Wallonia: More than moules cuisine
Saturday 05 May 2007
Chips and chocolate: an unholy duo perhaps, but across Wallonia you can be guaranteed to sense a certain swelling of local pride over the making of what have almost become Belgium's national emblems. Any small town worth its salt, or indeed sugar, has a chocolate maker, to say nothing of a good two or three friteries in which the humble chip is elevated to crisp sophistication. But of course this diverse region has much else on offer.
Head to the Ardennes for some of Europe's tastiest salamis and hams, made, of course, according to time-honoured recipes. The town of Bastogne, famous as a strategic point for sieges (most recently the Battle of the Bulge in 1944), produces well renowned smoked meats and patés. It also offers a good range of cheeses, one of the more intriguing on the palate being flavoured with the local tipple maitrank, which is made with asperule (sweet woodruff, or Queen of the Woods) that grows in the forests. A few kilometres south, you can visit a working water mill that has been in use for almost six centuries; Moulin de Hollange in the picturesque valley of the River Strange grinds spelt flour and then neatly makes bread using home-made electricity.
Over to the west, the lovely fortress town of Dinant bakes some of the most highly flavoured bread in the region. Its speciality is couque, a spicy cake-like bread made with honey which is so hard you really can break your teeth on it (it's best eaten in little bits and sucked like a sweet).
Further north, at the village of Hermalle-sous-Huy, there is an absorbing museum exploring gastronomy through the ages. The Gourmet Museum adjoins a glorious 17th-century castle (not open to the public but you can gaze at its fine exterior) and offers recipes dating from the 13th century.
You'll find some of the best cuisine in seemingly unlikely places. Tucked away in the east near the Luxembourg border, the village of Waimes is home to Cyrano restaurant whose chef magics three- and five-course degustation menus in an open kitchen so that you can watch the process. He will also bring the ingredients to your table and discuss methods of cooking noisettes of lamb, duck magret and more. Meanwhile in the bustling town of Huy, Li Cwerneu is a tiny restaurant that is rapidly becoming one of the region's most highly regarded dining places. Here chef Arabelle Meirlaen creates exquisite dishes flavoured with wild herbs of the region - a satisfying combination of modern sophistication and very local flavour.
Moulin de Hollange Rue de Chaumont 5, Hollange (00 32 61 26 68 76).
Gourmet Museum Castale Farm, Chausee Terwagne, Hermalle sous Huy (00 32 85 31 42 86; guided tours Saturday afternoons and Sunday 11.30am and afternoons; weekday visits by appointment; adults €5/£3.60).
Cyrano Rue Chanterain 11, Waimes (00 32 80 67 99 89).
Li Cwerneu Grand Place 2, Huy (00 32 85 25 55 55).
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