Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Pursuit of Milk

IMAGE VIA DISCOVERY EDUCATION
We've been back in Brussels for a little less than a week, and I will freely admit I might be losing it a bit. Granted, the jet lag doesn't help (or the excellent selection of movies offered by British Airways - thanks to The Duchess and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, I did not sleep a wink), which is then exacerbated by the teensy portions of daylight offered by Lady Bruxelles this time of year. (Nothing like waking up at 8AM and thinking it's about half past three.)

But what baffles me the most is how some of the seemingly easiest tasks can prove quite complicated here (in all fairness, the reverse is also true - see, for instance, Health Care). For instance, on Monday, I set out to purchase, among other things, some milk.  But milk was nowhere to be found. The guy who sells it at the market (in unwieldy but eco-friendly glass bottles) was MIA. So were all of the half-full milk bottles at the small GB Contact where I stopped on the way home.

This is the point at which I have to digress and discuss two particular dichotomies (I told you I was losing it). First, full (lait entier or volle melk) vs. half-full (demi-écrémé or halfvolle) milk. (I realize this is leaving out karnemelk altogether, but that's a whole other story - mainly of milk that tastes spoiled.) In the U.S., one has the choice between full (I think), 2%, 1%, and skim milk, as well as some illegal unpasteurized varieties. I suppose that means we're spoiled. Here, I am perfectly happy to opt for half-full, except it is quite frequently sold out. Which is annoying. So when that happened the other day, I decided not to go for the full milk (or for the frighteningly non-refrigerated, ultrapasteurized version), but to try my luck at the larger supermarket. Which brings me to my next dichotomy - that of the small and large urban Bruxellois supermarket.

Again, this is somewhat of a false dichotomy, since, categorically, there exist more than just small and large supermarkets in Belgium. There are also some bodegas (but don't go there for milk). But, outside of the market, my supermarket shopping happens either in a smaller City Delhaize or GB Express, or in a larger Carrefour or Delhaize. The difference is significant - the selection in the larger supermarkets is pretty incredible, whereas the smaller markets are pricier, with more luck-of-the-draw offerings. One large Delhaize (Molière) even had a self-scanning system, with which I of course fell in love. The only problem is that the larger supermarkets are located considerably further away from my apartment, and a trip to one of them virtually guarantees some neck and shoulder pain. (This has led me to consider prematurely buying one of those granny wheely-carts, but I'll save that discussion for another day). However, most of the time one will find what one requires at one of the larger chains.

You can imagine, therefore, my surprise, when I hoofed it all the way to Delhaize Flagey (which apparently was the first "large, American-style" supermarket in Brussels) the other day and found nary a bottle of milk (full or half-full!) in sight. I really wanted to cry. Instead, I gave in and bought the überpasteurized kind. And, in the end, have found it to taste not so bad in coffee.

9 comments:

King Kong Rah Rah Rah said...

in the spirit of your blog on milk... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXS5GBuk-GQ
most of it is about water though.
-ang

Stephen said...

karnemelk is just the Dutch version of buttermilk. Methinks you already knew that, but your jet lag addled writing made it seem like it was some weirdo Dutch dairy creation.

maisie said...

touché, cossé, vraiment touché.

Ann said...

So it's called "whole milk" here.

Ann said...

"I suppose that means we're spoiled." No pun intended.

Ann said...

"I really wanted to cry." Over spilt milk?

maisie said...

You managed to dig out all of my hidden, cheesy, partially intended puns!

Lydia said...

I have been following your blog over the past year to prepare me for our move from Seattle to Belgium. I love reading about your insights into the Belgian way of life. And yet, on my first day here I accidentally bought karnemelk instead of normal milk. I also caved in and bought a grandma trolley, too.

maisie said...

Welcome to Belgium, Lydia! I went to your blog and enjoyed reading your posts about being a new arrival here.