Being home to such popular street foods as waffles and fries (mind you, there’s no French before fries), Belgium is a pretty terrific foodie destination. On a list such as this, I would of course include two of its most popular and well known foods, but I’m here to share and promote some of its other ones as well. So Belgium, take it away!
I’ve made no secret that I’m not the biggest seafood fan. While I will gladly eat things like crab and scallops, and on occasion dine on salmon and flounder and in Hawaii, a more unusual exotic fish, I’m not overly adventurous when it comes to trying new things in the seafood department. Moules, or mussels as they’re known in English, is one of them. When in Belgium, you can’t go five feet without seeing moules offered in some variety, whether at a market or on a restaurant menu. Many restaurants in the capital of Brussels would have buckets of ice displayed out front with the evening’s moules in them. I’m ashamed to say that during my time in Belgium, I never once tried one of its most famous foods. I really felt bad during dinner in Bruges one night when we dined next to a couple that had ordered moules and they seriously smelled divine (they had been cooked in a broth). I couldn’t do them sans anything, but in a sauce or marinade, I’m game. So on my next trip to Belgium, I am definitely springing for some moules.
Well, on the night I chickened out from trying moules, I opted instead for another famous dish, one made with the country’s most popular beverage…beer. Carbonade flamande is a traditional Belgian sweet-sour beef and onion stew made with beer and seasoned with thyme, bay leaf, and mustard. It’s a dish you could easily imagine being eaten back in the Middle Ages (it has that look and taste about it) and it’s also one you wouldn’t possibly want to eat on a hot night (too much, too hearty). Overlooking the gorgeous Markt, the illuminated Belfort (Belltower), my meal of carbonade flamande was delicious and memorable (seriously, serve me a stew and I’m a happy camper).
This is a dish that I unfortunately never got to try but one that sounds intriguing all the same-it’s basically Belgian-style mashed potatoes, yes, yum indeed. Stoemp is basically the richer Brussels variant of the stampot dish that graces the cuisine of Belgium and the Netherlands. It consists of pureed or mashed potatoes, other root vegetables, and can also include cream, bacon, onion or shallots, herbs and spices. And I’m someone who would be totally fine feasting on a meal in which potatoes were the piece de resistance (go to Peru where there are more than hundred varieties of potatoes and you will understand how true this statement is).
So yes, we’ve made it to the Belgian foods that are known around the world. But I’m here to tell you first and foremost that the waffles you find in Belgium are nothing like the bastardized versions found in the frozen aisles of supermarkets. While waffles in the United States are eaten primarily as a breakfast food, in Belgium they’re just eaten as a snack, a beloved street food. You also have the option of choosing if you want your waffle plain (Liege) or one that is drowning in a variety of sugar coma inducing toppings. Once you eat your first Belgian waffle, you will find that it’s incredibly sweet without the toppings and so that was the route that I always took. I really couldn’t justify eating a sticky, sugar tasting piece of fried dough heaped then with whipped cream, chocolate, and other unnecessary additions. When you go to Belgium, just subscribe to the waffle thirty mentality (a waffle every thirty minutes).
Somewhere along the way the French were bestowed with an accolade that was not theirs to accept-being thought of as the creators of frites, or fries. Go to Belgium and ask for French fries and you will be run out of town (well, not entirely but when in Bruges I did hear someone order French fries at a stand and the server actually said “they’re fries, not French fries”). Although you may think that fries are just fries, but go to Belgium and you will be blown away. Remember what I said about the potato? Whether it’s mashed or fried, the potato can and should be your best friend. I highly recommend the two frite stands that are right by the entrance of the Belfort in Bruges.
And there’s no need to mention Belgian chocolate since I hope you’ve all been eating it for years. Just stay away from the shops that sell chocolate phalluses and other chocolate styled in naughty shapes and outlines-they’re chocolate shapes catering to the tourists, and are vastly inferior to some of the country’s other chocolate shop institutions (like Leonidas in Brussels).