Living Food

Brussels Bits – You are what you eat and the Organic Obsession

I have a thing for lunches. I rarely go out for dinner, despite the amazing quality of food you can easily find in Brussels but I love taking the time for lunch. It’s my personal moment of the day, when I can keep up with good friends and have an actual conversation, away from the everyday routine and obligations. It happens sometimes that I am really craving a restaurant meal yet none is available to join me. In that case, I’d rather go alone than stay home.

The advantage of being alone in a restaurant is that you can listen to everybody else’s conversations. And sometimes they’re really good. The other day I was sitting next to a woman in her 40s, having lunch with a lady well into her 70s (who wasn’t her mother). The first one was telling all about her new boyfriend. She said he was nice and kind and a lot of fun. But – she added – “you won’t believe what he eats”. “What?”, asked curious the older lady. “Roasted meat – any kind – with loads of potatoes. Greasy, buttery, oven-cooked potatoes”, the younger woman explained with honest concern. “And you know – she continued – he eats dessert all the time. Chocolate mousse, Flans, cakes…he can’t get enough”. “Does he drink, too?” “All the time! He loves red wine, he can have a whole bottle for dinner!”. “Oh, dear. Does he exercise?“. “Not really – the lady-in-love sighed – but last week he came along for a walk in the woods. He’s always in a good mood, he was exhausted but didn’t show it”.

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Jambonneau – a staple of Belgian tradition. (a sort of roasted ham surrounded by sauerkraut)

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Chicken Waterzooi, another Belgian classic: a stew of meat, fish or vegetables boiled in a cream and butter sauce

They went on dissecting the nice fellow’s bad habits and how, nowadays, is imperative to be educated and informed about food and exercise and you can’t simply let yourself go as 50 years ago.

Yes, I know, it sounds Los Angeles. But it’s one of the thousands faces of Brussels. Next to the typical dishes – which are quite heavy as in classic Northern European tradition – there is a very well developed avant-garde of people and restaurants dedicated to raw foods, superfoods and everything the modern individual should feed himself with, according to trendy magazines.

I learnt in Brussels the concept of organic, since a decade ago it was almost unknown in Italy. There was an organic shop I used to go to because I liked the smell and they had a glorious chocolate pudding but it wasn’t a mania and I am not even sure it is now. Up North, organic is a mantra. There’re dedicated markets, dozens of highly competitive small companies providing home delivery of organic fruit and veggies baskets every week and the city pullulates with nutritionists, schools of thoughts and seminars about the correct nutrition for a healthy life.

I haven’t figured out yet if people are so obsessed about what they eat because before this trend they used to eat pretty badly or if they’re simply very sensitive to the subject but I’ve been having a lot of fun in this respect. I jump happily from bingeing to detoxing and here’s detox paradise. Growing up (or ageing, depends on how you see it) I started to look for a more balanced eating style and last year I started taking classes from the Belgian guru of Living Food (which comprehends raw and slow cooked food plus generally a ban on refined carbs and dairy), Pol Grégoire. It’s been an epiphany for sure. A self-taught cook since a very young age, Grégoire had a traditional restaurant for years before an illness prompted him to turn around his life and job and look for an alternative, healthier form of food. He is a fascinating person and a talented chef and although I can’t fully embrace the utter purity of his eating style, I enjoy very much his lessons.

Basically, according to his method, you should have breakfast on a mousse of soaked nuts and dried fruits, a light lunch composed of salads, sprouted grains and veggies and a more consistent dinner made of slow cooked fish, meat or sprouted cereals with steamed greens. One year and a half later, the only “clean” meal I am able to do is breakfast (not 100% of the time, though) and sometimes lunch. I hope with time I will be able to convert myself to this delicious, light and impossibly healthy way of eating but in the meanwhile I still like giving in to the occasional burger or pizza. I guess anyone has his weaknesses.

I will leave you with a raw breakfast recipe we did yesterday during my class. It’s super yummy and takes less than 10 minutes to make:

Avocado and pineapple mousse with diced oranges and dried apples

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(serves 2):

2 ripe avocados

1 cup of dried pineapple slices

1/2 vanilla stick

2 ripe oranges

1 cup of dried apple slices

Grind the dried apple slices till they resemble a crumble. Soak the pineapple slices for a night then blend them with the avocados (add the pineapple’s water if necessary) and the vanilla stick. Serve the mousse in cups and top with peeled, diced oranges and and a handful of the apple crumble.

What about the food culture and obsessions of the country you’re living in?