Parlor Coffee

Food options each day range from vegan sweets and bagel sandwiches (very common to Brussels cafes), to waffles, bacon and even French toast on weekends.

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I’m always most intrigued by their bakery items as each time I drop by, they are offering something new. From gluten free banana breads to vegan cheesecakes, though I’m neither gluten free or vegan, I am always intrigued to try as the aspiring baker that I am.

In terms of offerings I’ve tried, the star of the show is matcha. Their matcha “brownie” is studded with chia and others seeds and their matcha latte is one of the most successful I’ve had.

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I also like their gorgeous juices, even if you do have to pay more than you may like. Though, I guess it’s standard as far as juices go. I remember paying $8 for a small green juice in San Francisco; it was lukewarm and tasted like my front lawn, but all the celebrities love the place on instagram. Classic. These juices actually taste great, so try it out. 30281493011_ec47bba4cd_o

The café is spacious with its upstairs seating as well so that weekday and weekend you are likely to find a cozy spot. The space is brightly lit thanks to large windows that peek out to the quaint Chatelain neighborhood of Brussels. The outlets are also plenty, making Parlor a prime place to get some work done and eat and drink your way through the menu.

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Jat’ Café

Trusty, trusty Jat’. The café is spacious enough to never feel too uncomfortably packed. Its location is prime, just off Mont des Arts, one of the most beautiful overlooks Brussels has to offer.

I love stopping in for a nice weekend brunch, chatting with friends reliving our weekends over warm coffees and fresh made juices. Most of the seats are couches, making for a comfy set up for these lazy Sundays or for a weekday space to get some work done.

The drinks are tasty and always served with a flavorful, almondy-tasting coconut macaroon. Most times when I have more of an appetite, I’ll go for a bagel. There’s a rather tasty chicken truffle option that always tempts, served with a green juice on the side, you can convince yourself the meal is semi-healthy.

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Taking foods and drinks to go is another easy option at Jat’. With a fridge just inside the door full of ready to grab salads, sandwiches, yogurts, fruit, etc., Jat’ is a quick fix for getting a quick lunch to bring back to the office. The options here are also often healthy, which is even more of a motivator.

Jat’ offers a rotating menu of new drinks and lattes as well, making each trip an opportunity for a new drink discovery. Some drinks are more over the top, covered with a few layers worth of whipped cream. The indulgence is nice. More often I opt for a cappuccino.

As a warning, while you order, you’ll be tempted by dozens of bakery items—croissants, pain au chocolat, muffins, cookies, all the good stuff.

Plenty to enjoy and plenty of options, which guarantees you can take multiple trips to Jat’ without getting bored.

I love telling stories

There is power in being able to tell great stories that is not as recognized as it should be.

My first bold impression of how storytelling should be done was from my high school history teachers. I fell in love with history on account of my teachers’ ability to recount incredible stories. They transformed droning information from textbooks into a Hollywood action film that I didn’t want to stop watching. They were passionate about history and it shone through thanks to their understanding of how to tell great stories.

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Normandy Beaches, Normandy, France

How is it that they captivated me and my peers so wonderfully? Granted most of these teachers were Irish, the masters of storytelling. In fact, my family background is rather heavily Irish as my grandma hopped the pond and left County Mayo when she was around my age.

So it’s safe to say I’ve been around great, hilarious storytellers my whole life when you to take my grandma, all her siblings, plus my uncles and my dad into account. I grew to be amazed by great stories and great storytellers.

The next step then, is for me to become one myself. Though my storytelling abilities may not quite be at the level of my Irish relatives or my history professors, I can tell a good story where it counts. Depending on the subject, I do become quite passionate, which is again an element necessary for captivating an audience.

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Dublin, Ireland

A post from Social Media Examiner cites how showing an audience your trade is a wonderful way of connecting with them, “Ed Sbragia, an international recognized winemaker, tells the story of a wine set in the barrel room. The video is short and inexpensively made, but this is the kind of content that engages viewers”.

Yes, the time has come then to apply a visual storytelling component to my online persona. Videos would especially be beneficial for the type of content that I would like to produce, which is more recipe videos, photos and tag-alongs to food and travel adventures I embark on.

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Journalists have caught on to the significance of visually conveying stories, though a recent blog post notes that previously “many stories rely on the journalist speaking about something which does not have a visual element”. 

Lately, however, many journalists have begun Facebook live videos and even Snapchat for a more personal touch and a more captivating source of information as opposed to a long article or blog post. I mean who does that.

The Muck Rack Profile gave an example of this type of journalism in action with Adam Rapoport, former editor and chief of Bon Appetit, “Rapoport typically shares his food and travel adventures and also shares a glimpse into the production of Bon Appetit’s magazine and online content.”

In honesty, I will keep future blog posts short and instead opt for videos. I enjoy watching videos more than I do reading long material so of course many others must feel the same.

One cappuccino…or four

The word food evokes a largely universal sentiment of happiness. Whether it’s the scent of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven or an Instagram picture of a bowl of olive oil soaked pasta, food warms hearts. As such, cooking videos like those from Tasty find almost instant success in terms of virality on social networks. From comments to tags to shares, food videos appeal to most every demographic, especially me.

Once you’ve watched one video, you are automatically taken to the next and the next. Before you know it, 30 minutes have passed and you are thoroughly hungry.

Such is the case with online shopping and more specifically, Amazon recommendations. After you make a purchase, Amazon provides suggestions based on what they predict you would also like. It’s easy to then spend the next few minutes browsing and online shopping even more than you intended. When items are hand picked and personalized to your taste, it’s hard to not stay online.

This happened to me the other day, no shame. As I just returned from studying in Europe for four months, my coffee preferences have completely transformed. All I now crave is frothy cappuccinos and cafés au lait.  After difficulty in satisfying this request at coffee shops in Chicago and Wisconsin, I finally purchased a cappuccino frother. It is great, thanks for asking. Regardless, after making this purchase I consequently spent hours browsing through excessive kitchen gadgets and all the coffee machines on the market. Amazon recommendations work and apparently I’m not the only one.

An article by Wired describes the instance where a New York Times bestseller was ousted from shelves on account of a similar book rising in popularity after it was recommended on Amazon to purchasers of the bestseller counterpart. Amazon inadvertently allowed an under the radar book to rise to the top on account of its presence on their site as a suggestion to purchasers of a similar yet more known book.

“It created the Touching the Void phenomenon by combining infinite shelf space with real-time information about buying trends and public opinion. The result: rising demand for an obscure book.”

What then defines a successful marketing strategy? It’s often hard to predict which book, food video or product will experience the most success. Virality is dependent on the real time sentiments of the consumer.

According to a New York Times article, marketing depends much more on an understanding of communication strategies than one would think. As a result, those who thrive in the field of marketing are those most trained in communication both in terms of daily interactions and social media, aka journalists. Me!

“Conventional marketing wisdom holds that predicting success in cultural markets is mostly a matter of anticipating the preferences of the millions of individual people who participate in them.”

Content marketing and social media source Dreamgrow cites that Facebook is the current frontrunner in terms of social networking sites, with 1.79 billion visitors each month. In second place is Youtube, with 1 billion visitors, indicating a preference for visual and interactive networks. Facebook allows users to feel connected to their friends, Youtube allows for a similar feeling of connectedness on account of how visual and personal videos can be. You feel that you are there as the food is being prepared, you feel as if you are on the receiving end of the conversation in the case of vlogs, etc.

After reading these stats and reflecting on which social networks grab my attention the most, I plan to integrate videos into my online presence via vlog-type posts and possibly a Tasty-esque channel, which ties my love for food with the power of video. I’ve already begun via cappuccino demos on my personal snapchat, but the next step is too move this to Youtube.

Stay tuned!

Let’s get engaged

Humans crave connection, but more than that they crave deep connection. Connection where both sides are fully engaged. This is the most fulfilling.

Life is more rewarding when there is connection and this fact applies both to day to day, face to face interactions, as well as online interactions. Both forms of interaction are processes of connecting that see most benefits when everyone feels ENGAGED.

I’ve noted a yearning for this feeling of engagement personally and I also read a post by Media Shift on the matter, which more so tied this engagement mentality to social networks.

Reflecting on my own relationships, the ones that have continued for many years have a commonality – I am most myself with these people. I am genuine. They are genuine. When able to connect with the deepest most visceral version of the person, it is natural to feel more deeply connected to it. You are both equally engaged in the friendship.

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With this in mind, I thought about the synonyms and words associated with “engagement”. A Forbes article also brought me to the word genuine, which I find key to understanding what adds value to life in terms of connection.

My favorite paragraph from the article reads,

“The worst kind of dinner guest is the person who does not care what anyone else is saying and will stop at nothing to get his or her point across. No one likes those guests. Just like no one likes those brands”.

In much the same way as lasting relationships and friendships are built on authenticity, so too is authenticity important in the world of social media and with respect to brands.

Therefore as I move forward in developing my social media presence and in future work I do for marketing brands, I will first seek engagement.

The hunger continues

I’ve dabbled with various blogs over the years, constantly posting and then hitting a lull before I would eventually erase the site and start on a new one. In an era of personal growth throughout college, I thrive on fresh starts. From a new year, to a new semester, to a new job, beginning from scratch and reinventing is integral in finding the best version of myself.

How can you buy a new bed without testing out various types? (My current bed is atrociously firm to the point where it’s all I can think of as I sit on it and write this post, hence the odd comparison). The same goes for personality and blogs are a means of channeling and finding that ultimate and most authentic persona, which is especially important in a time where one’s social media profile can carry such weight.

As I begin my latest blog journey, I enter with a more enlightened view of the impact of my social media presence. Today, the way I present myself online is an element of my character and implicates my future.

Following tips from veteran journalist and University of Alabama professor George Daniels, blogger Mindy McAdams wrote a post on best practices for blogging that I found useful. It included a statement from Daniels, which read:

“The only way I got somewhat comfortable in this space is to spend a LOT of time (personal time) here writing. Doing the minimum requirement for a class is not enough.”

With this in mind, I’m hoping to blog much more consistently. In addition to getting inspiration from industry leaders in my field of interest, I hope to network with them. Developing my persona through social networks is a chief means of connecting with key influencers and people in my desired field whose footsteps I intend to follow.

As an aspiring food journalist and aspiring bakery owner, I am in awe of most every individual in the world of food. From Anthony Bourdain and Alton Brown to Bobby Flay and René Redzeppi, I have countless food heroes. I hope that this passion for food comes through in my latest blog “The Hungry Hungarian” as since the age of 8 or so, I have been enthralled by food in every sense of the word.

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The Hungarian element is pulled from my grandpa’s Hungarian origins and my love for Budapest and the family that still resides there, as well as a love for European travel in general following my study abroad experience in Brussels. Truly, the importance of my family to me and to my personal growth and development made the inclusion of Hungarian in my blog title quite apt.

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My interest in food began with a penchant for baking, which developed into a love for reviewing restaurants, a stint with food science as my college major, then food photography and now a delicious combination of all of the above. I truly live to eat and know that this passion can be applied to many fields and in many places worldwide, which excites me for what lies ahead.

In order to achieve my aspirations, I realize the significance of a strong online presence and I can’t wait to begin the process even more arduously than I had before.

Meghan

Soccer and waffles

Last weekend was pretty epic.

My first match du football was on Thursday night; met some more Belgians on Friday night, visited Bruges on Saturday and went to three festivals in Brussels on Sunday.

C’était amusant.

Le match du foot
King Baudouin Stadium was full of Americans for the match as the full 30 or so people on our study abroad program were in attendance. We took up an entire section, though we blended in well as we had dressed for the occasion in our Belgian black, red and yellow. America knows how to sport, especially given that we are college students. Patriotism and school spirit are our specialty and you could tell.

I was disappointed with myself because we had spent the morning in the city center picking out the appropriate gear for the game, yet I forgot to grab the Belgian flag I purchased before leaving home.

Honestly, I even forgot my ticket to the game and had to run back to the house after we’d walked halfway to the bus stop. I was physically in my room again and still didn’t note the huge Belgian flag on my bed that I so wanted to wear.

So I went to the game in full black. There were no other Belgian colors on me, save for the face paint that one of our program coordinators put on our faces, God bless.

I will be bringing this flag sporadically to bars around the city now because I didn’t on this day, just wait.

Waffles and Speculoos
All things considered, our trip downtown was productive in other ways aside from the purchasing of Belgian colored things. I got the waffle that I’d been craving and some cookies from my absolute favorite cookie place in Brussels, Maison Dandoy.

I ate all of them later that day in my three hour global advocacy class. It was one of those days, but also I don’t feel bad because these cookies are bomb.

The waffle cravings also hit hard because they are very prevalent in the city center, but much less readily available in the neighborhood where I live and all other areas outside of the center in general. Waffles are for the tourists mostly, but I am proud because my preferred waffle is exactly that of what the locals actually eat—a plain liege. These beauties are 1 euro, which is insane, and they are caramelized and have an internal sugariness to them that makes other toppings unnecessary, excessive and the mark of a tourist.

Because the waffle was my breakfast, it soon came time for lunch so I of course brought us to Maison Dandoy for cookies. The speculoos cookies that are so iconic Belgium are the best at Madison Dandoy. I have tried other variants and while I need to try more, I can’t help but continue to buy a bag of the speculoos. They are the perfect travel companion that I carry around in my purse for emergencies (aka boredom or intense cravings during the three hour classes here, which are common).

But I DIGRESS. When it comes to food digressions, never feel guilty. But really, back to the match

Plus sur le match
Upon arrival, I was fascinated though, looking back, not surprised that the main items for purchase were waffles, fries and Jupiler. Classic Brussels.

Though we lost against Spain, the game was enjoyable in the sense that you knew when it was  going to end, as is not the case with American football, which tends to drag on.

The post-game exit from the stadium was madness though and made me realize how important the public transportation system is in Brussels. No one was headed off to their cars or intense parking lots and garages as is typically the case at sports events in America. The thousands of people from the stadium all filed up to the metro and if you didn’t think you had claustrophobia, you would now. Bodies are packed like sardines as they descend towards the subway-like metro. It’s madness.

Luckily a Belgian from Antwerp struck up a conversation to pass the time. It was funny because his initial words to me were, are you from Spain? Whenever a Belgian thinks you are anything other than American, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Don’t get me wrong, I love America but the connotations are sometimes less than great. To be able to semi-trick a Belgian that I’m from Spain thus makes me momentarily proud.

How to coffee (à emporter) in Brussels

So much has been said about the coffee of Europe and while I know Brussels should not be the sole representation of European coffee, it is a start.

I can say that coffee here takes some getting used to compared to the coffee back home. However with time, I am beginning to much prefer European coffee to the brews I typically drink in the states.

Not only are the actual drinks much different than those in the U.S., but the culture surrounding coffee consumption is so distinct as well. In the states it is typical to pop into a coffee shop and take a coffee to go, but here this is not so much the case. It is an option to ‘take-away’ your coffee, of course, however it is not as common. Much more usual here is to sit in what is a bar/restaurant at night and a cozy cafe during the day time. It is perfectly normal to sit at one of these places (which are everywhere) and to simply order a cappuccino.

You will receive waiter service and are able to rest at your table with your friends drinking coffee for as long as you’d like. In the U.S. this would likely be frowned upon as any place serving food somewhat expects you to order the food and not just take up a table drinking just coffee.

Coffee here is like going out for drinks in the way that it is often a social affair, which is the same in the U.S. but these meetings are often in bustling coffee shops where it is too loud to hear whoever you are with, where baristas are yelling out orders and other customers are brushing past you to find a seat and camp out with their laptop for the day. This will be hard to go back to.

In terms of drink specifics, let’s start with iced coffee.

The 90 degree weather that was happening for my initial few weeks in Brussels made the craving for iced coffee so real. Unfortunately straight up iced coffee as I know it back home hasn’t caught on so much at the shops that I’ve been checking out.

EXKIIced Coffee

My first failed attempt was when I tried ordering iced coffee black at EXKI, a healthy organic grab and go food store fairly common around Belgium. The result was the worker blending a bunch of ice cubes with some creamed coffee for a product more so resembling beer, which is ironic since we are in Belgium. Just check out the coffee foam. That’s a new one for iced coffee.

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I also snapped this photo right after the drink was handed to me and before taking a sip so the half-filled cup method is another interesting thing that brings us to the size spectrum for coffee in Brussels.

Depending on which drink you get, if you order a small size you will likely laugh as they hand you a cup not much larger than two shot glasses. I made this mistake.

As a general rule in Brussels, if you want an American small, order the largest size offered.

Mundè Caffè (a.k.a the steel box)

Returning to iced coffee, there is a delicious variation served up at what we term the steel box. The café is a sort of pop-up box set in a permanent spot near the campus of the dutch-speaking Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and its international school off-shoot that I attend, Vesalius College.

The iced coffee at Munde is prepared with either milk or water and though I can only speak for the milk version, this drink is one that you will finish with ease. It is sweet and creamy and the taste is unique, yet subtly spiced.

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The first beverage I tried at the steel box though was the matcha latte. Though this drink is served hot, it is so rich with flavor and feels so nourishing alongside all the fries and waffles I’ve consumed in the past few weeks that I’m able to drink it even on hot days.

Another great choice I recently made was ordering a Belgian cappuccino, which was served with a topping of whipped cream that contributed a perfectly indulgent flavor to each sip I took through the lid of my to-go cup. The hot coffee hits your lips at the same time as the chilled whipped cream. It is the perfect contrast of sweetness and temperatures.

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The menu at Munde is full with various teas and coffees and my goal by the end of the semester is to have tried them all.

OpinioIced Coffee
Settled on the VUB campus, Opinio is guaranteed to have a busy line of students and unfortunately it can take a while to reach the front of that line. What they lack in Starbucks-esque efficiency, they make up for with attention to detail and carefully prepared drinks.

The iced coffee is not pre-made and ready to pour into a cup to hand to you. Forget about your beloved cold brews, this coffee tastes more so like milk with a touch of coffee splashed in. This is the trend with iced coffees in Brussels. I think the solution may be to ask for iced coffee with some espresso shots if it’s the bitterness that you seek. Otherwise, asking for less of the creamy liquid somehow might make the coffee more so resemble the less caloric , black iced coffee versions back home.

Vroom Vroomiced mocha, café latte w speculoos
This adorable little truck is settled on the sidewalk, again near the VUB and Vesalius campus and they sell coffees and teas, croissants and pain au chocolat, and even salads now.

My first visit entailed a pain au chocolat and a cafe latte with speculoos and I was certainly pleased. The drink was very creamed but not too sweet, even in spite of the speculoos flavor addition. When in Belgium, make everything speculoos if you can.

The iced mocha I tried only as a sample that a few workers were passing out to people passing by and it was prime time that they did so given how hot it was. If I hadn’t been rushing off to class I would have stopped to order the drink. It was essentially chocolate milk with a slight coffee taste and had tiny iced cubes floating around in the dixie size cup.

Starbucks
They exist here, though there are only a few and the prices are way jacked up. The few I have spotted are located in the Grand Place and then the metro station. Pay a visit if you’re craving familiarity in terms of coffee size and in terms of black iced coffee. If you really want a taste of Americana, they are already advertising pumpkin spice lattes here as well. Too soon, too soon.

Croissants, a way of life

Croissants are such a universal breakfast choice in Belgium that you’ll be hard pressed to find an alternative. I’m not complaining.

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Le Pain Quotidien – croissant aux amandes

The coolest part is that croissants in Belgium are like people; no two are alike. While I’m still on the hunt for a croissant that trumps the ones at my beloved Batch Bakehouse, you can tell when a croissant has been made with love.

My current favorite and discovery this morning actually was the croissant aux amandes at Le Pain Quotidien. There a few of these cafes scattered throughout Belgium and this one happens to be a five or so minute walk from my house. C’est parfait.

Now, my roommate is a big fan of the croissant at De Decker right next door to my recent favorite and now after having had both, I love to note the stark differences between the two.

De Decker - croissant aux amandes
De Decker – croissant aux amandes

One is dense and doughy and the entire croissant has a marked almond extract sweetness to it, yet no distinct almond paste in the center as is the case with the one at Le Pain Quotidien.

I think my love for the latter is tied to its similarity to Batch’s frangipane croissant. The texture is much lighter, more airy.  They are quite similar and differ if only in size, with Batch’s croissant being the much larger one because, well, America.

More croissant reviews to come but for now I’ll sit tight in my happiness at having found one that reminds me of home.

Hosteling in Brussels

There are waffles in the vending machine. To an American, this is a true indication of a quality hostel. Though in Belgium, this is the norm. It is hard to find and truly odd for a vending machine to not have waffles.

And after spending two weeks in this country, I’ve realized that the same goes for coffee vending machines. They are much more commonplace than you might expect.

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Anyways, the first three or so nights in Brussels were spent at Sleepwell Hostel in the city center, where I first witnessed these top notch vending machines. Though I realized that the vending machines were not unique to the hostel, this was a respectable place to stay regardless.

The only marker that Sleepwell is a hostel is its name. One look at the rooms and you’ll instead be deeming Sleepwell a hotel. It’s so clean and updated, yet the price is representative of its hostel moniker. How can this place get any better.

Free breakfast, that’s how.

Three nights in the hostel meant three mornings of fresh breads smeared with chocolate hazelnut and speculoos spreads and, of course, all the espresso and café lattes.

On top of the food, the location of the hostel is prime. Set just off the main city center, Sleepwell made it easy for us to explore the heart of Brussels in our first few days in the new city. An easy five to ten minute walk to all the friteries, restaurants and bars, and even closer to shopping (aka three separate H&M’s on the same exact street), it’s easy to take advantage of all that is Brussels.

As an added anecdote and pro-tip, don’t henna your hair so close to when you’ll be renting a white towel from the hostel. It will turn orange.