Belgium isn’t considered a big tourist destination. In fact, I bet most people couldn’t even locate it on a map or name another city in it besides Brussels. But, mention Belgium, and most people will be able to at least tell that the beer is good, the chocolate amazing, the waffles delicious, and the frites amazing. Despite its small size, Belgium holds its own in the culinary world and, while the food may not be the healthiest in the world to, it is certainly the delicious:
Belgium is probably most famous for its beer. It has been brewing beer since the Middle Ages and there are approximately 125 breweries in the country. These 125 breweries produce about 800 standard beers. When special one-off beers are included, the total number of Belgian beers jumps to about 8,700! Belgium is clearly for beer lovers.
One of the most famous beers here is the Trappist beers. These are beers brewed in a Trappist monastery where the monks a role in its production and policies and the profits from the sale must be used to support the monastery. Only seven monasteries currently meet these qualifications, six of which are in Belgium and one in the Netherlands.
Another main beer is Lambic beer, a wheat beer brewed in the southwest of Brussels by spontaneous fermentation. Lambic’s fermentation is produced by exposure to the wild yeasts and bacteria in the air. This is the type of beer brewed in Brussels’ only remaining brewery. These beers can be aged for up to three years! I found it very dry, acidic and sour. An acquired taste maybe?
Belgium chocolate is supposed to be the best in the world. I’m not a chocolate expert but I do know that I almost ate all the free samples at the Chocolate museum. Belgian chocolate has a high quality of ingredients and producers strongly adherence to Old World manufacturing techniques. When the EU allowed manufacturers to use a percentage of vegetable oil in chocolate productions, Belgiums balked- only 100% cocoa butter for them!
Belgian chocolate itself has been popular since the 18th century, but increased its popularity during the 20th century when prices dropped and it became more affordable. The most popular variety here are chocolate pralines that can be filled with a variety of flavored creams, alcohol, fruit or more chocolate. You’ll find a chocolate store on every corner in Belgium. The expensive stores Like Neuhaus and Godiva are worth the money.
Belgian waffles, those large, light, and thick waffles, are famous worldwide. However, the Belgium waffle is really the Brussels waffle. Most waffles in Belgium (indeed in most of the low countries) are large and flat. It was introduced by Maurice Vermersch in the ’60s. Originally called Brussels waffles, Vermersch decided to change the name upon observing the poor geographical skills of Americans. Belgian waffles were popularized in the United States during the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
While in Belgium, I noticed the majority of “waffle shops” had the popularized version closest to the tourist areas where in the local areas there was more of a mix and more often sold as a pastry instead of a breakfast food. I’m too used to eating it for breakfast though. For me, they are best served with lots of powered sugar, strawberries, and maple syrup. However, you cna get hem with bananas, ice cream, chocolate, nutella- whatever your heart desires.
Frites, or french fries, is an on the go specialty in many parts of Europe. In Belgium, it is an art. Everywhere you go you see a frite seller and locals walking around with a cone of frites and some mayo. (Probably walking to burn off the calories!) Everyone claims to know the best frite place in “insert town name here”. I found the ones in the center of Brussels and Brugge to be average. A friend did take me to a place called “Maison Antione” in Place Jordan. I thought they were very good and the long lines seemed a testament to that. I mean any place that gets you to wait 30 minutes for fries must be good. And when you eat the frites, make sure you eat them with mayo. It’s delicious.
Belgium may be small but it packs a powerful culinary punch. There’s nothing better than sitting outside on a nice day with a cone of frites in one hand and hearty Belgium beer in the other. None of the food will ever be considered “healthy” but it will always be considered mouth watering delicious.