food adjustments in Belgium

February 18, 2014 · 7 comments

in Belgium

After nearly four months in Ghent, I think I have a pretty good idea for what’s available food-wise and what, sadly, is not. It’s not quite the food-wonderland I imagined it would be back when we first found out we would move here, but there are lots of things for our bellies to be happy about.

First, some positives. Good cheese, good chocolate, good bread, good frites. The grocery store I go to most regularly always seems to have kale, which is such a beautiful thing. There are usually avocados, but since it’s winter, they’re terrible right now. I can deal with that.

Some other things I’ve noticed that will take some getting used to are the types of produce available. There are a lot more leeks and witloof here compared to the US or Bishkek. In the US, a “witloof” is called a Belgian endive, not just “endive” like I had previously thought. It turns out that an endive is an entirely different leafy, green thing. I had cooked with leeks before in the US, but I get the impression that they’re used a lot more commonly here (or in Europe in general). Is there some wacky obsession with potatoes that I was previously unaware of? Bags of potatoes (of which there are many many varieties) are clearly labeled with their appropriate usage and defining characteristics. I usually just grab any bag within reach.

There is always rabbit for sale at my grocery store, which has been fun experimenting with. This recipe is quite delicious.

The availability of peppers is woeful, especially compared to the Western US (where Farrell is from). Farrell’s mom, when she visited over the holiday, said that would be a deal-breaker if she couldn’t cook her usual, pepper and chile-filled dishes. My usual supermarket carries… bell peppers. Luckily, we found acceptable chilies at a Turkish market for Farrell to make his Coloradan green chile with (similar to the green chile stew mentioned here).

There is an Indian grocery store so close to my house and it is enabling a lot of obscure spice purchases. There were so few sources for Indian food in Bishkek (compared to Chinese food) and only a few restaurants serving it, so having this grocery store here is great. Now I finally have a chance to stock up on ingredients and try cooking Indian food for myself. Even back when I lived in DC, I would eat Indian and Pakistani food often, but there were so many restaurants around that I never needed to cook it.

Of course, being in a new place, even just being in a new kitchen, means I have to adjust all of my usual dishes. Gone are the mini-stores selling basic food items peppered short distances from my house, like they are in Bishkek, so grocery shopping is a bit more difficult (especially hauling around Darwin, who’s no longer a little nugget that I can strap to my chest). Now I even have to (ugh) plan our meals in advance. It feels so mom-ish. And our work and home situation is different now; with Farrell’s long commute it means that I am cooking about 90% of our meals, which is a change from Bishkek where he did the majority of the cooking.

The peanut butter selection is dismal, but at least it exists. Darwin will not grow up without PB&Js.

I’m going through a breakfast slump and this article reminded me of Vegemite! I’ve seen Marmite available (I am firmly in the Anti-Marmite, no-they’re-not-the-same-at-all Camp) but I no longer have a bunch of Aussie friends constantly going back and forth to their homeland who can bring me back a jug of that salty, yeasty goodness.

Frites have become a weekly treat for our household. While we usually prefer mayo and Americaine sauce (which has nothing to do with America, from what I understand) with our frites, Farrell was once convinced to try Samurai sauce as well (pictured above).

Other than (all of) that, the offerings seem to be pretty typical compared to any normal US grocery store in the suburbs (not my beloved Whole Foods, nothing compares to that). Some baking ingredients have been a bit tough to find, and it seems like nothing comes in the mega-packaging I’m used to in the US. Baking powder in most of the world comes in little 10 gram packets, which I can’t easily scoop my gigantic tablespoon into to make fluffy American-style pancakes. Visitors are always welcome to bring me a canister of Clabber Girl.

All in all, we’re eating quite well here in Ghent. The crazy amounts of cold, wet weather has at least had one positive outcome on Flemish culture; delicious, comforting stoofvlees.

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