Best of Belgium (culinary) in Tel Aviv March 25th-27th, 2014

Tel Aviv is hosting more and more international culinary events. Just recently they had a week celebrating French Cuisine and now Tel Aviv is hosting an event featuring Belgian culinary treats at Hanger 12 in Tel Av iv’s Port (Nahmal) March 25-27,2014.

Hanger 12 at the Port harbors an upscale market place for imported wines, cheeses, deli meats, a butcher, fresh fish, kitchen ware, various high quality quick meal stands and the well respected Kitchen Market restaurant, a favorite spot of many industry insiders who want an Epicurean respite.

Belgium is an interesting choice for a culinary extravaganza since it is all all too often overlooked (unjustly) in favor of bigger European players like France, Spain and Germany. On cooking shows like Top Chef or Master Chef can you recall the last time they featured a Belgian Challenge?

Yet, Belgium has about 1,200 beers it produces and many of those beers are counted among the world’s best. Many of these breweries were launched centuries ago dating back to monasteries in the Middle Ages. And each beer is purported to have a matching cheese from the village of each brewery or monastery. Belgium has just as rich a beer culture as Germany’s but where as Germany has rigid beer regulations Belgium is considered more free wheeling and experimental with looser rules of what ingredients and methods are used resulting in a wider spectrum of styles and unique expressions of hops, wheat and barley.

Just as French, Italian and Spanish wines evolved with their choice of regional cuisines, Belgian cuisine evolved with it love of local beers. But beer isn’t the only star for Belgium on the world scene.

Let, us not forget Belgian chocolates, maybe lesser known but as good if not better than Swiss chocolates according to some connoisseurs. Additionally, Belgian waffles are a popular international breakfast treat and French Fries might be more Belgian than French if you asked someone from Brussels.

A Belgian beer & food pairing was conducted for food and wine writers in Tel Aviv at the Kitchen Market to showcase the Best of Belgium experience. The beers were definitely Belgian but the dishes were more eclectic but delightful and proved the versatility of Belgian beers and beers in general as matches not only for street food but gourmet dishes.

Eleven dishes were selected to match five Belgian beers. Are Belgian beers as food friendly as French (or other region’s) wines. The dishes from the Kitchen Market were spot on so it would be challenging for the beers to detract from the delights offered but in most cases the beers offered seemed to be complimentary of the dishes they were served with.

Master Beer Sommelier Marc Stroobandt suggested that beers aren’t served to be the stars of a meal and compete for attention like a fine wine might but are meant to complement what’s served. With that in mind a lunch was served to prove the point.

The first Belgian beer offered was Stella Artois (5.2% alcohol). It was served with three perfect treats. As a starter, a cup of carrot soup with caramelized butter was a pleasant way to awake one’s taste buds. Stella’s a clean and crisp clear lager that starts off sweet and finishes dry so this soup with a sweet hit matched well. Stella dates back to making beer since 1366 but lager as a style was invented in 1842 so Stella as a lager dates back to that period. Pickled carrots with smoked Spanish Mackerel was less to my liking on its own and didn’t fare much better as a pairing for me but I’m just not a big fan of Spanish Mackerel but I can see how I would have liked smoked whitefish or trout or even heavier salmon. An ethereal crispy tapioca (a white corral looking chip) with a spot of raw tuna and soy pudding was a treat I could have eaten all night had it been offered and was the best pairing for anyone who likes beer as the first choice with sushi.

Hoegaarden (4.9% alc.), pronounced who-garden, was the second beer offered and it stakes a claim as being the first white, unfiltered wheat beer in the world from which all other wheat beers have copied. Dating back to 1445, that seems a plausible claim. With a creamy head, it requires a bit of staging for a proper pour from a bottle. Pour a bit then stir the bottle about to mix up the residual yeast in the bottle and then pour the rest and if you can’t see your fingers through a cloudy beer than you’ve poured it right so we were told. Orange peel zest and coriander are added for special flavoring and I would love to have a dish with those two ingredients to see how the beer might then shine. I often like wheat beers as being less bitter and the Hoegaarden (named after the town in Belgium it’s located) was no exception and paired well with the Fresh Yellowtail Salad with hot chili, avocado and goat cheese. Citric overtones in a beer pair well with fish just as squeezing lemon on most seafood makes its flavors shine.

Last but not least were three beers from the Leffe Brewery which dates back over 850 years to its origins in 1152. Another monastery rooted brewery those days have long passed yet they take a lot of pride in their origins and it shapes how they move forward in the marketplace (and the brewery). The Leffe Blond with 6.6% alcohol is a full powered brew much heartier than what most Americans call beer for instance at about 5% or less alcohol but still low enough to be a beer that you can have a few and not feel sluggish or too sloshed. For me, the Blond was the most food friendly beer of the tasting. Is this what they mean when they say “blonds have more fun”? It had enough gravitas not to be lost and be an afterthought but still complement the dishes served. The Blond was served with Mushroom Gnocchi, porcini, shinagi, parmesan and trufle oil. To demonstrate versatility the Blond was also served with a Mullet Fillet, risotto, Jerusalem artichoke cream with pumpkin.

Leffe Brown (6.5%) is a deceptively dark brown ale that looks like it might be as heavy as a port or a stout but actually has character without the heaviness. I’ve become a recent fan of brown ales but they do tend to be a beer I like as one in a mix and not a beer I want to drink through a whole meal or evening although I’ve yet to try one with a stew or a fatty steak which seem like a natural match. This lunch would match the Brown with Blue Lettuce Salad with salanova lettuce, Dorblu cheese, beets and hazelnut. A roasted beets salad with agave oil with hazelnuts and olive oil was also paired although for me the Blond seemed a better match maybe because its cleaner crisper citric tones cleared the palette after each sip.

Leffe Radieuse was the final beer and at 8.2% alcohol its a heartier beer with an intensity and bitterness that mellows in the finish. The Radieuse was served with a warmed terrine of shredded lamb, chestnuts, pea cream in a red wine sauce. I can imagine this beer with other substantial fare but overwhelming simpler or lighter dishes. Grilled salmon came to mind as a good match.

Belgian Ambassador John Cornet d’Elzius invited guests to partake of next weeks festivities and remarked how much he and his wife were impressed with the quality of Israeli restaurants and how they enjoyed dining out at different restaurants each time they dined out.

Hanger 12 will host an array of events March 25th to the 27th so you can stop by or call the Kitchen Market for reservations at 03-544-6669 to attend their special dinners. 

About the Author
David Rhodes is a New England native who spent 16 years in California before moving to Israel in 2008; David is a certified Holistic Health Practitioner since 1992, has worked as a cook in several kitchens and has served as an adviser for San Diego State University's Business of Wine program, from which he graduated. David has worked as a consulting sommelier at wineries and restaurants in California and in Israel. David has written hundreds of articles about Israeli food, wine, beer and spirits as well as interviewed Ambassadors to Israel from China, the Netherlands, South Korea and Cyprus.
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