Waffling around

I’ve been writing a weekly column for my university newspaper, The California Aggie, on life as a study abroad student. Here’s a bulk from my most recent column, which I felt could benefit from illustrations.

Without further ado:

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A friend e-mailed me last week and complimented my column. Sort of. He said my environmental one bored him. He wanted to hear about three things: the European Union, soccer and waffles.

Yes, it’s true; Brussels is basically the capital of the European Union. Brussels hosts the European Commission, Council of the European Union, European Council and the second seat of the European Parliament.

But I don’t really care about any of that. I’ve woken up and marched through the sea of EU employees, through the EU quarter, and I’ve even had a few beers among them. While the international politics thing definitely has a presence here, it doesn’t factor into my daily life.

Soccer is also not much of a factor. I’ve been to a match, and yes, it was a joyous occasion, even in the rain. Everyone was singing and drinking and waving flags. But the truth is, the Belgian team kind of sucks. I rarely hear anyone in Brussels talking about soccer for this reason – field hockey and tennis are far hotter topics.

That leaves waffles.

Out of the EU, soccer and waffles, there is no contest as to which is dominating my study abroad experience. It’s waffles.

Waffles are very popular in Brussels. In the touristy spots, you’ll see long lines for waffles buried under whipped cream, chocolate and strawberries. Downtown, you’ll see a businesswoman briskly walking to work with waffle in hand. In the super markets, you’ll find prepackaged assortments of waffles and waffle cookies.

But the image you have in your head of a Belgian waffle is probably wrong, because the term “Belgian waffle” only exists in America.

In Belgium, apart from the prepackaged cookie varieties, there are two types of waffles – the Brussels and the Liège.

The Brussels waffle is the most similar to the airy, crisp waffle you are picturing. They are perfectly rectangular, with deep pockets for catching powdered sugar. They’re light, thick and should be eaten sitting down. Eating them with more than just powdered sugar or butter – in other words, the mountains of cream, chocolate and fruit that make them taste so good – is unauthentic.

But the Liège is the waffle that has my heart. It’s the waffle that has everyone’s hearts, actually. It’s the waffle that makes travelers go home and say, “I LOVE BELGIAN WAFFLES.”

Imagine a waffle-cookie hybrid. It’s doughy, dense and chewy. It’s served warm. Its batter holds pearl sugar crystals, which then caramelize when baked, and can satisfy any sweet tooth. It’s perfect au natural. It can be made even more perfect with a healthy spread of melted Belgian chocolate. Or a slight dollop of whipped cream. Or vanilla-scented.

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If you find yourself in the city center with a grave hankering for caramelized butter, head to the nearest Belgaufra for an easy fix. The brown and yellow signs can be seen all over the place, and the waffles — 1,80 euro for plain, 2,20 for chocolate coated or with whipped cream — are a good value. For a fancier treat, find the lone Vitalgaufre on Rue Neuve. The waffles are slightly more expensive — 2 euro for plain and 2,50 euro for specialties — but they’re even chewier and stickier. If you like eating colors, opt for the bright pink raspberry or green-tinted apple, but the simple chocolate is truly magnificent — sticks of Belgian chocolate are inserted into the waffle right before you. Genius.

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