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Local Goodness – Belgium

Barrio Cantina – Belgian Food Truck Festival

Barrio CantinaThe past few weeks have been nothing but foodie heaven out here in Antwerp! It may be my last weeks in Belgium but I’m sure getting the best send off ever! Last week I went to Fiesta Europa, a European food market where I bought some pink garlic (recipe following very soon!) and some tasty olives and tapenades. This week however, I went to Barrio Cantina, a Belgian Food Truck Festival. Food Trucks are quite popular in the United States, but in Belgium they haven’t been big business yet, until now. As more and more food trucks are being created, a proper Food Truck festival was just what we needed in Belgium!

It was only the second edition of the festival, with the first one being held back in September 2014 in Ghent. Now, I must admit that starting my own food truck has been something that’s been on my mind the past few months so when I heard that Barrio Cantina was coming to Antwerp, it didn’t take much convincing for me to go and have a look at it. Unfortunately I was only able to go on the last day, so a couple of trucks were already sold out, but I did get to have a look at all the trucks and try a few dishes and drinks. Are you living in Belgium and did you miss it too? No worries! They’ll be in Brugge from 4-7th June, Ghent again from 17-16 July, Antwerp from 3-6th September and Ghent from 10-13th of September. The food trucks might be different though, but I have no doubt that each edition will be a real feast! Here’s a look back on my first food truck experience.

Barrio Cantina

The Food trucks

There were about 50 food trucks present at the festival, going from businesses that only exist as a food truck, but also restaurants that have their own food truck to cater and cook on location. I was expecting a lot of burgers and barbecue foods, but I was quite surprised at the variety of meals and drinks that were being sold. Although the burgers from Ellis Gourmet Burgers smelled ridiculously good, I decided that I was going to try something new, something I hadn’t eaten before and wouldn’t be able to get on a regular day in this city. So first thing I did was go past every single food truck and feast my eyes on their creative trucks, as well as on the foods they were offering.

Going over every single food truck would make this post way too long so I’m just going to pick a few I tried and a few I noticed but didn’t try. After going through every row of food trucks, my friend decided to try Tika Bombay Chicken Curry from Curryup! which smelled really nice, but as I didn’t taste it myself I can’t really judge the flavors. I, on the other hand, was a bit stuck and couldn’t really decide what I was going to eat first but then another friend of mine suggested Jean Sur Mer‘s Fishburger, which wasn’t something I had ever eaten before, so I decided to trust his instincts and pay a visit to this lovely fish food truck. I bet Jean must be tired of hearing me say it by now, but dear god that burger was just pure heaven, even after I returned home I was still craving another bite! I almost went back when I read he had sold out so tough luck for me! Anyway, safe to say I’m going to be spending the next few weeks trying to recreate that perfect crispy batter to wrap some white fish in so I can make some fish burgers at home whenever I have a craving! The  spicy curry yoghurt dressing was the perfect finishing touch for the burger, which was also filled up with pickled cabbage, cucumber, paprika, coriander and red onion all wrapped in a lovely soft bun.

Jean Sur Mer Jean Sur Mer

Next up was some homemade ice tea from Thees’ food truck. I wanted to try the mojito tea, but as it was already sold out, I went for the Glow tea instead, which was flavored with black currant, elderberry, rose hip and hibiscus. And I also tasted a bit of the carrot cake from her truck to go along with the tea. Both were very new to me and I was especially curious to try the carrot cake cause I’ve seen and heard it being mentioned so often but never got to taste it, and… *drumrolls* I loved it! The tea was very refreshing too by the way, highly recommend it!

Thees

Thees

Last but not least I went to try Ons Lucy‘s waffles on a stick. A Belgian retro food truck selling waffles, what can go wrong? Absolutely nothing, well apart from the fact that I ended up with powdered sugar all over me but it was worth it!

Ons Lucy

What I wish I had tried

To be fair, all the food trucks looked good and I wish I could’ve tasted something from each booth but you would’ve had to roll me back to my apartment if I did that. I’m going to try and pay a visit to the next Barrio Cantina as well so I can review the other trucks too but for now, there are a couple of food trucks that I didn’t get to try but wish I had, so hopefully I’ll run into them again sooner or later. Either way, here are they:

Kilimanjaro, the food truck by Jaro & Hanne, a young couple that won the first edition of ‘My Pop-Up Restaurant’ in Belgium. I passed the food truck when I did my first tour but I totally forgot about them when I picked my foods to try. Their food truck looked really great though and they offered a couple of foods from different countries: Swedish Köttbullar and Vietnamese Pork Noodles so it’s a bit of a foodie trip around the world all wrapped in 1 truck.

The Taco Guy: I heard so many great things about this food truck before I got to the festival but as I had already eaten Mexican this week, I decided to try something else. Next time though, no doubt about it!

Joeri Tandoori, Indian street food, cooked live in tandoor, sounds good doesn’t it? I was actually thinking of going to this truck when my friend suggested the fish burger so: sorry guys! But again: if I ever run into this truck again I will not hesitate to give it a try cause the food looked really good!

Jaro en Hanne

Curious

Now I’m very curious to hear about your views on food trucks, so please leave a comment below or on Facebook and just tell me what you think about this concept. Do you live in a city with a lot of food trucks? Would you like there to be more trucks in your country? What kind of food would you like to see in a food truck? Did you go to Barrio Cantina as well and if you did, what did you try?

Can’t wait to hear your comments!

Barrio Cantina

 

Food pairing: Leffe Ruby & a fine selection of cheeses

P1160233_klApart from being able to cook and experiment in my kitchen, one of the other great things about being a foodblogger, is receiving interesting invitations to visit local food companies, workshops by other foodies and last but not least food tastings! I was recently invited to join Belgian Beer and Food on a special beer& cheese tasting event for their Women & Beer issue of their magazine that will go on sale in March. We were invited to join Belgian cheese master Michel Van Tricht in his cheese ageing facility in Berchem, Antwerp, where he presented us with a selection of 4 cheeses to go along with our drinks. Their choice of beer for the night: Leffe Ruby. Continue Reading…

Behind the scenes at Vette & Verhaart’s Qualimer mussel and oyster firm in the Netherlands

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On december 11th I was invited to join Carrefour on a trip to Yerseke, Zealand (the Netherlands) for a behind the scenes tour in a mussel and oyster firm.We were invited on a tour at Vette & Verhaart’s firm who sell their food under the Qualimer label, which you might have seen in stores before. I happily accepted their invitation and I was supercurious to find out more about how mussels are cultivated, harvested and prepared to be send to stores and I was so surprised to find out the amount of work that this process takes! It was an absolutely fantastic day and I’m very excited I get to share my experience with you all today. I feel like it’s really important to find out where your food comes from, cause it will tell you alot about how healthy and sustainable the process is and if your food is of good quality or not. Hope you’ll find this behind the scenes as interesting as I did! On top of it all, we got to enjoy a wonderful lunch of fresh oysters and mussels, simply delicious! Thanks again to Jan-Willem Verhaart, Carrefour, the captain and the chef for inviting me along!

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Vette & Verhaart

Jan-Willem Verhaart

Jan-Willem Verhaart proudly shows of the Qualimer mussels

Vette & Verhaart is a family firm in the true sense of the word. Jan Vette founded his mussel and oyster business at the end of the 19th century. It is now more than a hundred years ago that the company was founded (they once even had the Russian tsar as an oyster consumer), making them the oldest mussel and oyster company in Yerseke, Zealand, the Netherlands. Today, the fourth generation of the Vette family works in the company and we actually got a tour from one of the owners, Jan-Willem Vette. What makes this company interesting is the fact that they do everything themselves, from cultivating the mussels and oysters to transporting them and everything else in between. They don’t import any mussels from other countries or include other companies in the process so you’ll always be absolutely sure where your mussels come from and in what conditions they were cultivated.

From mussel seed to cultivation plot & wet warehouses

Now where does it all begin? It all starts with the harvesting of mussel seeds (teeny tiny mussels of about 1cm in size), which they do twice a year. Those seeds are then transferred to cultivation plots or beds, where they’ll stay for around 2,5 years to develop into market-size mussels of about 5-6cm. During those years they are sometimes moved to other beds where there’s an optimum supply of food and they’ll have the space to grow but also to remove predators, such as starfish and crabs. Although they are sometimes moved, they will always stay in their farms in the Wadden Sea and in the Eastern Scheldt, two areas with the healthiest water conditions in Europe. Mussels truly are a product of the sea and it also simply depends on the weather conditions and the sea whether or not we’ll have big mussels this year or they’ll remain small.

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Mussel Auction

The mussel auction at Yerseke

As soon as the mussels are ready for consumption they are harvested. When they are large enough, the mussels are dredged up and taken to the mussel auction in Yerseke by the mussel growers. Here, a random sample is taken by employees from the Dutch Fish Products Board, Productschap Vis. The result of the sampling is announced before the auction, and then the mussel traders can bid for the batches on offer. After the auction, the mussels are immediately transferred to the mussel beds, also called ‘wet warehouses’. We got to go along on a trip to these wet warehouses to experience it for ourselves!

The boat that we were on was transporting 80 000kg of mussels and what happens is as follows: the boat will sail onto the designated plot and will then tilt left and right(safe to say it makes you pretty nauseous) while sailing in the same pattern the entire time (in the shape of an 8). On each side of the boat there are valves through which the mussels will be brought away back into the water. By simply opening these valves you’ll get an overpressure of water which will wash the mussels back into the sea and by sailing in this specific pattern, the mussels will stay together and they will be sown evenly over the beds. During this process you’ll also see loads of seagulls flying along the boat, picking up mussels that stay afloat. The mussels stay in these wet warehouses for between 1,5 and 2 weeks. During this period, the mussels regain their strength and clean themselves. They are then in optimum condition, free from grit and suitable for further processing.

Wet warehouse

80 000kg of mussels being transported to the wet warehouses

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Purging, cleaning, inspecting and grading

After those 1,5/2 weeks Vette & Verhaart transport the mussels from their beds by boat back to their cleaning plant. Upon arrival the mussels are immediately put into special tanks where they are rinsed with fresh water from the Eastern Scheldt for around 12 hours. By doing so, any sand and grit from the mussels is removed. The mussels then go through the de-bearding machine which separates any mussels still attached to each other. Now that the mussels have been cleaned and separated, they move on to the next stage, where they are visually inspected. Any mussels that are below standard (damaged for instance) and anything that doesn’t belong (crabs, starfish, ..) is removed manually.

Mussel rinsing

The mussels are rinsed as soon as they arrive on shore

Employees

Mussels that are below standard and anything that doesn’t belong is removed manually

They then move on to the sorting machine that automatically separates or grades the mussels into different sizes, which is also clearly stated on each packaging so that you know exactly what you’re buying. In the Zeeland mussel sector, they work with a standard grading system in which the mussels are graded according to the number of mussels that goes in a kilo. These grades are as follows:

Type
Extra
Super
Imperial
Jumbo
Goud brand
Mussels per kilo
>70
60-70
53-60
45-53
38-45


Cooling and packaging

Now that all the mussels have been sorted into different sizes, they are once again put back into the water (cooled and purified water from the Eastern Scheldt), this time according to their size. The mussels remain in the pools until the customer’s order arrives (packed to order). To guarantee the best condition of these mussels, they are transported to the packaging department by a first in first out system. Samples are also taken to determine the amount of meat in the mussels.

Mussels are stored in pools according to their sizes before being packed

Mussels are stored in pools according to their sizes before being packed

Samples

Samples are analyzed

We’re getting close to the end of our mussel journey now, as there’s only one stage left: packaging! Vette & Verhaart actually have a patented packaging system and they are the only ones allowed to sell their unique packaging where the mussels are packed in pure, salt water and under vacuum in leak-free trays (well apart from the ones that are packed in the traditional jute sacks of course). This way the mussels retain their freshness and taste en route to the us all! Vette & Verhaart is also in charge of the logistics and since they own every other part of the process as well, they can assure that the mussels will reach consumers within 24hours so they are insanely fresh!

So there you have it, we’ve reached the end of the long journey from mussel seed to our plates. One last fun fact though: did you know that Belgians are the biggest Dutch mussels consumers? About 60% of all mussels are consumed in Belgium, with an average of 30 MILLION kilos of Dutch mussels each year, which is about 3kg per every single Belgian person. And I have some great news for Belgian mussel lovers cause Carrefour has added Vette & Verhaart to their Quality Chain Label, which guarantees mussels with at least 30% meat, who are caught in specific fishing areas (through sustainable fishing) who are cultivated & harvested in Zealand (nothing will be imported) and who are little taste bombs of very high quality. But no matter where you live, always look for the MSC ecolabel on fish, mussels or anything else caught in the sea as it will guarantee sustainable seafood!

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