheese add the beetroot and the chopped herbs. Fold the tortilla in two and make sure it is gold on both sides. To serve, I like to cut the quesadillas in triangles and dip them in some kind of salsa/sour cream. Voila, easy, healthy lunch in 10 minutes or less (I am competing with Mr Oliver here!).
After a little break in blogging due to my move to Brussels, I’m breaking my silence with snail soup, aka Caricoles comme à Bruxelles (like everything else, it sounds a lot more appetising in French). My landlady claims this is one of the most common kinds of street foods in Belgium alongside waffles and frites, but this is highly disputed by Miss Salted cod. Either way, my curiosity got the upper hand, and I felt obliged to try a pot. An old lady sells these from a stand in the daily market at Parvis in St Gilles, which happens to be my local square (a market which is really lovely by the way, and also open on Saturdays). You can buy twelve escargots in broth for 4 euros, which isn’t too bad if you just want a little try.
Now, I’m a massive fan of French Escargots de Bourgogne, which tend to be smaller, slightly more tender snails drenched in parsley and garlic butter sauce. The soupy Brussels snails, however, did not quite fall to my taste. The broth was great for a cold afternoon in the ubiquitous Brussels rain: warm and spicy, with loads of celery and white pepper. However, the snails were a bit too large and chewy for me, and did not quite hit the spot for my slightly tender weekend post-beer stomach. Perhaps it was the fault of this particular snail soup stand, but my next culinary street food adventure is probably going to be more safely frites-based.
Now, if you do want to try out the snail soup, or just visit the lovely Saturday food market in St Gilles, you can find it below on the map:
These have been three very busy weeks which saw me travelling to three different countries in too little time and left me with no time to think about food or even cook it. When I finally had one whole day at home I craved some easy, simple food. And with this came the discovery that my new flat comes attached with a neighbourhood herb garden…yes that exists in real life!
This amazing herb patch is full of parsley, rocket, coriander and any other herbs you can imagine. It got me longing for really simple and flavourful dishes, full of chopped herbs and butter. I combined all this with the available ingredients in my kitchen: chicken thighs, avocado, baby potatoes and bread. Out of this was born chicken with warm ‘salad’.
All you need for this dish is:
- Chicken Thighs (also works with other parts of the chicken but I find the thighs tastier)
- Baby potatoes (or any other good salad potato)
- Old bread, torn in small pieces (optional)
- French Mustard
- Avocado, chopped
- A handful of chopped herbs (I had fresh rosemary, fresh thyme and parsley)
- Chopped rocket (the spiciest the better)
- Salt and Pepper
Begin by parboiling the potatoes in salted water. Then combine half of the chopped herbs with the mustard and marinate the chicken in that mixture for an hour or so (you can also do without the marinade if you are in a hurry, just brush the chicken with the mixture and cook straightaway) and then fry it in butter, just to crisp up the skin. Combine the potatoes, the bread and the chicken in an oven proof dish (I use a dutch oven, its quicker), season it, and mix the ingredients well so all the flavours really combine. Cook in the oven until the chicken falls off the bone and then mix everything with the avocado and the rest of the fresh herbs and the chopped rocket. Taste and season if needed. Voila!