We’re all familiar with several foods that are famous in Belgium, most notably waffles or chocolate, but there are so many specialties that have come out of the country which aren’t so internationally recognized.
Not only does part of Belgium share a language with its giant neighbor, France, they also share many things on their restaurant menus. French and Belgian cuisine are very similar in terms of flavoring and popular combinations, but that’s not to say that Belgium doesn’t put their own signature stamp on dishes.
Many of us are used to cooking with wine, and many French dishes call for a good glug or two, but it seems that Belgium drifted away from this and started to add their own favorite drink – beer. So many of the dishes showcased below include a healthy amount of Belgium’s favorite tipple, and most Belgians themselves would also drink a beer whilst tucking into dinner.
With part of country bordered by the coastline, and a few major rivers running the width of the country, Belgium takes advantage of its fresh supply of water to keep menus fully stocked with seafood dishes. Whether it’s right out the shell or cooked in a stew, Belgians know how to do their seafood, and do it right.
You can find this dish in many places around Europe, and most people associate it with northern France, but Moules-frites, or mussels and fries to the non-natives, are originally from our Belgian friends and many refer to it as the country’s national dish. In fact Belgium people will argue all day that they invented the fries!
The mussels are served up in the pan that they were cooked in, along with the stock that they were swimming in whilst being cooked. There are numerous variations on how the mussels are prepared, but many put them in either wine or beer (I told you they marinade everything in beer!) along with onions or shallots, parsley, and butter. The fries are brought out on a separate plate so they don’t go moist, and then the rest is up to you – tuck in with your hands and enjoy!
Waterzooi originated in the Belgian town of Ghent, and is fish cooked in an egg and cream based soup with vegetables such as carrots, onions, potatoes and leeks. There are several variations and sometimes you can find chicken as a replacement for the fish part.
While mussels are a big hit in Brussels, Belgians also love their meat. You will find scrumptious meaty dishes in any restaurant you visit, all cooked to perfection. If you prefer red meat over seafood you will find plenty to choose from all over Brussels.
Konijn in geuze
Forget coq au vin and meat cooked in wine, beer is the marinade of choice in Belgium. Konjin in Geuze is rabbit cooked in a popular Belgian beer named Gueze. The rabbit is left in the Gueze overnight before being cooked, letting the beer soak into the meat along with the chef’s choice of herbs and spices. The rabbit is simply served up with potatoes, no more frills than that!
Carbonnades Flamandes is a beef stew often compared to the well-known French dish ‘beef bourguignon’, but instead of the beef being cooked in red wine it’s prepared with, yep, you guessed it – beer. Apparently chefs are very particular over which beer they use to cook the dish, so you can be assured that it wouldn’t be your regular can of standard lager.
Sweets and desserts
Many of the savory dishes above are signature Belgian foods, but it many ways the country really comes into its own when we start talking about sweet bites and treats. The different varieties and combinations for the range of desserts they produce are infinite, leaving temptation around every single corner of your average Belgian street.
Now popular the world over, it is believed that the waffle originated in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands way back in Middle Ages. Back when they were first created the ingredients were far more basic and the result wouldn’t be anything like what we know them as today, but as the centuries went by the recipe developed.
Liège waffles are Belgium’s most popular and the kind you normally found being sold by street vendors. They’re denser and thicker than waffles you might find in restaurants, and often have chunks of sugar in them and a caramelized outer layer. Many street vendors prepare them either in plain, vanilla, or cinnamon versions, and there is always a plethora of toppings to choose from.
Brussels waffles are also very popular and these are the kind you’ll frequently find served in restaurants. They’re much fluffier than Liège waffles, with deeper holes and uniformly rectangular in shape. Many restaurants serve these covered in powdered sugar, adorned with a huge scoop of ice cream, and a healthy drizzle of chocolate sauce all over.
Belgium is very famous for producing extremely high quality and, of course, completely delicious chocolate. Over 170,000 tonnes of Belgian chocolate are produced each year from Belgium’s 2,000 master chocolatiers, and much of this is exported around the globe for all of us to delight in.
Belgium has several unique laws in place to make sure that their chocolate stays to a high standard, which ensures that the chocolate in Belgium remains at its famous quality. Many chocolatiers still make their chocolates by hand, even though that makes it a very laborious and expensive process. This explains why there are so many small independent chocolate shops in Belgium, because many places still make chocolate on site and sell it directly. You can walk into these stores and pick and choose single chocolates to make your own unique box of Belgian indulgence.
These are small shortcrust cinnamon cookies which are traditionally cooked at Christmas but can be found in Belgium all year round. They are thin and crunchy, and shapes vary from animals to houses or barns. The town of Hasselt in Belgium is known for its different local varieties of speculoos, and is the most famous place in the country to try the little cookie treats. Now, you can even get a spread that takes just like speculoos which people put on bread or toast!
Of course if we are talking about Belgian specialties we need to include what they are most famous for, beer.
There really is no other drink we can talk about when referring to Belgium, and even though it’s already mentioned in several of the dishes we’ve talked about above, it still deserves a section in its own right. Belgian beers dates way back to the years of the crusades, and there are now 178 breweries in the country producing pints for the nation.
It would be completely impossible for us to give you a rundown of beer in Belgium because there’s just so much of it that we would miss something important off if we tried. All we suggest is that even if you’re not a beer lover, there will be a brew out there for you that you’ll love and there are few better places on the planet to try a couple than Belgium. Every city has its fair share of pubs and bars which serve a selection of beers, some of which even go above the 2,000 mark, leaving you more spoilt for choice than you could imagine. If it’s not in your glass, it’ll be in the food – going to Belgium and not sampling beer in some form would be criminal, and impossible.
Make sure you try the small local brewed beer in Belgium. You will be presently surprised.
Tip: When looking for somewhere to eat in Brussels be careful not to end up in a ‘tourist restaurant’. The good folk at Visit Brussels have put together a list of good quality restaurants with real local cuisine here
What food did you enjoy most in Belgium?