De bakkerij, en de teloorgang van de Belgische samenleving (Or How the Bakeries Have Marked the End of Belgium)

This is a little story about traditions. And how they disappear.

Belgium often shares its traditions with other countries. There is Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet (Saint Nicholas and his helper): on the night of the 5th of December, Sinterklaas and his white horse Slechtweervandaag (Badweathertoday) walk over the rooftops to bring the children presents. Zwarte Piet jumps through the chimneys to deliver. So on the morning of the 6th of December, all children in Belgium are happy, playing with their new toys, eating their chocolate figurines, speculoosjes, and all the other yummy stuff Sinterklaas brings with him. The same goes for all the Dutch kids, and in a slightly different setting, the German and Austrian kids. There is also Carnival, usually sometime in February. And the easter egg hunts with crazy amounts of chocolate. The summertime festivals in every city and on every field. All of those traditions, we share with our neighbours.

But I’m talking about smaller traditions now. Like how the English like their tea and have a Sunday Roast every Sunday. The Belgians, we do Sunday Breakfast. The early riser of the family gets up to go to the bakery to get rolls and maybe some sweet breakfast buns. The others set the table with spreads like cheese, ham, and of course chocolate spread. The occasional egg gets cooked, bacon might be fried. There is coffee and fresh orange juice. The whole event can take all morning, if we feel up for it. But it happens every Sunday.

When I still lived in town, I was gutted to find out all the bakeries nearby are closed on Sunday. Whoaaaat?! I figured it was because Leuven is very much a student city, and therefore dead in the weekends. (All Belgian students go home in the weekends, to Hotel Mom, where dear mom and dad do their laundry and cooking.) Luckily, I had a grocery store around the corner that was open on a Sunday (even though usually ev-ve-ry-thing is closed on Sundays, except the bakeries of course). They had fresh roles, so I got to keep my Sunday Hurray.

We Belgians do really like our bread. The Italians might skip their breakfast, have some pasta or mozzarella for lunch, and a big dinner. The English do cereal or porridge, maybe a sandwich for lunch, or a hot meal, to have another one for tea or dinner. We (and again, our neighbours), we do bread at least twice a day. Sandwiches in the morning, sandwiches for lunch, maybe one when we get home from work, and then a hot meal for dinner. You might find this odd, but wait until you’ve tried our bread. There is one bakery for every two streets, and often families even bake their own bread. None of it is factory made and stored in plastic bags. In the bakery, we pick our favourite kind of bread, fresh from the oven, it gets cut, taken home, and then devoured. Ah, the deliciousness of fresh bread with chocolate spread in the morning, or a simple sandwich with cheese to maybe dip into some soup over lunch!

Now I moved out of the centre, to the streets where families live. Young, old, with cats and dogs, and apple trees in the gardens. We have been living there for one month now, and finally our new home has stabilised as such that we get to pick up the traditions again: Sunday Breakfast here we come!

Ah, the disappointment. The two bakeries nearby were both closed. I had to find a supermarket, one of those rare ones open on a Sunday. It was mayhem in there, I think the whole town was fighting for the last roles in the little corner of the shop that had bread. Picture it as follows: zombie armageddon in the bread section.

Belgium, you have let me down.