So, it’s time to write my second blog post! The topic chosen for this edition is “Identity and Culture: Food and Drink”.
As I’m sitting on the train this morning, from Antwerp back to Brussels, I started to think about what I could write. Luckily, Belgium is the home to some great food, a lot of which we eat in the UK also.
Antwerp Central Station
In fact, last night I ate out at a cool restaurant called Bia Mara. I do not think I could include this in the blog, as it’s a chain of Fish and Chips shops, run by two Irish guys who moved to Belgium. It’s serves quirky versions of fish and chips, like Japanese and Mexican style – but it’s not really Belgian.
Probably the most obvious thing is Belgian chocolate (chocolat Belge)! Here in Belgium, not only can you find entire aisles in the supermarket dedicated to the stuff, but additionally there are chocolate shops on every street. They’re a great place to go if you want to get your hands on a free sample. The biggest chains are Neuhaus, Leonidas, Godiva and Pierre Marcolini. Pierre Marcolini is known for the big shop-front displays at the Sablon store in Central Brussels, here is a picture of its summer decoration.
“Un été chez Pierre” – “A summer at Pierre’s”
Although Belgium may be the argued capital of chocolate, hot chocolates here are a little different to the ones we have back home. Instead of a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar and hot milk, these hot chocolates are melted pure dark chocolate – quite a shock if you’re not expecting it!
The second food snack that Belgium is known for is the waffle (gaufre)! While they may seem the same, there are in fact two types of Belgian waffle; the Brussels waffle and the Liège waffle. The Brussels waffle is more like the ones we find back home – it’s rectangular, crispy on the outside and fluffy in the centre (this texture pairing seems to be something that the Belgians are good at – as you’ll see). They also have a very mild taste, and only lightly sweetened so they are often eaten with whipped cream, sweet sauces, nuts and fruits or even ice cream!
The Liège waffle on the other hand is much chewier and sweeter, it’s also most normally found in a round shape. Because of this it’s often eaten with only a sprinkle of sugar. However, if you ever find yourself in Brussels, head down to the Rue Neuve, where you can find a waffle stand which serves Liège waffles with Belgian milk chocolate baked into the batter – it’s a little pricey but it’s the best!
Can you tell which gaufre is which in the photo above?
These two treats can definitely be considered a Belgian street food, as a waffle stand can be found on every corner, usually serving both types of waffle at prices between €1 and €2.50. Also very popular in Belgium is the Dutch Stroopwafel, this translates literally as “Syrup waffle” and is a harder waffle, with caramel baked inside. These are often enjoyed by being warmed on top of a hot drink before eating them. If you want to try them in the UK, they are often called “Caramel Waffles” can be bought in Lidl, Marks & Spencer and surprisingly, Starbucks.
Also amongst the sweets are a “delicacy” known as cuberdons or gentse neuzen. These are usually found in the North (Flanders), originating from Ghent and are a violet-flavoured jelly inside of a sugar shell. Like Marmite, you either love them or hate them, and I am certainly within the second group!
Finally, in terms of snacks, there are frites (fries). Just like many things, there is a competition between Belgium and France as to whom was the first to invent a certain dish. Contrary to their American name of “French” fries, they are considered to be a Belgian invention. In Belgium, fries really have a cult following – just like at home they are eaten both as a snack and a side to a main meal. However, what distinguishes the Belgian version of fries from the rest is the way in which they are prepared and eaten. To begin, Belgian fries are always double cooked – once at a low temperature and once at high temperature, often in beef fat – to ensure a great taste and that delectable crunchy outside, fluffy inside texture. Next, they are given a sprinkle of salt (never vinegar) and a choice of sauces. This is where you could say that these fries are special – there is the standard ketchup and mayonnaise, but then there is spicy samurai sauce, andalouse, aioli, something called Bickey (I didn’t try this one) and many more.
Frites with mayonnaise and “Sauce frites” from Fritland, Brussels.
The average price for a large portion of fries, with some sauces is around €4. It sounds expensive, compared to the prices we can find in the UK, but the pride that the fritkot owners put into their work really shows in the product. Just like the waffles, chip-shops (fritkots) can be found in every major area of the city. Many fritkots in Brussels and around Belgium claim to have “the best fries”, with loyal followings at each one, but my favourite was undoubtedly “Fritland” at the Bourse in Brussels. In the end, as Belgium is the “homeland” of fries, even McDonald’s does some tasty ones!
Belgium is additionally known for several other dishes, but the most widely-known is probably the moules-frites or mussels and chips. Traditionally, the mussels are cooked in a big casserole dish, in a white wine sauce, but other options such a garlic-tomato sauce or a creamy sauce is also available. This really is a traditional dish, and I would recommend that if you are ever in Belgium (or Scotland for that matter), that you try it. Even if you are not a big seafood fan, the flavour is covered up by the sauce and, of course, the delicious fries!
Can you remember any of the French words for the foods mentioned here?
What does “Stroopwafel” mean?
What makes Belgian frites different from others?
What is the difference between the two types of Belgian waffle?
In February 2017 I shall be living in Spain, so stay tuned for my updates from there!