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Waffling about Antwerp


I had heard many rave reviews of Antwerp. The shopping, the churches and the abundance of Belgian beer were all described to me in detail.  And on my first trip there with my husband and another couple, the city truly did enchant us. We wandered, purposely aimless, through the old city. The faint scent of sewer, a familiar smell in centuries-old cities booming with modern populations, wafted in and out of our nostrils all day. However, it couldn’t spoil the quaintness of the side streets, decadent displays of chocolate in shop windows, and the grandness of the famed cathedrals.  We found a quaint little café for lunch, and the chain-smoking Belgians surrounding us as we ate verified its authenticity.  Somehow, though, despite the idyllic day trip to an amiable city, my journey didn’t feel complete.

The truth is that I had no care for shopping, I wasn’t the least bit interested in churches and even my normal lust for chocolate was on the sidelines of my foray onto Belgian soil. I had room for only one thing on my metaphorical and literal plate that day, and that was waffles. Ever since a month earlier when my palette was first blessed with this treat in Brussels, I had been dreaming of waffles. Heaps and heaps of REAL Belgian waffles, smothered in chocolate, sprinkled with powdered sugar or doused in strawberries, I’m not choosy. Waffles that were Belgian simply by the virtue of their birthplace, not because they were named so on the breakfast menu of some obscene midwestern buffet restaurant. My inner self screamed out for waffles, and I’m not one to deny my inner self anything.

So, after a long day of wandering, shopping and appreciating, we decided it was finally time to sit down, get some coffee and scarf down the much-anticipated waffles. It was waffle-time, people, and this girl was on a mission.  After passing a few pastry establishments, we carefully chose and adorable little café with outdoor seating that simply reeked of waffles. My taste buds got jumpy. In order to humor my traveling companions and my waitress, I pretended to read the menu. Firstly, my Dutch is sketchy and I had only a vague idea what the menu said. Secondly, who are we kidding? I knew what I wanted before I even sat down.

Finally, mere moments before I had a waffle-deprived meltdown, our waitress reappeared to take our order. I said, quite proudly and I’m sure quite badly, “Een waffle met chocolade, alstublieft.” Any idiot could tell that what I wanted so desperately was one waffle, with chocolate, PLEASE. She replied casually, and I quote, “No waffles.” GASP. Come again? Is this or is this not a waffle place? Are we or are we not in Belgium, birthplace of all things waffle? I kept my cool, not wanting to embarrass my fellow ex-pats by behaving like a maniacal American (even though I felt like a maniacal, waffle-hungry American) and I coolly ordered some crepes or some other such nonsense. My husband was especially proud of that display of flexibility, as he has come between me and a much longed-for piece of food in the past and he knew first hand how ugly things could get. The crepes were delicious, as crepes tend to be, but they certainly weren’t waffles.

When it came time to pay, our friend went into the café to settle up. While inside he saw…wait for it…a woman being served piping HOT waffles. I kid you not. He delivered this message to us through charades, and my husband immediately went in to confirm this outrage. Yes, it was true. A Belgian woman was served LOVELY, crisp yet fluffy, homemade, fresh waffles while I was forced to choke down my clammy crepes.  The waitress notice us staring, slack-jawed, at the waffles and the ecstasy of the woman who was devouring them. She gave us a very snide little smile and said “See you later” in perfectly polite and lovely English. I had the distinct urge to scream “See you in HELL!” but I knew that such a venomous comment probably wasn’t warranted over…waffles. So instead I just gave her a rather unhappy look that I hope translates into any language as “I know you lied to me about those waffles, and it seems distinctly possible that you spit in my crepe. I am not pleased.”  It would have been nice to punish her with a miserly tip, but miserly tips are the local custom. Damn.

While my husband tried to console me, our group tried to answer the mystery of the day. Why would someone do such a thing? Why would our waitress deliberately mislead me about waffles, what gain could she possibly have? The only answer we could conjure, besides the possibility that she was stone-cold evil and vehemently anti-waffle, was that the cooks were hoping to get the waffle-irons cleaned early that night before they closed. Perhaps that lucky Belgian woman was a regular, and would not have been so quick to fall for their waffle lies. The string of ifs could run on for days.

I want to be able to say I put on a brave face, but the truth is that I pouted during the entire ride home to the Netherlands. But despite my lovely day in Antwerp and my warm feelings towards Belgium, I am now considering taking my waffle business elsewhere…but where else is there?

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