GLORY 17: The Belgian Connection

From the 18th to the 20th centuries, a tidal wave of émigrés left their European homes and set out to make a new life…

By: John Joe O'Regan | 10 years ago
GLORY 17: The Belgian Connection
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

From the 18th to the 20th centuries, a tidal wave of émigrés left their European homes and set out to make a new life in the ‘New World’ of the North American continent.

Certain countries poured forth their poor and huddled masses in such volume that their descendents became fixtures of the American cultural landscape: there are few who are not familiar with an Irish-American or Italian-American stereotype.

Up north in Canada things were similar, though with a large swathe of the country formerly being a colony of France, it also has a distinct French-Canadian identity which pervades the national culture.

Thousands upon thousands of Belgians also left their homeland in search of better fortunes. And though these days you don’t hear much about Belgian-Americans or Belgian-Canadians, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

On Saturday June 21, top Belgian kickboxer Marc De Bonte (87-11-1, 28 KO’s) will defend the World Welterweight Championship title against ‘Bazooka’ Joe Valtellini (11-2, 10 KO’s) of Toronto, Canada (and also, note, the son of Sicilian immigrants).

It’s a world-class pairing of two top national products and in honor of that, here’s five Belgian-Canadian pairings you probably never thought of but which turn out to make magic together, much like De Bonte and Valtellini are expected to do when they throw down at GLORY: LAST MAN STANDING.

1: Belgian Waffle with Maple Syrup

In at #1, and for good reason, is the Belgian Waffle with Canadian Maple Syrup. If you are in the mood for a treat, few combinations hit the spot quite like this pairing.

Larger yet lighter than the standard US waffle, the ‘Belgian’ version has bigger, deeper squares which allow for a more luxuriant filling.

Maple syrup has a unique sweet flavor and with the maple leaf being the national symbol of Canada, it is fitting that Canada is the world’s largest producer of syrup, responsible for 80% of the world’s supply.

Most of the industry is concentrated in Quebec, which alone is responsible for around 75 percent of global production, in excess of 24,660,000 liters /6,510,000 US gallons.

Despite its iconic status, the waffle was actually introduced to the North American continent comparatively recently. It debuted at a 1962 trade fair as ‘the Bel-Gem Waffle’.

It had originally been known as ‘the Brussels waffle’ but the entrepreneur behind the US push (correctly) deduced that most Americans had no idea Brussels was the capital of Belgium, so he changed the name.

2: Canadian Back Bacon with a Belgian Beer

Canadian bacon isn’t called ‘Canadian bacon’ in Canada. They just call it bacon.

The reason it is called ‘Canadian bacon’ in the USA is to distinguish it from the American style of bacon, which is absolutely horrendous.

Not only does Canadian bacon look and taste like bacon is supposed to – as opposed to the brittle burnt offering of leftover charred rind which US version represents – it is also much leaner due to actually being made from meat rather than mostly fat.

Take your premium Canadian bacon, cook it to taste and place it between two slices of bread along with some lettuce and some sliced tomato. You are now on track for a superb BLT. But what to wash it down with?

There can be no finer choice than a Belgian beer. The country might only be the size of the state of Maryland, but in the beer world it is a nuclear-armed superpower bristling with weaponry. According to Belgian national law, smuggling Bud Light into the country carries the death penalty.

And rightly so. A nod to the burgeoning US craft beer scene aside, the typical US offering – Budweiser, Coors – is a pale, flaccid thing. Placing it next to a robust complex Belgian brew is to recreate the effect of Gollum wandering onstage during a Mr. Olympia competition.

There are a ridiculous number of styles to be found in Belgium and I heartily recommend you try them all. Of particular note are the Trappist beers, produced by monks in monasteries for hundreds of years. A few of the ‘Tripel’ (‘triple strength’) variety will soon put your Miller Lite in context.

3: Georges St-Pierre and Jean-Claude Van Damme

St-Pierre is one of the world’s top martial artists and by far the most successful fighter ever to come out of Canada. Van Damme is a martial arts icon and by far the most successful martial artist and movie star to come out of Belgium.

Former UFC welterweight champion cites Van Damme as a huge influence, particularly the iconic Bloodsport movie. He’s also done some training with the ‘Muscles from Brussels’ and says that Van Damme “is the real deal.”

Van Damme dropped in to the TriStar gym in Montreal for an impromptu training session back in 2012 and last year St-Pierre told TMZ that his fantasy fight would be against Van Damme’s character from the Bloodsport tournament.

Now the two are more closely connected than ever after it was announced this year that St-Pierre is to star in a remake of the 1989 classic Kickboxer, the film which really launched Van Damme’s career as a US movie star.

4: Canadian diamonds and the Antwerp Diamond District

Not long ago, the phrase ‘Canadian Diamond Mine’ was as redundant as ‘Disneyland North Korea’. But in the 1990s, major diamond reserves were discovered all over the country.

Canada shot from having a non-existent diamond trade to being the world’s third-largest producer. It also benefited from being free of the ethical issues which tarnish so many of the diamonds sourced in Africa.

Meanwhile, the Belgian city of Antwerp has been considered the center of the world’s diamond trade since around 1470. A resident of the city invented a new diamond-polishing technique, producing the shiny cut diamonds we know today.

This was popular with European aristocrats. The technique was closely-guarded in Antwerp and so it became the central hub of diamond import, export and sales. Today more than $16bn worth of polished diamonds pass through the city’s ‘Diamond Quarter’ annually, and about 84% of the world’s rough diamonds.

Total annual turnover for the district is around $54bn, spread between the quarter’s 380 and 3,500 broker- and merchant-houses. The district has four private banks which specialize almost exclusively in the financing of the diamond trade

Interestingly, the city’s Jewish population has been heavily involved in the diamond trade since medieval times and today an estimated 80% of Antwerp’s Jewish residents are employed in the diamond industry.

As a result of Jewish influence over the centuries, Yiddish terms are a staple in the international diamond trade and the Antwerp houses do not trade on Saturdays because the Jewish religion prohibits work on that (Sabbath) day.

5: Butter Tarts and Pralines

Canadians and Belgians both have a sweet tooth, so if you’re looking to sabotage your weight-cut you can easily represent both nations on your dessert-dish while doing so.

Pralines – known internationally as ‘Belgian chocolates’ – were first introduced by Jean Neuhaus II, a Belgian chocolatier, in 1912. They have a harder outer layer of chocolate with a soft or liquid center, which can be anything from marzipan to hazelnut paste, liquor, butter or another type of chocolate.

As for the Butter Tart, this small pastry offering is considered a Canadian national dish. It is made with butter, sugar, syrup, and egg filled into a flaky pastry and baked until the filling is semi-solid with a crunchy top.

Raisins are often added to the center mix, though Butter Tart purists frown on the innovations of the more experimental Butter Tart producers, which have included the addition of nuts, coconut pieces, dates, butterscotch, chocolate chips, peanut butter or maple syrup.

There you have it: five Belgian/Canadian things which go together really well. Entertain your friends with these while watching the De Bonte/Valtellini fight at GLORY: LAST MAN STANDING. They will think you are awesome look sideways at you for a really, really long time

Note: GLORY: LAST MAN STANDING is the pay-per-view card which features De Bonte vs Valtellini, Daniel Ghita vs Rico Verhoeven for the Heavyweight World Title plus the eight-man Middleweight Championship Tournament with the world title on the line.

GLORY 17 LOS ANGELES is the lead-in for the pay-per-view and airs live and free on SPIKE TV. It features the US kickboxing debut of Mirko ‘CroCop’ Filipovic (he rematches America’s Jarrell Miller) plus the four-man Featherweight Contender Tournament.

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John Joe O'Regan
John Joe O'Regan

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