Poperinge’s triennial hop parade seeks to tell the story of the magic cone used in the production of beer, as placed in the historical context of the Westhoek (“west corner”) region of Flanders, embracing this vicinity in Belgium as well as a slice of nearby France.
I’ve long since ceased trying to follow the parade’s narrative. Clearly, scores of local children are portraying friends and enemies of the hop; certain insects are bad, but the birds that eat them are good, and so on.
The growing and harvesting cycles are depicted. Adults pretend to be monks and migrant workers. There are floats, brass bands, horses, dogs and even sheep. It is a brightly colored and enthusiastic assemblage, perhaps because it takes place only every third year, providing ample burnout recovery time.
The parade winds through the streets for close to two hours, and these days our chosen vantage point lies near the end of the route. It’s the Poussecafé at Ieperstraat 45, a decades-old offshoot of the original Vandecasteele family business, a scrumptious bakery founded right before World War I.
As in 2014, we arrived early for lunch this year, then moved outdoors for front-row seats. When the weather is fair and the Keikoppen (cobblestone heads) of all ages line the streets, the parade is massively entertaining, and frankly has improved over the time I’ve been watching it. It’s great fun, and best accompanied with locally brewed ales: St. Bernardus, Van Eecke and De Plukker, to name only three.
Earlier in the day, we chanced upon Popernicus, the festival’s official mascot.
Popernicus appeared again at the head of the gala. Absent any effort to explain, following are photos of the 2017 parade, arranged chronologically.
At parade’s end, our most logical destination was the Grote Markt for a final dispensing of sample tokens at “Taste of Westhoek.” This achieved, it was time for the evening meal, an event that has taken on quasi-religious overtones as experienced at the Café de la Paix.
It isn’t possible to eat badly in Poperinge, and an establishment the caliber of Flou’s (described previously) ups the ante.
I’ve yet to dine at Pegasus on Guido Gezellestraat, although it might be a bit too much gourmet-oriented for me.
Finally, again in 2017, ‘t Hommelhof in Watou proved elusive. Even in Europe there are times when it would be handy to have a car, if impossible to find someone sober enough to drive it.
But all things considered, Café de la Paix on the Grote Markt remains the place I prefer for characteristic regional cuisine and an extensive beer selection. Top of the line steaks; escargot to die for; friendly service; and a convivial atmosphere not at all overstuffed.
There’s a bit more about the 2014 meal at Café de la Paix in this previously published column.
In 2017, the beer selection was shuffled about. Luc appeared for a brief chat, introducing us to the proud proprietor, the mother of the winning hop queen candidate. Almost palpably, Poperinge was deescalating.
Diana and I would be staying another two days, but our friends were set to depart on Monday morning. The story will continue.