Monday, May 29, 2006

Chicken, Beer and Belgium - Part 1

As the Bank Holiday weekend drew closer and the weather report grew increasingly grim, The Boy and I came to the conclusion that surely it must be better to be in shit weather away from home than shit weather at home. New philosophy in hand, The Boy wrangled a ferry ticket for under£20 for an overnight trip to the Continent. Where to go, what to do?

For us, a quick overnight excursion usually means a trip to Oostende in Belgium. This started out as his choice of location as he spent a lot of time there in his windsurfing days and so is rather fond of the place. It isn't a very attractive or quaint town; its main redeeming factor, apart from the friendly locals, is a nice sandy beach (I miss sandy beaches- I can't seem to get used to the idea of pebble beaches). At first I wanted to go to see if the legend was true but in time though the place has grown on me and while it isn't a large city I somehow manage to find something new there each time we go.

What's this legend of Oostende you ask? For years before finally going there, The Boy used to talk about the "Best rotisserie chicken in the world" and of a place where the menu consisted of chicken, bread and beer. He swore that the chicken was so good that vegetarian friends used to pull a sort of "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" attitude and turn carnivore before reverting back to their austere veggie ways. We use to humour him and pretend to believe him.

When we finally moved to England and Belgium was no longer a long haul flight away, we finally went one weekend. As we approached the Taverne Koekoek, I chuckled to myself that there was no way that a place in a random location could survive in business serving only chicken and beer. We walked into the smoky den and took our seats. By now the smell of the chicken was strong, my mouth watering in anticipation. I had a look at the menu to verify that chicken really was my only option. I kid you not. The menu was printed on a A4 sheet of paper and the menu took up four or so lines. It really did read- 1/2 chicken and bread, 1/2 chicken to takeaway, ketchup, mayo, mustard and apple sauce and was followed by a list of drink choices that took up 95% of menu. Using his finest limited Dutch, The Boy ordered our feast of chicken and beer. Five minutes later, a basket of sliced bread and two bowls of chicken were thrown down in front of us. No garnish, no fancy presentation and no utensils. This was caveman dining at it's finest (and you don't even have to go to the dreadful Medieval Times for a faux jousting tournament). This didn't stop the place being pack with students, families, drunks and posh old ladies from digging in with both hands.

I looked up at The Boy with a look that must've read "You've got to be fucking with me- we have driven four hours for half a damn chicken to be thrown down at me." With a knowing smile, he asked me to eat before passing judgement. I didn't say another word for 30 minutes; when The Boy tried starting a little dinner conversation, he was greeted with a new look that he knew meant he better shut up now. I did not think I could possibly eat half a chicken and I try to avoid eating the skin in an attempt to be vaguely healthy but it was too good not to eat. The meat was moist and succulent with skin that was thin and crispy with a coating of the restaurant's closely guarded secret seasoning. The bread was a wheat bread that was thinly sliced- nothing fancy but it was perfect for mopping up the juices in the bottom of the bowl.

I looked down at the remains of my chicken carcass and felt like a porker for eating so much meat. That's when it occured to me that it was that good that all restraint had been thrown out the window. As I wiped my fingers with my lemony wet wipe, The Boy looked at me with the smuggest look I have ever seen. That evening I phoned up all the non-believers. I was a chicken and beer convert.

Now I back him up whenever talk of rotisserie comes up. Now I get the occassional craving and proceed to pack up the car for a four hour drive. For chicken. That costs 5 euros.

It isn't glamourous, it ain't pretty but damn it really is the finest rotisserie chicken in the world.

Taverne Koekoek, Langestraat 388-40, 8400 Oostende, Belgium
Open 24/7 (I've been at 3pm and 3am and it's always good.)
If heading to Belgium it is worth a day trip to taste the stuff. If in Bruges it's only 30 minutes by train.

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