Belgian Cream

I have been told that people with cardiac issues should not consume cream. I have heard that this is true the world over, except if you’re away from home on vacation, and then the rule (like some others) does not apply.

The enticements are too great, the sights so overcoming, the food and drink so memorable that one actually takes pictures of them. I found this to be the case when, two years ago, my husband and I spent a week in Belgium; my first time there. We were to discover two different kinds of cream that would tempt us to abandon our good intentions.

Brent had a friend, Tim, from graduate school living in Brussels and working for the European Parliament, and I had desperately wanted to see Bruges after watching the movie “In Bruges.” Together with Brent’s sister Debbie, and her husband Dean, we arrived in Brussels on a rainy September evening, met up with Tim immediately, and set out walking from our hotel. Destination? A tiny pub down an alleyway near the Grand Place that sold a Trappist beer named Westvleteren.

It was a magical foray. We were staying only blocks from The Grand Place, Brussels’ beautiful town square that serves as that city’s most stunning architectural feature. When we turned into the large market square with the rain glistening on the cobblestones and saw the stunning Town Hall on the south side, all awash in bright yellow lights and flanked by the magical guild halls, my breath caught in my throat and I simply had to stop to take it all in.

Store fronts, restaurants, pubs, eateries, and chocolatiers framing the lively night square all vied for our attention, and Debbie and I spent a good half-an- hour making our first selections in an exquisite Belgian chocolate shop while the men waited outside in the drizzle catching up with their news, knowing their reward would be forthcoming.

We found the tiny pub with its charming stained glass windows down a small alley that Tim’s keen eye was primed for; the rest of us would have missed the entrance. Tim introduced us that night to Trappist beer, and we all ordered different glasses and shared them around to taste. Each was uniquely delicious, each different in colour and body, all creamy and very satisfying.

For several centuries, Trappist beer with its relatively low alcoholic content was an accepted alternative to unsanitary drinking water. To qualify as Trappist, we learned, this beer can only be made in Trappist monasteries, the monks must participate in its production, and they must donate their profits to the upkeep of the monastery.

Since monks do not particularly care to make profit beyond the upkeep of their monastery, it is rare that they bother to produce in bulk or ship abroad. There are only six monasteries in Belgium that produce beer in this way for the locals and, that night, at the first of many pubs with which Tim acquainted, us. We were introduced to famous Belgian names like Chimay, Orval, Westmalle and, of course, Westvleteren.

But the cream on the top of these beers was not the only cream to tempt the palate in Brussels. The famous Belgian waffle, we learned, was a favourite among the locals, and not only to them, for tables of these exquisite little works of art dotted the tourist lanes, set out in front of cafes and eateries, samples of the real temptations inside.

North American tourists who have been prone to put waffles in a toaster will know the difference between night and day once they taste this delicacy that is so commonplace throughout Brussels. Of course it would be sacrilegious to scrape the cream from a Belgian waffle so, with an apology to my heart, I ate just one.

And I think it must be a sign of respect to fine food that one takes its picture before devouring it. I paid my respects in this way, so that I would remember the day I can say I ate of a true Belgian waffle, drizzled in real Belgian chocolate, and eaten in Belgium.

And to remind myself, I thought wickedly, that contrary to my cardiologist’s advice, I sampled in moderation the various creams of Belgium, and lived to tell of it. But it was on holidays, I have rationalized, so the rules didn’t quite apply.

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