Me & Mamy Louise

On our last visit to Brussels nearly two years ago, Uncle David introduced us to a very special lady in his life: Mamy Louise.

A beloved neighborhood restaurant in the suburb of Uccle where he lives, Mamy Louise is where he and Michele would often end up when they aren’t in the mood to cook at home (which, I understand, is pretty often). My sister, Marlon and I all fell in love at first bite, particularly with their scrumptious gaufre de Bruxelles, otherwise known as the Belgian waffle, with chantilly cream and white chocolate.

Mamy’s gaufre was one of the first things that popped into my mind and got me salivating when I started planning this weekend trip to Brussels. So it was totally awesome that we headed there for Sunday lunch.

We began the three hour-long lunch with their signature aperitif, champagne with some peach liqueur, mint leaves and… an ice cube. Unusual to have ice with champagne, but it works really well here.

To start, Marlon and Uncle David both ordered the poached egg with bone marrow, which I’m sure my sister would have loved.

I was torn between the winning mushroom toast, which I’ve had before, and this ravioli with goose liver. As you can see, goose liver won.

For mains, I had a braised rabbit with tagliatelle in a sweet onion and wholegrain mustard sauce. Kill me now. (Said the rabbit.)

And of course, I couldn’t leave without sinking my teeth into the famous gaufre de Bruxelles. Crispy, warm, airy and soft, with hits of extra sweetness from the white chocolate nuggets mixed into the chantilly cream, this is a Belgian waffle that makes any other Belgian waffle (Starbucks, I’m mostly talking to you) about as light and tasty as a toilet seat cover.

Marlon’s stuffed smile and glazed-over eyes? I had them too. Somehow we managed to battle the food coma long enough to pack ourselves off to the train station, board to our train, and make it back to Amsterdam without passing out or giving away our belongings to enterprising thieves. And I spent Monday with a very upset stomach. I guess it didn’t want to go back to Amsterdam after a weekend like this.
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Aux Armes de Bruxelles

I am borderline obsessive-compulsive when it comes to creating travel itineraries. To that rule, Brussels is the exception. Literally, I just show up and go along for the ride. With a hyper-organized, large-living gourmand behind the wheel.

Marlon, who had his first Brussels experience, Uncle David style, a year and a half ago, said it was like being a kid again and letting your parents be in charge of everything. Which you kind of miss after you start working. And which is really nice.
I’ve never given much thought to things I wanted to do or see in Brussels; there was one time when I decided I wanted see what the vintage shopping scene was like and that was about it. I’ve never set foot in a museum. To me, Brussels is all about family and food. Like a vulture, I just swoop in and eat. And eat and eat and eat.
Saturday night dinner was in the centre of town, a few streets from the Grand Place. Aux Armes de Bruxelles is right across the landmark Chez Leon, tourists’ go-to restaurant for Brussels’ famous mussels (“more well known, but not as good,” said our gourmand.)

The one thing that I forgot to do before leaving for Brussels was… go on a fast. That’s because meals with Uncle David are always, always decadent three-hour affairs. Three courses, plus aperitif and at least one bottle of wine. And God forbid you skip one of those courses, even when you feel stuffed to bursting. That’s just the way it is. It’s tough, but someone’s got to do it.
For starters we shared not one, but two plates of the raw mussels with lemon and mustard sauce. I must eat more raw seafood in three days in Brussels than I do in a full year anywhere else, sushi and all.

Marlon had the veal brain with tartare sauce, which certainly fulfills his restaurant criteria of “something I can’t or won’t make at home.” It was surprisingly good, but too rich for me.

I had raw oysters, yum. I get a kick out of squeezing lemon onto the oysters and watching them squirm. Yes, they’re still alive. So far Brussels is the only place where I can get live raw oysters.

For mains, I had escargot in puff pastry. “Snails as an entree?” asked Uncle David with a raised eyebrow. There are strict protocols, you know.

Marlon stayed true to his carnivorous roots and ordered the rack of lamb.

And for dessert, we had crepes flambees with vanilla ice cream. Mmmm.

We ended the night with a stroll around the Grand Place, which was gorgeous as always, especially with the lights shining off the wet cobblestones. I must have seen it half a dozen times, but it never gets old. 

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Inggitera goes to the fair

Full disclosure: inggitera ako
After hearing so much from friends and blogosphere about Art in the Park, to which I’ve never been, I went full-blown green-eyed monster last week and looked up the dates for the next Affordable Art Fair. I missed the one in Singapore last year because we were in Bantayan. The one in Amsterdam is scheduled for October, but lo and behold! The one in Brussels was just a week and a train ride away! 
I have to say I could get used to getting to another European country with zero hassle. I booked Benelux return train tickets online for less than a hundred Euros for both Marlon and myself (if we had booked a few days earlier, it would have been just €35! Cheaper than dinner out!). Then I emailed Uncle David to let him know we were coming. We just hopped on the train early Saturday morning, and two hours and forty five minutes later, we were in Brussels. The conductor didn’t even check our tickets!

Uncle David and Michele picked us up from Brussels Centraal at 11 a.m. and brought us straight to Tour & Taxis on the Avenue du Port.

Tour & Taxis was formerly the Customs warehouse. When the European Union abolished internal customs duties (can you imagine?!?!? No customs?!?!?! What an alien concept to us Asians), it was converted into a retail, dining and exhibition space. Uncle David said that the last time he had been to Tour & Taxis was when it was still used as the Customs building; it was the 70s and he came to pay customs duties on his car, a Buick that he had imported from France.

The whole experience was amazing. Nakakalula sa dami ng art. There were galleries from all over Europe, plus some from the US, Singapore and China. But you can bet your pwet that I didn’t come all the way to Europe to buy a painting from Asia.

We lost Michele and Uncle David (who we later learned made a beeline for the restaurant) and ended up wandering on our own. Marlon was attracted to sculpture and I was attracted to collage, but in general we were both really attracted to things that were way beyond our budget. (Isn’t that always the way?) In the end, we fell in love with not just one, but two works that were priced just right for us.

While doing my research on the artists and galleries exhibiting at the fair (’cause I’m a geek like dat), I had already spotted the works of Belgian figurative artist Inge Dompas. A strong theme of motion, restlessness and transit runs through her work and that really resonated with me.

Everyone and everything is restless and constantly on the go. People walk past each other, literally and figuratively. Dompas’ recurring topic is the mass being in motion, and the scarce and precious moments of genuine contact and intimacy in the turbulent sea of people. She says: “The road you traveled is more important than the goal itself. The tour supports the story of who you are, it is you.”

When I saw Inge’s works up close, they didn’t disappoint. And because of the experiences we’ve shared, from our endless craving for travel to the sense of restlessness in Singapore that led us here, Marlon totally got it. We were both struck by this large work of hers called “On the way home.” It seemed to sum up our life over the last few months: always on the move, rushing to a place unknown and unseen, pulled onward by the promise of home.

Naturally, it was leagues out of our budget. Let me tell you though, we seriously considered it for a very long moment… a moment that ended when I reminded Marlon that the price was nearly twice our monthly rent. I surprise myself sometimes.
But wait, there’s a happy ending! We were able to walk away with one of Inge’s works… the smallest one! This one is called “Running on Empty.” 

Marlon and I agreed that we have felt these moments all too often. On the commute home from work sometimes, you stop seeing people’s faces. Everything fades into a blur when you just want to get home. Or could it be that these people are not commuting home, but to work in the morning? Because there are mornings when you feel like you’re running on empty, too.
We had enough left over to go back for one of the few artists that had first caught our attention: Latvia-based Russian artist Viktor Sheleg and his series of ink and acrylic drawings. 

Marlon liked how the artist brought out the tension of her pose (legs crossed, body twisted) with such concise strokes. I was drawn to the dynamic energy and graphic quality of his work. Black and white with a pop of bright orange—a definite yes. This is a woman with attitude
An info sheet from the Le Siants Gallery in Prague tells us the artist’s work can be found in the collections of Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Jack Nicholson and (paging Drei!) Montserrat Caballe. A princess, the Joker and a diva? Sounds like we’re in good company.
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