This is the fourth post about my Brussels trips. The first part can be found here.
The aforementioned map supplied by the hostel recommended a car park as a notable tourist destination. You’ve got to love the Belgians. They really know how to sell a city:
Tourist: “So, tell me, what great highlights does Brussels have to offer?”
Local: “Well, there’s a multi-storey car park you simply have to see!”
Obviously a car park isn’t your average tourist destination (unless you’re really into car parks, I suppose). But the point wasn’t to see the car park. It was what you could see from the car park. The top level offered a great panorama of the city. So, while in the area, I thought I’d take a look. It was true; there was plenty to see, including some South Park chimneys:
On the other side was this view:
“Hmm…Christmas market,” I thought to myself. I was feeling a little peckish, and it seemed an ideal place to get some food (and gluewhein). So, after grabbing some photos, I headed down to take a look.
It was pretty busy. Upon entering I joined a mass of slow-moving people as they edged their way around the market. There were lots of stalls selling food and trinkets, as well as fairground rides. I even spotted a stall selling escargot. I’d never tried them before but wasn’t sure. I was hungry, but I wanted something a bit more filling. I was hoping I’d be able to find something unusual, perhaps some traditional Belgian faire that I’d never heard of. I slowly crawled my way around the market (while routinely topping up on gluewheins). I couldn’t find anything that took my fancy. All the interesting looking foods didn’t look very filling and all the filling foods didn’t look very interesting. Eventually, after completing a full circuit of the market at a snail’s pace, I found myself back where I’d started: at the escargot stall.
I stopped and watched as the squidgy bits of flesh were served up to the enthusiastic patrons. I do like to try new foods, and I was unlikely to get many such opportunities. Also, I did want to try something a bit unusual after all. After a minute or so of weighing up my options I shrugged and decided to have my first try of snails.
They were served in a cardboard cup along with some kind of vegetable stock. I don’t think I looked as keen as the patrons I’d previously been watching as I, with trepidation, handed over my Euros. While walking away I began prodding the unappetising-looking lumps of flesh with my wooden fork. The enthusiasm with which they bobbed back up to the stock’s surface stood in stark contrast with my enthusiasm for their return. I was unsure as to whether I’d made the right choice. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I speared one of the bobbing lumps with my fork, lifted it from its vegetable bath and eyed it suspiciously for a moment before placing it in my mouth. I then began to chew. And chew. And chew.
It was okay, but it was also exactly what I expected. The texture was like squishy, half-cooked fusilli pasta and it tasted a bit sea-foodie. It was also quite spongy. It took a fair amount of chewing before it was ready for swallowing. The stock, meanwhile, was nice. It was quite spicy. I speared another snail.
I was clearly a bit of a snail eating novice. After resolutely chewing my way through about half a dozen of them I began to suspect that you’re not supposed to eat the sole of the foot. It was a hard, crunchy, wafer-like material. I stopped and prodded the floating balls of flesh again while wondering what to do with the foot. Looking around for inspiration I spotted a nearby guy casually tearing off the foot with his teeth and discarding it on the floor. I then looked around and realised I was surrounded by hundreds of discarded snail’s feet. Clearly, I was right. You’re not supposed to eat that bit. I changed tactic and began tearing off the feet. To be honest, it didn’t produce any great improvements in their palatability.
In case you haven’t sensed already, I didn’t really like them. But I’d committed myself, so I was determined to finish them anyway. The portion initially struck me as a little miserly. But after spending quite some time doggedly chewing my way through the rubbery flesh I conceded that the portion was in fact ample. It actually took me quite a while to get through them all. Despite this, they weren’t very filling. By the time I’d finally finished I was glad for having given them a try, but they hadn’t satisfied my hunger. So I gave up on the exotic food and went for the filling food – I bought a burger. I then grabbed a gluwhein refill and wandered off to explore more of the city. Oh well, at least I’d given them a try. He who dares Rodney…