When you think of food and drink in Belgium, things such as waffles, chocolate, mussels, frites and beer will probably spring to mind. Having returned from my year abroad, I can say with absolute certainty these sum up Belgian food and drink perfectly.
#1. Waffles – Street vs Restaurant
Which is the true Belgian Waffle? The ‘Brussels waffle’ is the gourmet restaurant waffle. These are more savoury and plain in texture and taste, dusted with icing sugar, served with fresh fruit, and then dressed up with sauces, cream or ice cream. However, some connoisseurs deem this waffle inauthentic and name the ‘Liège waffle’ the true Belgian delicacy. These street waffles are denser, with a burnt sugar coating and chunks of sugar texturizing the soft centre. These can also be served with a topping of choice, usually a hot caramel or chocolate sauce, but are sweet enough to be eaten plain. These waffles are sold from vendors on every street corner, and in the tourist trap of Brussels, on the way to the famous ‘Manneken Pis’ (the Peeing Boy Statue), there’s a cobbled street assigned wholly to waffle shops.
Godiva, Guylian, Leonidas, Neuhaus and Cote D’Or are to name but a few of the 2000 chocolatiers that originate in Belgium. Belgium is the founder of the chocolate bar. If you have the money, then it really is a chocoholic’s heaven, but these brands can’t be bought cheaply, even in Belgium. Nevertheless, the composition of Belgian chocolate has been regulated under Belgium Law since 1884, meaning that even the standard Belgium supermarket-bought chocolate is a hundred times better than any English equivalent.
No two foods complement each other better than a bucket of moules and a plate of frites. It’s a touchy subject; if you make any suggestion that frites are a ‘French thing’, Belgians will take this claim very seriously and demand that they should get the credit for handling them best. Like waffles, ‘frietkots’ or ‘fritures’, are sold in cones by vendors everywhere. They are cooked twice, and can be accompanied by a variety of adventurous sauces. Ketchup exists, but it’s certainly not a thing. If you aren’t going to try Samurai, Andalouse, Jupee or one of the other 50 sauces to choose from, then mayonnaise is the traditional go-to dip.
‘Leuven;’ you may recognise the name, and you will certainly have seen it. Written on every bottle or can, Leuven is the home of Stella Artois. To grasp the true extent of Belgian beer, a trip to The Capital in Leuven is a must. It’s not so much a bar as it is a restaurant; you take a seat at your table and are given a menu of some 1500-2000 different types of beer, varying from between 4% to 12.5%. For a person who isn’t much of a ‘beer connoisseur’ it is somewhat overwhelming. I did learn, however, that ‘dark’ and ‘amber’ beers are not for me, nor are the fruit flavoured beers or the unusual chocolate or ‘speculoos’ (cookie) flavours; I much prefer the lighter ‘blondes’.