When I was in college, I spent a summer studying European politics in Brussels. Brussels gets a bad name because it’s between Paris and Amsterdam, but isn’t either of those cities, and because it’s not full of drugs and whores on the one hand or snotty wastrels on the other, nobody ever visits it.
Which is a shame, because I can think of no better city for me than the capital of a multilingual country with superb public transportation whose culture is built on French fries, beer and multinational bureaucracy.
But for all the beer and the friendly natives and discussion of codecision and lionization of Javier Solana, perhaps my favorite thing about Brussels was not actually Belgian—it was the Turkish food. Brussels is home to many Turkish immigrants, most of whom, it seems, have gone into the restaurant business. Which is great, because Turko-Belgian food is 1) delicious 2) ubiquitous 3) sold in large quantities 4) dirt cheap.
There was one doner kebab shop near my school that I was fond of, and I befriended the owner’s son, Hakan, who ran the store on weeknights. Hakan had recently returned from four years studying physics at Concordia University in Montreal, where he’d fallen immediately and desperately in love with ice hockey. So when I came in after class to pick up an early dinner, before the evening rush, he’d often pour a cup of coffee, pull up a chair at my table and talk with me about the NHL. Hockey fans, particularly Turko-Belgian Montreal Canadiens fans, are rare in that part of Europe.
Hakan, despite being relatively new to the game, had studied its history and often as not would tell me things I didn’t know.
For instance, he told me about the first NHL game he ever saw in person, which was, in fact, a Canadiens-Flyers tilt back in 2002. The game, he said, was marked by a particularly vicious fight in which Flyers defenseman Chris Therien bloodied Habs forward Joe Juneau.
“That’s strange,” I said. “I don’t remember either of them being particularly eager fighters.”
“They weren’t,” Hakan said as he brought me a bowl of spiced rice. “But Juneau had been purposely annoying Therien all night, hooking and tripping. He picked that fight on purpose.”
“Interesting. Therien’s much bigger than he is. Do you remember if Juneau said there was a good reason for it after?”
Hakan shook his head. “No. Juneau regrets Therien.” He pointed at the bowl. “Eat this pilaf.”