Destination Foodie: Belgium
Belgium is a charming and vibrant country in Western Europe, where cultural and linguistic characteristics meet head-on. With its strong Dutch, French and German ethnic groups, a visit to Belgium is a visit to the best that Europe has to offer. In addition to its charming cities and villages, the country has a vibrant national cuisine which incorporates old-world values as well as contemporary ideals. This small nation harnesses strong individual cultural currents to provide a fusion of foods unparalleled in the rest of the world.
While international foods are popular in Belgium, there is a rich tapestry of culinary delights. Owing to the varying ethnic impacts, there are a wide variety of national dishes or the traveler to sample. German, Dutch and French influences cannot be understated, and the result is a sumptuous culinary experience. As the country is a virtual jigsaw puzzle of ethnic regions, what you will find on offer depends on where you go. Ghent, for instance, prizes its Waterzooi dish, a hearty fish or chicken stew. Yet as with many places, the country as a whole has embraced its diverse roots, and many dishes are available nationwide.
Carbonade Flamande is very similar to Beef Bourguignon and uses beer as the base liquid to provide a sumptuous culinary experience. If there is such a thing as a Belgian national dish, it would have to be Moules-Frites, a dish consisting of Mussels prepared to perfection and garnished with fries. Paling in ‘t Groen is a delectable eel dish garnished with herbs with a side dish of bread.
In Brussels, Le Rabassier has become renowned for its national and local dishes, including its grissini and prosciutto garnished with truffle. L’Ogenblik, located in the heart of the capital, offers traditional Belgian fare in a bistro-like atmosphere and is a favorite of local residents. Gasthof 1618, situated in Diest, offers a medieval atmosphere complete with baroque candles and is warmed by a central fire. In Antwerp, Het Gebaar, located near the botanical gardens, captures the essence of Flemish cuisine. And in Liege, Terra Terrae presents the best of Belgian contemporary cuisine under the steady gaze of the town’s cathedral.
And not to be missed are the desserts, Belgian Chocolate is amazing – I once brought back a whole tool set (in chocolate) on a recent visit to Brugge.
Belgian chocolate is chocolate produced in Belgium. A major industry since the 19th century, today it forms an important part of the nation’s economy and culture. While the raw materials used in chocolate production do not originate in Belgium, the country has an association with the product which dates to the early 17th century. The industry expanded massively in the 19th century, gaining an international reputation and, together with the Swiss, became one of the commodity’s most important producers in Europe. Although the industry has been regulated by law since 1894, there is no universal standard for the chocolate to be labelled “Belgian”. The most commonly accepted standard dictates that the actual production of the chocolate must take place inside Belgium.
Few countries offer such an eclectic mix of cultures as does Belgium, and this multi-national flavor is deeply ingrained in the national cuisine. For the sheer variety of regional and national food experiences alone, a trip to Belgium will definitely be worth it.