Working on My Belgian Beer Belly by Replacing My Head with a Cabbage

I am tragically behind in posts, which I am determined to address these next few weeks. To that end, here is another post in the series. For those of you that have some catching up to do, here are the posts thus far:

The Day I Owned Paris

Directionally Challenged in Europe

Riding through Belgium on my Beer Belly

The Three Best Beers in Belgium

Bruges Beer Bar Tour–Staminee De Garre

Bruges Beer Bar Tour–‘t Brugs Beertje

In that last installment, I spent the evening at ‘t Brugs Beertie, perhaps the best bar in Bruges, with a group of eight Australians. In case you didn’t know:

Australians can drink.

A lot.

On the positive side, however, the particular group of Australians were not all that fast on the bike (and that is being kind), so there was no real rush getting out on the road the following morning.

Also on my side of the ledger was the fact that I simply had to move the van and the luggage from Bruges to Ghent making a bike ride optional. So when I woke up that morning, making the decision that I was not going to ride was rather easy since the thought of the sound of changing gears on the bike almost made my head explode; to say I was “hurting” would be a gross understatement.

Since I had a little time, I decided to take it a bit easy in the morning and then I would drive the route, stopping for lunch in the nice little town of Eeklo, which is just about half way. The town is also the only place to find that day’s Beer of the Day (every day on the Belgian trip, on the printout that describes the day’s route, there is a beer that is of particular local interest). I am particularly fond of this beer, since I was the one that discovered it and entered it into Beer of the Day lore.

I had absolutely no intention to drink the beer, but the story behind the beer is rather fun, the town is charming, and there is a rather good lunch spot.

No brainer.

I got a bit of a late start out of Bruges (I had to get another waffle in town–I had convinced myself that it was the local cure for a hangover, and while the chocolate swathed waffle was really, really good, my head was still pounding away, mocking me for the previous night’s over-indulgence.

I pulled into Eeklo, parked the monstrosity of a van, and headed to the restaurant. Just before I turned the corner, I heard a noise that resulted in a debilitating pain–it was so bad, that I stopped in my tracks, doubled over, and almost wept.

I had hoped that I had imagined it and stood back up, but was still frozen in my tracks.

Then I heard it again–it was unmistakable.

An Australian accent.

Followed by a cacophony of laughter.

I was doomed.

Don’t get me wrong: each and every member of the group was fabulous–I really enjoyed spending time with them. I would even really enjoy to have lunch with them, even with my raging hangover. But.

They were going to make me drink the Beer of the Day.

And probably several.

Time to buck up (or find the ability to say “no”).

I went around the corner, and sure enough, there was the entire group, in the middle of lunch, each with a Beer of the Day in front of them (it was easy to tell that they were all drinking a Herbakkersbier [the Beer of the Day] since as with all beers in Belgium, it had its own distinctive glass).

IMG_2948

The Herbakker: he is holding a long pole at the end of which is some miscreant’s head, about to go into the oven.

The town of Eeklo is literally centered around the story of the Herbakker. A few years ago, while tossing back a few of the famed local beer in the same restaurant, the waiter and a few patrons filled me in on the fable. Their English was far better than my Flemish, which is only due to the fact that I do not speak a single word of Flemish, but through their broken English and a little French, I think I got the jist of the story:

It seems as though, back in the Middle Ages/Renaissance, when a child in Eeklo was being particularly naughty, he would get a visit from the Herbakker. The Herbakker would then proceed to remove the child’s head and replace it with a cabbage. The Herbakker would then take the child’s head (“herb” in Flemish, apparently) and bake it (“bakker” is baker in Flemish–not much of a stretch there). The duration of the baking depended on how naughty was the child–the worse the little devil was, the longer his head roasted away in the oven. Once the Herbakker had determined that the head was good to go, he would remove the cabbage and replace the head, thus “curing” the child (who would presumably go on and be a responsible citizen–or a permanent drain on society, that part remains unclear).

The same statue of the Herbakker from a different angle. This is the main town square in Eeklo, with our restaurant just out of the picture to the right.

The same statue of the Herbakker from a different angle. This is the main town square in Eeklo, with our restaurant just out of the picture to the right.

Yes, that is the story that caused the town to erect a statue of the Herbakker in the middle of the main square.

IMG_2946My conclusion? When it comes to scaring the bejesus out of kids, the Europeans are far ahead of other societies.

Herbakkersbier: As for the beer? Even though it is only possible to buy it in and around Eeklo, it is one of my favorites. It is considered a Belgian strong Pale Ale with a slightly orange/caramel color. Fruity on the nose with Granny Smith and pineapple, it is slightly sweet on the palate with a bit of caramel and slight carbonation. It is not until you finish the first one that you realize the punch of a 8.5% beer. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.

And the Aussies made me have two.

Off to Ghent….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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7 Responses to Working on My Belgian Beer Belly by Replacing My Head with a Cabbage

  1. Great post! The Euros really do have a knack for scary as hell folklore. Ever hear of the German Krampus? It’s a wonder most of Germany isn’t in therapy for that one . . .

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  2. Beautiful town and an amusing tale. Yes us Aussies enjoy our beer (and wine!) and we love making new friends, I’m glad you had a good time with the Beer of the Day, I’m sure it makes your pedaling more fun 😉 PS Even been to Tour Down Under?

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  3. And you wonder why such “benign” children’s books are banned in the States when you have all those creepy bedtime stories over there in Europe for generations. I think a lot of Americans are wussies when it comes to raising children, truth be told! Heck, my mom had 6 kids and not one of us were ever put in a car seat and we survived our childhood! 😉

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