I wake up with a start and look at the clock. It’s 3am. I must have a slice of bread with peanut butter.
There is no bread in the house and there are no 24 hour supermarkets here. But I don’t despair; I can go to the vending machine around the corner.
That’s right, a bread vending machine. They are all over my neighborhood, as well as the rest of the country. They are stocked by the local bakery with fresh loaves each day, so you never have to miss your favorite sandwich snack.
You see, Belgians love bread. No-carb diets just wouldn’t be a hit in this country.
On Sunday mornings we, like everyone else in our town, make a pilgrimage. But we aren’t going to church; we’re going to De Broodmolen, our local bakery.
If I get there early enough, I can have my favorite 10 grain bread, butter croissants, baguette and appleflaps.
If I want to be totally decadent, I could indulge in the sinful looking cakes, tarts covered in fresh fruit or chocolates of all shapes and sizes, in any flavor imaginable.
There is a local bakery, just like mine, in even the smallest towns, all over the country.
Not so in my Canadian home town. Truly fresh bread required a trek of many miles and the prices could stop your heart. Once I had a taste of the good life though, I couldn’t go back to processed white bread in a bag.
I remember commenting to a Canadian co-worker that I bought fresh baked bread and it usually only lasted for 2 or 3 days before it gained hockey puck-like consistency.
She was appalled. Her Wonderbread lasted at least two weeks in her bread box. She wouldn’t dream of wasting that kind of money on bread …
But Belgians are passionate about bread and things to put on it.
I was astonished to see an entire supermarket aisle dedicated to things to spread on bread.
You can find a huge range of pre-mixed sandwich spreads; tuna, salmon, shrimp, egg, chicken and ham salads in the refrigerator aisle. Then you have jams and chutneys; soft spreadable cheeses.
And don’t forget the dessert sandwich spreads in chocolate and hazelnut that seem so wrong to me, but are loved by Belgian children and adults alike.
Lunch at a café almost always involves a sandwich.
While the larger sub-like sandwiches are acceptable to pick up and eat with your hands, you will get dirty looks if you pick up the smaller toasted sandwiches like the Croque Monsieur (a toasted ham and cheese to North Americans). These require the use of a fork and knife in polite Belgian society.
When I think about what was in my Canadian processed bread, I shudder.
Yes, maybe all of this carb consumption isn’t helping my waistline. But at least I can pronounce all of the ingredients in my Belgian bread (well, I can pronounce them in English anyway …).
Besides, my five minute walk to the bakery every few days will help burn off a few calories. And on that note, pass me another butter croissant …