July 11, 2016

The-best-of-Belgian-cuisine-hero Moules-frites is a common Belgian dish. Mop up the delicious white wine sauce with your chips! Image by Colin Cameron

Rich and wholesome, the cuisine in Belgium is a delicious mix of influences from neighbouring countries like the Netherlands and France. As a frequent traveller to northern France, I often take my family over the border to Belgium for a day trip or relaxing weekend, and we all love tasting the different regional foods on offer.

Wallonian cuisine, from the French-speaking region in the south, has a focus on fresh ingredients and rich sauces, while Flemish cuisine is a little simpler, with more similarities to the food produced in the Netherlands. I adore the rich stews and delicate meats served in Belgian cuisine. See if you can taste all my favourite dishes using my guide below.

Beer

When visiting Belgium, you’ll see that in contrast to France, beer, not wine, is the drink of choice. While I love regional French wines, I insist that you don’t miss the chance to taste Trappist beers (those made in Trappist monasteries) as well as traditional Abbey beers (meaning any other monastic beer) while in Belgium. A beer tour, such as the one found in Bruges’ De Halve Maan brewery, is the best way to learn about the history of beer in Belgium (plus you get to taste some of the local stock!)

Moules-frites

Mussels with fries is, perhaps, the most instantly recognisable of Belgian’s popular dishes. Summer is the best time to sample these juicy delicacies, as mussels from the North Sea are harvested between June and the following April. To eat, use an empty mussel shell as tongs to pry out fresh mussels from their shells, before mopping up the white wine and shallot sauce with fries. Although this dish is also common in France, I must say that Belgian mussels from the North Sea are generally bigger and more delicious.

Speculaas

These sweet cookies are a type of shortbread biscuit, traditionally consumed in early December to mark St. Nicholas Day, as well as at Christmas time in parts of southern Germany. Today, however, they’re enjoyed all-year-round. Made using butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cardamom, these biscuits are usually thin and crunchy. However, in the city of Hasselt, their speculaas are famous for being thicker and more bread-like, made with almond flour, with a gooey centre. For an extra-tasty treat, see if you can find speculaas-flavoured ice cream.

Liège waffle

Enjoy doughy Liège waffles

Enjoy doughy Liège waffles, with ice cream or simply a dust of sugar. © Flickr user Jun Seita

Not just any kind of waffle, traditional Belgian Liège waffles are made with pearl sugar, giving them an incredible caramelised taste. The vanilla and butter in the mixture creates a rich and dense dough, which is immensely tasty. You can find these waffles, as well as stroopwafels (two baked thin waffles with a caramel filling in the middle) at most coffee shops and cafés, however I recommend finding a traditional Belgian bakery for the best Liège waffles. They’re delicious alone, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Ham and endive gratin

Endives

Endives with ham and a creamy béchamel sauce. © Flickr user Smabs Sputzer

Enjoyed as a main meal, ham and endive gratin is made using traditional Belgian produce: endives (also known as chicory), regional cheese and ham. Each endive is wrapped in a piece of boiled ham, before being covered in béchamel sauce and lashings of local cheese. While in Belgium, you’ll find that some chefs add beer to their sauce for extra flavour, and the dish is usually served with a side of mashed potatoes.

Carbonade flamande

A beef and onion stew made with beer, at first glance this dish looks quite similar to one of my favourite French dishes – boeuf bourguignon. Somewhat earthier in taste due to the addition of beer, this dish often comes with diced bacon or pancetta, and is seasoned with thyme and bay leaves. Beers with a slightly bitter and sour flavour are traditionally used to make carbonade flamande, which gives it a fantastic sweet and sour taste. Look out for this rich meal when in Belgium, which is served with chips or stoemp and called Stovenji, in Dutch.

Waterzooi

Waterzooi

Waterzooi made with fish. © Flickr user Smabs Sputzer

Waterzooi is a traditional Flemish stew, made using either chicken or fish, with leeks, potatoes, carrots, cream, butter and herbs. This dish is wonderful when the weather is a little chilly, and while the Belgian climate means that you’ll find many different stews on restaurant menus, waterzooi is the most popular. It’s delicious when accompanied by a fresh, crusty baguette.

Stoemp

Simple, creamy and rich, stoemp is mashed potatoes with vegetables, usually carrots, leeks and/or cabbage. This side dish is best enjoyed with a tender boudin blanc (white sausage, made using sausage meat and milk). To give the mash its extra-creamy texture and taste, cream is added, as well as shallots or onions, and herbs and spices to flavour. You might even see it jazzed up with bacon, which I particularly enjoy!

Experience Belgian cuisine with your own taste buds!

With Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, you can travel from Folkestone to Calais in just 35-minutes, and from there, Belgium is less than one hour’s drive.

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