My family and I sat on the top floor of a restaurant called The Fat Belgium. Our table was next to a window and we could see Toronto street life outside, not much different than the street life in New York or Chicago.
Across the street was the American chain restaurant Hooters. I took a sip of my dark Belgium beer as I watched patrons at Hooters suck down their beers.
“They’ve got good wings,” my husband said.
I shrugged. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been to a Hooters restaurant. But I was once in Brussels. I was six and my parents and I stayed in a 17th century hotel and we dined in a restaurant where I ate mussels for the first time. From then on I loved telling people that I ate mussels in Brussels.
Mussels and fries are a typical Belgium dish. At The Fat Belgium we ordered two types of mussels: mussels steamed in Dekoninck draft, toasted walnuts, leeks, Gruyere cheese, butter, scallions and tomato concassees, and mussels steamed in a white wine butter sauce with scallions, tomato concassees, sambuca and butter. Our meal was simply scrumptious. For dessert we ordered Belgium waffles.
I mentioned to my kids that Belgium shares borders with France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. They have three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. I also told them that Belgium has a very high quality of life, one of the highest in the world. This is due to many things including excellent healthcare, housing, education, a low poverty rate, and good food.
When I was six I learned to love mussels in Brussels. Now I was watching my own children enjoy Belgium cuisine. I hoped this night would be memorable for them. We were not in Europe and we were staring at people across the street from us who were eating burgers served by big-busted women. And yet, while I’m sure the Hooters patrons were enjoying their food too, we were clearly in a different world.