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Inflight Magazine of Brussels Airlines

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Food & drink

Carolyn Bánfalvi raises a glass to the Christmas spirit in Europe, while Scott Adams hunts out the best restaurants to try truffles

Mulled wine is particularly popular in Central Europe at this time of year, made at home by heating wine (white or red) with a mixture of spices. In Hungary, forralt bor (boiling wine) is served in mugs at Christmas markets, warming your hands as well as your heart in the bitter cold. During gatherings and meals, pálinka (fruit brandy) is drunk, while come New Year’s Eve you’ll find Budapest’s streets filled with party-goers swilling the aforementioned pezsgo straight from the bottle.

Glühwein (mulled wine) made with red wine is the traditional festive drink. Variations are also served, particularly on New Year’s Eve, such as heisser weinpunsch (hot wine punch with tea and rum) and krambambuli (flaming wine punch), which has sekt and rum added. Frothy eggnog is enjoyed at home.

The most common holiday tipple where the winter nights are long and cold is glögg. This mulled wine is spiced with cloves, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and lemon zest, and usually has vodka (and sometimes port) added for an extra kick. It’s offered to guests dropping by, and served after meals in front of the fireplace while plates of sweets are passed around.

Champagne is, of course, an essential part of a festive gathering, but regional specialities also make appearances. According to Kimberly Lovato, author of a culinary travel book of the Dordogne region called Walnut Wine & Truffle Groves, walnut wine is served as an aperitif. It is almost exclusively homemade, using the young green walnuts collected during the summer, which are then mixed with sugar and red wine. The new batch debuts around Christmas time.

Italians like their bubbles too, so prosecco is in plentiful supply. In Tuscany and Umbria, vin santo (sweet wine made from grapes that are hung from rafters after the harvest before being pressed) is the traditional drink. According to Elizabeth Wholey, who teaches cooking classes and leads culinary tours in Umbria, it is drunk sitting around the fireplace, served in small glasses with torcolo cake, biscotti or roasted chestnuts.

In a country that loves beer, it’s not surprising that many breweries produce Christmas brews. In fact, the country’s best-known export, Stella Artois, has its roots in the Christmas season. “It was originally brewed as a Christmas beer in the town of Leuven,” says Kimberly Lovato. “Stella means star – the star of Christmas – while Sebastian Artois was the founder of the brewery.”

December is the perfect month to indulge in delectable dishes using both the black and white varieties of truffles. Looking a bit like a walnut, these gastronomic delicacies lurk between 20cm and 30cm underground in European oak and pine woods, particularly in northern Italy. Their hiding place masks their sensual aroma, which some have likened to the smell of primal musk. To others, however, they smell like gold: truffles can fetch up to €100,000 a kilo in the global gourmet market. During October and November each year, epicureans will flock to the famous truffle market in Alba in Italy to make their purchases – but here are two restaurants to try…

La Truffe Noire

12 Boulevard de la Cambre, tel. +32 (0)2 640 4422,

For more than 20 years, this restaurant in central Brussels has been the Rolls Royce of establishments for gourmands who crave the heady aroma of both black and white truffles. Virtually every dish prepared by chefs Aziz Bhatti and Erik Lindelauf features them; you’ll find truffles thinly sliced directly on to the food at the table, or infused with the dishes while cooking. In a particularly exquisite touch, cheese is drizzled with aromatic truffle oil.

Although there is an à la carte menu, it’s far more enjoyable to choose one of the three set menus, which range from €50 to €225. Then simply sit back in the elegant surroundings and savour six courses as they are brought to your table. The black truffle ravioli with three celeries is the perfect way to start the meal, before moving on to Wagyu beef served with truffle mousse, truffle sautéed vegetables and perigourdine sauce. To keep you in the celebratory mood there’s an excellent champagne and wine list, including some exceptional French labels such as the 1982 Romanee St-Vivant.

Piú di Prima

100 Calle Hortaleza, tel. +34 913 083372,

Madrid’s best Italian restaurant takes its cuisine very seriously, and in the winter months – aside from the regular offerings of homemade al dente pasta, risotto and meat dishes – comes a special menu dedicated to the ‘diamond of the kitchen’. White truffles attract exorbitant prices due to the fact that they can’t be cultivated and are only found where Mother Nature chooses to place them. Piú di Prima’s owner, Gianluca Faverio, is fortunate enough to have his own personal supplier, who makes sure not only that the restaurant has plenty of both the Toscana and Alba varieties, but also that those truffles served at Faverio’s tables are the very best on offer.

This year sees nine dishes using white truffles on the menu. Highlights include porcini mushrooms, handmade tagliatelle served with poached egg, risotto alla parmigiana and steak tartare, with each dish crowned with slivers of white truffle, hand-shaved at the table. To complement the food, Piú di Prima’s cellar offers more than 60 excellent Italian wines sourced from Sicily, Umbria, Campania and Sardinia.

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