Frites. That’s the first thing you have to know about Brussels and its gastronomy. The first few weeks here are spent looking for the best Fritkot in town. Are they better in Flagey or Place Jourdan? Or do the ones by Bourse hit the spot? No matter which you like best, everyone goes through a frites phase.
But as time passes by and you've settled on your favourite friterie, the novelty begins to wear off. The greasy tastiness that once fulfilled you becomes a revulsion against all things fried. Where before you went out every night with your new "best friends" and hit the frites after a few beers, now you find yourself skipping dinner altogether.
You get out of work, tired and hungry but already late for a sub-committee meeting of some kind (think wine-tasting, salsa or language societies for those of you not familiar with EU-speak). After some drinks there (sub-committees without drinks tend to be a waste of time) you decide to check on your friends gathered in yet another bar somewhere along Rue Archimède. There is a distinct feeling that tipsiness crept up on you a few pints ago and you don't even notice that dinnertime has come and gone. As you leave the pub full of beer and consider heading home you don’t realise your hunger. A vague frites-shaped thought begins to form -at the back of your mind but is immediately dismissed in favour of bed. Voilà beer dinner!
After one or two weeks, you begin to notice some interesting changes in your body, most remarkably some weight loss. This is the natural consequence of limiting your daily meals to that mysterious and fearsome repast known as the plat-du-jour. After a few drinks usually follow a number of calorie-burning activities which have kept you in relative shape. Perhaps a Duvel with a side of Maes and a Jupiler dessert make for a svelte physique after all?
But wasn’t beer supposed to be fattening? What happened to the beer belly? Analysing the nutritional values of Maes, Leffe and Duvel, they have, according to the respective producers, 147, 195 and 225 calories apiece. If, by some miracle, you are capable of downing four Duvels every evening over the course of a few hours it would mean that you have consumed around 900 calorie each time, which is not far off your recommended daily calorie intake. The difference increases drastically when you compare it-or rather, add it- to the 1500 calories of a Large Menu at McDonald’s, which increasingly appears the only option as the night wears on.
These may seem like good times- everyone likes getting a bit thinner- but as time passes by, beer starts to look about as desirable as that oily portion of fries. Suddenly you begin craving some salad and freshly squeezed orange juice like your life depends on it. Hangover becomes your natural state in the morning and your supervisor looks at you with disgust, wondering why he ever picked you out of so many applicants. Nights seem to get longer and days are reduced to a continuous blur of documents, briefings and meetings you can no longer differentiate between.
It is time to stop.
So what's the next step? Will we ever find a balance between social activities and healthy eating habits, or will we be swallowed by the abundance of fast food offers in Brussels? It is safe to say that when you manage to reconcile the beer dinner with your professional life it is a powerful combination that should be used wisely and only for a short amount of time. So enjoy it, but don't overuse it.
Bernardo Vidal is a trainee at the European External Action Service’s Brussels Headquarters.