Where do the little pockets of culture lie in your city? Boston has a few different cultural centers including Chinatown in downtown, Lusophone neighborhoods in Cambridge, an Armenian constituency in Watertown, and Hispanic comunidad in East Boston among others (more here). Even where there is not a national or cultural community, many parts of the world are represented in Boston through food. A new African restaurant just opened in Roslindale, Moldovan cuisine is a staple in Watertown, and a Venezuelan place has long lined the streets in Harvard Square—just to name a small few. Different cultures are as abundant in this city as embassies are in Washington, D.C.. Even on a small quiet street corner, one is liable to experience something new….
Have you ever had the satisfaction of indulging in an afternoon waffle? If you are familiar with Cambridge, MA, you may be familiar with Zinneken’s. Located just steps away from Harvard University, I have passed by this small joint a number of times without really ever taking notice of it. Zinneken’s, although outwardly unassuming, boasts the best, baked waffles out of Belgium.
My boyfriend and I recently visited Zinneken’s on a weekday afternoon. The café is cozy with only a few tables and limited high-top, bar-style seating. The first thing that struck me upon my arrival was the prevalence of the French language being spoken around us. On another visit, my boyfriend remarked the same thing—French seemed to be the mother tongue of many of its visitors.
The restaurant was quirky and displayed pictures of the Belgian cartoon Tintin by the counter. Another peculiarity of this restaurant was the choice of serving utensils. In our case, a nice glass cup for the espresso, a tall to-go cup for the chai tea, cafeteria-style cups for water, a metal tray for the waffles, and paper napkins.
Although our visit occurred after the lunch hour and well before dinner time, the café was crowded. At one point, a swarm of high schoolers occupied all available space. For the first time in years, I heard the once familiar lament of SATs and the monotony of class schedules. It stood out to me that a waffle place would be so busy during an hour usually considered to be a lull at cafes. In fact, I checked the restaurant visit statistics and saw that Zinneken’s is busiest daily after 3pm with only meager showings during the morning hours.
Interestingly, in Europe, waffles are not considered to be a breakfast food like they are here in the United States. Many European countries do not indulge in the tradition of sweet treats in the early morning. Instead, waffles are more commonly served as a casual snack food or dessert. The waffles at Zinneken’s are drizzled with chocolate, powdered with sugar, and are served with a dollop of whipped cream. Perhaps, such a sugar bomb is better left for later in the day….
Boston is a treasure trove for culture and cuisine. One day waffles, the next sushi, and the following challah—because why not! I did not come to Zinneken’s for a cultural experience—to be honest, I did not even realize it was Belgian until I did some reading on it. However, my visit is a reminder to keep looking for new and different things. Luckily for me, opportunity in this city is abundant. Sometimes your next little adventure is literally right around the corner.