Aside from Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dr Evil, the most famous things to come out of Belgium are definitely food and drink related. Everyone immediately envisages beer, waffles and chocolate when thinking of Belgium, but as Intrepid’s Hannah Cartmel explains, that’s not even the half of it…
“Did you know French Fries were actually invented in Belgium? Mussels, often cooked in beer, are another local favourite. The Dutch influence has made stoemp, braadworst and speculaas national dishes – these respectively being, a type of mashed potato, a bloody sausage and a spiced biscuit. French flavours include a local version of boeuf bourguignon and Salade Liegoise, which is a take on the famous Salade Nixoise. The endive (witlof or chicon) is often deliciously gratinated, and yes, the Brussels Sprout is commonly eaten in the country’s capital city, only it’s usually drowned in butter.
Add to these gastronomic delights the proliferation of incredible boulangeries, the omnipresence of that famous trinity of waffles, beer and chocolates, and the Belgian’s propensity to enjoy lingering, multi-course family meals, and it’s not surprising that most travellers wandering through Belgium manage to put on some weight!
It’s not at all hard to have a whole day in Belgium that revolves around food… Head to a bakery for pain au chocolat for breakfast, or just make like the locals and grab some delicious walnut bread and a block of praline-filled chocolate from the supermarket and eat them together. Yum! While at the bakery, pick up some escargots – not actual slimy snails, but the gooey, custardy pastry that just happens to look a bit like one and share their name! This could be morning tea, if you’re up for any after breakfast. For lunch you can’t go past moules frites (mussels and fries), or skip the moules and just get some frites with one of a myriad of mayonnaise-based sauces from a street vendor. Try the ‘special’ sauce – trust me.
As soon as the sun’s over the yard arm, you must get to a bar a try some local brews. You just haven’t experienced Belgium until you have tried as many beers as possible. For those non-beer-fans out there, try a framboise or kriek… they’re light-tasting beers infused with raspberry and cherry flavours. Or grab a zingy Hoegaarden, which is usually served with a sprinkling of powdered coriander or a wedge of lemon. For the more beer-hearty, try out some Trappist beers (yes, they’re made by monks, traditionally at least) like Chimay, Westmalle or Rochefort. They’re strong, so be careful.
Just about every beer in Belgium has its own unique type of glass, so trying new ones is fun for more than just your tastebuds. Drinking a Kwak is a unique experience indeed. You also often get snacks automatically with your beers. Cubes of cheese, salted crackers and pretzels are common, so don’t think you’re getting out of eating more by drinking instead!
If you skip the beer and opt for an afternoon coffee, you’ll also generally get a little snack then too. A small piece of chocolate or a spiced speculaas biscuit can usually be found on a Belgian coffee tray.
For dinner? Well, go nuts! Try the stoemp and braadworst or get some mussels if you skipped them at lunch. And don’t forget the endives and Brussels sprouts – they may be cooked in cream and butter, but you’ll get something green at least. Accompany it all with plenty more beer, and feel free to end with some incredible local cheeses (some are stinky but worth it) and some fig or pear sirop.
Thousands of years of invasions and takeovers have left Belgium with a fascinating local food culture that is a blend of French, German and Dutch influences… but that ends up nothing but uniquely Belgian. If you spend your time in this little country doing nothing but eating, you will not only feel pretty satisfied, but will also have enjoyed the gastronomic delights of a real foodie culture!”