City wanderings - and a pilgrimage to some of the best eating and drinking spots in Brussels. Or maybe not eating or drinking - ah, oh well.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Centro Cabraliego de Bruselas

In a previous post I complained of attending Spanish conversation tables and feeling tongue-tied.  Happily recent events suggest that I am getting better (though I must add I have a Spanish oral exam on Tuesday and my progress has not yet been subject to expert evaluation!)  Last night Spanish was all around me, and I even managed to speak some, in a Spanish bar, cultural and community centre.  My second visit in a week: I only wish I'd discovered this place before.  One thing I did learn, I still struggle with numbers.  Twenty years ago, when Centro Cabraliego de Bruselas opened, there were not many Spanish bars in Brussels.  Now there are 250 (can that be right?)  And that competition-conquering-cabrales-cheese in the photo on the wall is worth 2500 euros (really?!)  Straining to catch numbers and interesting soundbites from the hosts, asking questions in halting Spanish with a few words of French thrown in for good measure.... Yes, readers, I suggest you take everything you read here (especially in relation to numbers) with a pinch of salt.  That's until I can count to 2500 properly.

In keeping with the hordes of young Spaniards and older ones grouped around the bar, I and my French and Belgian companions tried to join in.  The result was sometimes confusing, leading to a lot of hein?, eh? and you what, quoi?!  Great preparation for an oral exam though, this, as we ate greasy-fingered, drank and pestered our busy hosts with a question here and there.  The people working here are all volunteers, and you can see photos of several of the founders on the website, including my favourite (exceedingly patient) man in glasses.  The centre is heaving; so no wonder it is only open Friday to Sunday.  Any more and it would not be possible to cope.

Where else in Brussels can you get cerveza for 1 euro?   And a gin and tonic for 3 euros?  I suspect there may be some subsidy at work here, or probably it is just that the Centro is run as a social enterprise, not for hard-nosed profits.  I think there may have been mention of subsidy, but I missed it in the soup of chatter and laughter and very jolly accordion music in the background.  As far as I can tell, the name cabraliego is a reference to a small village community near the Picos mountains in the Asturias: homage to the handful of villages permitted to produce the famed blue cabrales cheese. 

3000 euros?  Actually, we may have the numbers right.  "Cheese: it's a way of life", says one contestant in the annual August Cheese festival.  I even spotted one of our friendly volunteers from the Cabraliego on stage (one of the contestants, or judges?)
Before you proceed into the long depths of the venue in search of a table, it's worth pausing at the bar, bedecked with plastic bunting flags of the Asturias region.  You could be in Spain here, really.  Older men linger around the bar, and the walls bear photos of proud cheese-clutching Asturians.  Proceed a little further and you're really in rural Asturia, with a wall of black and white photos of farming landscapes and wood-mounted coats of arms.  But it keeps going: continue through to the Asturian community centre, all rows of tables, plastic chairs, and happy people.

Find a space wherever you can.   And order tapas from the kitchen bar right at the back.  Generous plates arrive of jamón, and calamares - no, surely not tapas these, but a ración!  Sticky tables, sticky hands.  One of the volunteers explains how our neighbours are pouring Asturian cider from a height to "get the air into it".

Of course tapas is not usually a cheap option for eating out in Brussels, but tapas bars are growing in number and seem to becoming a gourmet choice.  I was in one the other week with exotic meat on the menu and a pianist accompanying our meal with Chopin.  But for authenticity, atmosphere and finger-licking tastiness  - and principle - Cabraliego, you win.   You give Asturians, Spaniards and others with an interest in Spanish culture a place to go.

Take me there!  Please.
 First time round 5 of us ate and drank for 11 euros a person.  Second time round, trois, it was 15 euros.  Third time, seven of us demolished everything on the menu and three bottles of rioja, leaving nothing but a pile of bones behind.  For 21 euros each: you can't argue with that.

rue Haute 171
1000 Brussels
+32 (0)2 511 05 59

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