Belgian Waffles and Trappiste Ales
Some of you will have noticed responses to the emails you so kindly wrote. I’m sorry it took this long.
I think whenever our email server saw my Philippines IP address, it assumed I was a hacker.
That problem has been solved.
In any event, I can’t tell you what a dopamine hit I felt reading your emails.
All were very kindly written, even those that wholeheartedly disagreed with a particular post!
Damon and Todd in particular backed up their arguments with unassailable facts. My hat is off to them.
Beau John, Margaret, Naushad, and Tony had written much earlier in my tenure and I’m glad to have got a chance to reply.
My good friends Hunter, Dave, and Hung-Wah also wrote. It reminded me of better times, when we could drink beer in our favorite London (and Singapore… and Hong Kong) pubs until the bell rang at 11 pm.
And then drink some more in our favorite nightclubs. Oh, how I miss those days… and conversations.
Let me tell you about this particularly warm memory that reignited my wanderlust.
There once was a man named Hung-Wah,
Who looked like Oddjob, but spoke like Bond,
He fancied Belgian waffles,
Didn’t mind the kerfuffle,
And packed me off in his car.
I just wrote that now. That’s how good a mood I’m in!
I first shook Hung-Wah’s hand in Credit Suisse’s operations office in Cabot Square, Canary Wharf. It was October 1999, and I had just been transferred from our Eleven Madison Avenue office in New York.
I had visited London in June of that year to learn about global operations. But as everyone seems to party every night of the week, I really wanted to move there.
Securing my transfer by pitting my London boss against my New York boss was a stroke of genius, if I do say so myself.
A lovely lady named Lisa was walking me around the office, introducing me to my new teammates.
My teammates were to become bosom friends, some of whom I still speak to this day (at least the ones who aren’t offended that I supported Trump).
But one man, in particular, stood out.
He was clearly Chinese but spoke with the most amazing cut-glass English accent.
When he extended his hand and said, “Hello, I’m Hung-Wah,” I did an involuntary double-take.
There are, of course, loads of British-born Chinese in London, but Hung-Wah still has the best accent, if you ask me.
Over time, we became great friends. (Now that we’re both in Asia, it’s much easier to keep in touch.)
As a sufferer of the Asian Flush, Hung-Wah marveled at the amount of alcohol I could consume. Lest you think I’m a racist, read this.
Whenever Hung-Wah drank, his head looked like a giant strawberry. He wisely avoids alcohol.
But that certainly didn’t stop him from coming to the pubs with old Seanie!
One night, we were at the Henry Addington, the local pub in Canary Wharf, where the operations staff escaped every Friday at 5:30 pm.
I was necking pints of Kronenberg 1664 when Hung-Wah suddenly said, “Do you know what? I fancy Belgian waffles. Let’s do that for breakfast tomorrow.”
Having no idea how I was going to get through the night, I agreed anyway.
The next morning, at 8 am sharp, my phone rang the loudest ring it had ever rung.
“It’s me. I’ll be ‘round yours in 15 minutes.”
Hung-Wah rocked up in his navy blue Mercedes.
I got in the car… and immediately passed out.
The hum of a car puts me to sleep, especially in a well-made German car. Just a fabulous ride.
About an hour into the journey, though, Hung-Wah suddenly jerked the wheel to the right to avoid hitting another car.
As I was a drunken mass of silly putty, I smashed my head into the left-hand side window. It’s Britain after all; the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car.
Waking up from the huge thump, I noticed a sign fly past me: “To Canterbury.”
“Hung-Wah, that sign said, ‘To Canterbury.’”
“Where are we going?”
“To Belgium, you idiot!”
Honestly, I thought we were going to Belgo’s, a famous restaurant in Covent Garden, or something of that ilk.
To this day, I don’t know if Hung-Wah palmed my passport, or asked me to bring it and I unconsciously did.
So off to Belgium we went.
Down the M20. Onto the ferry. Left turn at Calais. Then straight past Dunkirk, and over the border to a city lost in time.
Medieval Heaven: Bruges
At about 2 pm, we parked the car in Bruges, one of the world’s great medieval cities.
Starving by now, I asked Hung-Wah if we could do moules and frites (steamed mussels and fries) before a dessert of Belgian waffles, and he happily agreed.
Oh, they steam the mussels in beer, if you ask for it. A double treat for me. Yum!
And yes, in Belgium, it’s fries with mayonnaise.
Seriously, it’s stupid in the US. But for some reason, it works in Europe.
I washed it down with one of my all-time favorite Trappiste ales, Abbey de Leffe blonde.
Funnily enough, Rob, my old bartender at the Wood-Ridge Inn in New Jersey, introduced it to me many years before. But to have it on tap in the country of its origin was a treat.
A few half pints of Leffe drove my hangover underground, and I started to feel human again.
(You can’t imagine my happiness when I saw it on the shelves of my supermarket here in Cebu! Bully for me!)
And then, la pièce de résistance…
Belgian waffles, covered in Belgian chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, and Belgian chocolate sauce.
We walked around that amazing city for a few hours. Sometimes it’s called, “The Venice of the North,” but it has a much different, quieter feel to it.
The Hanseatic League
It’s a far cry from its heyday as a leading Kontor, or office, of the Hanseatic League.
The Hanseatic League is one of history’s coolest clubs.
It was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northern Europe.
Click this to get a bigger version.
The League dominated Baltic maritime trade for three centuries along the Northern Europe coasts starting in the late 1100s.
It started to diminish in importance after 1450.
The League protected the guilds’ interests and privileges in their cities and countries, as well as along the merchants’ trade routes.
The Hanseatic cities had their own legal system and operated their own armies for mutual protection and aid.
Alas, it wasn’t going to last forever.
Bruges fell in importance from 1500 onward. But in the 1950s, the city saw a revival that continues to this day.
Though it’s not a huge trade center anymore, Bruges is a must-see for tourists and students of medieval history, alike.
The ale, food, and architecture are amazing, as is its history.
Ah, what a great walk down memory lane! Thanks for that. It’s all due to your writing.
I hope we all do something cool and spontaneous this weekend.
Thank you for being you!
Have a great weekend.
All the best,
P.S. Do write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now that I can immediately retrieve the mailbag, I can write back much sooner!