To the Soul through the Stomach

Dylan Atkison, Engineering a Craft Brewery Belgium Summer '22

Not only is food the window to the soul, food is the backbone of culture and will define your experience abroad. Every culture develops a cuisine influenced by the environment and tastes of the people and cultural groups who call the area home. While we often think of things like barbecue and burgers as “American” cuisine, a trip down any street will display a variety of restaurants and eateries with roots all across the globe. Every culture develops its staples based on what is available and can be made into a delicious meal, or what warms the heart and soul while providing nourishment to the body. During my time at Het Anker in Mechelen, we were served a delicious meal of fish in a white sauce. Mechelen finds itself fairly close to both a river and subsequently the sea, allowing for fresh fish to be integrated into the local cuisine and healthy soil to provide fresh and tasty vegetables. These factors forged the backbone for the food we ate while in that area, as opposed to the massive selection of food options while in Brussels, the country’s capital and headquarters for the European Union. Belgium as a country is known for its mussels, which can be found far and wide, and the unique way french fries are cooked. These foods have infiltrated the cultural zeitgeist and are enjoyed by locals and tourists alike, allowing the international traveler to blend into the local food scene. Other places in Belgium, such as Westvleteren’s In de Vrede restaurant found in Westvleteren, highlight cultural dishes that may not be common to the area. While eating at In de Vrede, I enjoyed a meal of salad, stewed pork cheeks, and french fries. The larger open land around In de Vrede allows for livestock to be raised, while it would take up precious space in Mechelen. This local livestock provides fresh meat and food to kitchens in the area and provides a look into how farm to plate can enhance a dish’s flavor. The variety of ways in which meals are prepared abroad helps to reinforce the feeling of each new dish being a unique experience while adding twists to meals that are staples at home. I’ve found that restaurants that can easily be found at home, such as fast food locations like Burger King or McDonalds, can provide a sense of comfort and security while abroad, but they have no real place on the plate of a global citizen and cultural explorer. The fastest way to the soul is through the stomach, and taking part in a culture’s melas helps to connect at a deeper level than simply observing landmarks and common exchanges.