Ah, hippies. I love hippies, bless their matted white person dreadlocks and their persistent odour of patchouli. I should do: I was raised by them, sort of. It’s a long story, from another age, of muesli malnutrition and Greenham common, Woodcraft Folk, rainbow sweaters and cakes made with carob. It was a simpler time then, when a load of bread weighed more than a house brick and was enriched with stones, and make up was a manifestation of patriarchal oppression.
Of course, in the Francophone world, we don’t have hippies anymore, we have ‘bobos‘. Bobos, in their modern, post-1968 incarnation, are a sort of supercharged neo-hippy with a consumerist streak. Bobos like organic markets and artisan cheeses and biodynamic wines and agriturismo and cruelty free shoes and keeping chickens. In my bitterer moments I wonder where the bobos get the disposable income for all this high end hippiedom. Bikram yoga must be a bigger earner than I realise. Consider the bobo of the fields: he toils not, neither does he spin. Rather he sits on the terrace at Belga and Instagrams his wasabi peanuts.
The really savvy bobos these days open their own cafés, where other bobos come and admire artisan cheeses and craft beers. They do not call them cafés, though, they call them “Néo-cantines”. I have seen a lot of néo-cantines hit the streets of Brussels in the last couple of years. I was musing recently on starting a tumblr about them in the style of fuckyournoguchitable, which I was planning to call “encoreunenéocantinebobo” and which would feature, eg. “fuck your mismatched vintage crockery” and “fuck your légumes oubliés“, but life is short and I am chronically lazy and it would have only amused about 7 people, if that.
I sound like I am being snotty about this, but it is to mask the truth, which is that I am a total sucker for all this stuff. I, too, want hand cured pancetta from happy pigs and heirloom tomatoes and kale chips. Moreover, generally these néo-cantines are congenial places, where people who are enthusiastic about their food give you nice stuff to eat and drink in a comfortable, attractive environment. I am not a beast. I appreciate this. I CANNOT GET ENOUGH OF IT, OK?
Anyway. I went to one today and it was lovely. It was Ah Bon? which I have tried to find several times, having read about its goodness. I can’t have read about the address very assiduously, because I was wandering like a lost soul around Avenue Albert, where I believed it was. It isn’t. It’s on Chaussée d’Alsemberg, just a couple of doors down from Bar du Matin, which is, coincidentally or not, also a massive bobo magnet.
Ah bon? does not actually score particularly highly on my patented bobo-meter. The interior isn’t anything to write home about: it looks like pretty much any sandwich joint, with a few tables to the rear, though there are some craft beers and organic veg delivery boxes doing sterling bobo work near the counter at the front.
It was very peaceful, with no one holding forth on intermittent fasting or what they’re seeing at Actor’s Studio, and the people who run it are delightful and smiley. The food, though, is a total bobo-gasm: it’s mainly Italian in influence and they specialise in homemade piadinas, those lovely Italian flatbreads, stuffed with good things. These ones are made with spelt flour (bobo bonus points) and the nice lady makes them in front of you, chopping a bit off a big ball of dough, rolling it out and chucking it on the griddle. Then they stuff it with things you request, most of an antipasti variety.
Because this is modern bobo-dom, the things do not have to be vegan and no one will make you eat seitan. I had the first piadina on the board, spinach, pancetta and goat’s cheese.
It was filthy good and did not taste remotely like it might be good for me. I took it home to eat and my boyfriend, who was unexpectedly there and eating maquereau vin blanc straight from the tin like an axe murderer, stared at it with mournful longing. I did not give him any. It was €8 which is a great deal of euros for a sandwich, but I suppose pig happiness is priceless. They also do big salads full of healthy stuff, like those horrible sprouting seeds that taste like Satan’s windowboxes, if that’s your ‘thing’, and charcuterie and cheese plates.
I liked it. I would go back. And I am sure you will like it too, if you have the slightest bobo tendencies, or even if you simply like a very good sandwich.
Ah Bon? 148 Chaussée d’Alsemberg
(Don’t go down Avenue Albert by mistake)