Food in Belgium
Belgians love to eat. Belgium is famous for its good food and people like to go to restaurants frequently. The best description of Belgian food would be “French food in a German crowd”.
- Like everywhere else in the world, you should avoid tourist traps where thugs try to push you into restaurants. You will get mediocre to bad food at medium to high prices, and at busy times they will try to get rid of you as quickly as possible to make room for the next customer. A good example is the famous “Rue des Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat” in Brussels in this picture.
- Belgium is a country that understands food and can be a true gastronomic paradise. In almost any tavern you can enjoy a decent meal, from a small snack to a full dinner. All you have to do is go to one of them and enjoy it.
- If you want to eat really well and for not too much money, ask the locals or the hotel manager (assuming he doesn’t have a brother restaurant owner) if he can give you some tips for a good restaurant. A good idea is to look for a restaurant or taverna a bit outside the cities (if some locals advise it); they are usually not too expensive, but offer decent -> quality food. And if you order specialities in season, you not only save your wallet but also the quality of the food.
- Quality has its price: since the introduction of the euro, the price of restaurant food in Belgium has almost doubled. Expensive dishes like lobster or turbot will always be very expensive in any restaurant. But there are also local and simple dishes that are quite cheap and always very tasty (e.g. sausages, potatoes and spinach). Normally, a dinner (3 courses) costs about 30 to 50 euros, depending on the choice of dishes and the restaurant. And for cheap and greasy food, just find a local “frituur”. It will be the best Belgian roast you have had in a long time.
A number of dishes are considered typical Belgian specialities and should be on every visitor’s agenda.
Mussels are very popular and are served as a side dish with mussels and chips/mosselen met friet. The traditional method is to cook them in a pot with white wine and/or onions and celery and then eat them, taking them out with only a mussel shell. The high season is from September to April and, as with all other shellfish, you should not eat the closed shells. Belgian mussels always come from the neighbouring Netherlands. Imports from other countries are frowned upon.
Balletjes/Boulettes are meatballs with French fries. They are served either with a tomato sauce or with Liégeois sauce, which is based on a local syrup. That is why they are often presented under the name Boulets Liégeois.
Frikadellen met krieken are also meatballs served with cherries in a cherry juice sauce. They are eaten with bread.
The stoemp is mashed potatoes and carrots with bacon and sausages. It’s a typical Brussels food.
Stoofvlees (or Flemish carbonade) are a traditional beef stew and are usually served with (you guessed it) fries.
Witloof met kaassaus/Chicons au gratin is a traditional chicory casserole with ham and cheese bechamel, usually served with mashed potatoes or croquettes.
Rabbit with plums: Rabbit cooked with bear and three plums.
Despite their name, French fries (Dutch frieten, French frites) proudly claim to be a Belgian invention. Whether that’s true or not, they’ve certainly perfected it – even if not everyone agrees with the choice of mayonnaise instead of ketchup as their favourite condiment (ketchup is considered “for children”).
In every village there is at least one friterie, an establishment that sells takeaway fries at reasonable prices, with a wide choice of sauces and fried meat to go with them. Tradition dictates that you try the fries with the stoofvlees, but don’t forget the mayonnaise that goes with them.
The waffles (waffles in Dutch, waffles in French) come in two varieties:
- Bruxelles/Brusselse Wafels: a light and airy option.
- a heavier variety with a sticky centre called Gaufres de Liège/Luikse wafers.
These are often consumed while shopping on the street/ take-away and can therefore be found in stalls on city streets.
After all, Belgian chocolate is famous all over the world. Famous chocolatiers include Godiva, Leonidas, Guylian, Galler, Marcolini and Neuhaus, but the best stuff is found in tiny shops that are too small to create global brands. In almost every supermarket you can buy the Côte d’Or brand, which is generally considered by Belgians to be the best “everyday” chocolate (for breakfast or a break).
International cuisine in Belgium
As a small country in the middle of Western Europe, the cuisine is not only influenced by the surrounding countries, but also by many other countries. This is also underlined by the many foreigners who come to this country to earn a living, for example by opening a restaurant. You can find all kinds of restaurants:
- French/Belgian: A traditional Belgian restaurant serves the kind of food you find in the best French restaurants. Of course, there are local differences: on the coast (both in France and Belgium) you are more likely to find good seafood, such as mussels, turbot, sole or the famous North Sea crabs. In the forests of the southern Ardennes (remember the Battle of the Bulge?), it is better to choose local game or fish like trout.
- English/Irish: There are Irish bars and pubs everywhere and Belgium is no exception. Try the Schuman district of Brussels, where you can find more Irish pubs than you can shake a stick at. There is also an English pub right next to Place de la Monnaie in the centre of Brussels.
- American: There is McDonald’s or imitators in almost every city. The Belgian version is called “Quick”. You can also find a local stand serving sausages, hot dogs or hamburgers. Try it: the meat tastes the same, but the bread is much better. In this region, ketchup is bland and made with less sugar (even the Heintz brand). Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Subway also have branches. There are no real American restaurants, although there is an American bar on the Golden Fleece in Brussels that serves food.
- Mexican: Only in cities and quite expensive for only medium quality. ChiChi’s (near the stock exchange) serves Mexican-American food, but would not be considered cheap by American standards. ChiChi’s uses reconstituted meat.
- Chinese: They have a long tradition of restaurants in Belgium. Rather cheap, but of acceptable quality.
- German/Austrian: Maxburg in the Schuman area (next to Spicy Grill) makes a good schnitzel.
- Greek/Spanish/Italian: Like everywhere in the world, nice, rather cheap, with good atmosphere and typical music (Greek: choose meat, especially lamb) (Spanish: choose paella and tapas) (Italian: choose everything).
- Japanese/Thai: They are usually only found in the cities and are quite expensive, but they offer you good quality. In a concentrated group of Thai restaurants near Bourse station, both prices and quality are satisfactory. However, avoid Phat Thai if you don’t want to be disturbed as they let pot dealers and florists in and do their “work”.
- Arabic/Moroccan: Rather inexpensive, with a large selection of local dishes, mostly lamb; no fish, pork or beef.
- Turkish: Rather inexpensive, with a wide range of local dishes, especially chicken and lamb and also vegetarian dishes, fish dishes are rare; no pork or beef.
- Belgium offers a wide range of other international restaurants.
Drinks in Belgium
For people who like to party, Belgium can be great. Most cities are close to each other and are either big metropolitan areas (Brussels, Antwerp) or student districts (Leuven, Liège, Ghent), etc.. In this small region you will find the largest number of clubs, cafés, restaurants per square kilometre in the world. A good starting point can be a place with a strong student/youth culture: Leuven around its large university, Liège in the famous “quartier du carré”, etc. You can expect a great variety in the appreciation of music, from jazz to the best electronic music. A wide variety of music awaits you, from jazz to the best electronic music. Ask for the best clubs and you will most likely meet music fanatics who can show you the best underground parties in this small country.
The government’s attitude towards bars, clubs and parties is basically liberal. They recognise the principle of “live and let live”. As long as you do not disturb public order, destroy property or get too drunk, the police will not intervene; this is also one of the main principles of Belgian social life, because drunken and disorderly behaviour is generally considered offensive. Of course, this behaviour tends to be tolerated in student communities, but in general you are more respected if you party as much as you want – but with a sense of discretion and self-control.
Officially, drugs are not allowed. However, as long as you follow the above principles, you are not in serious trouble. However, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not tolerated and traffic laws are strictly enforced. Especially on weekends on major roads, you have a good chance of being pulled over for a blood alcohol test.
Tap water is drinkable everywhere in Belgium, but most restaurants do not serve it. They usually serve hot spring water or other mineral water, which costs about 2 euros per bottle. Spa, like bru and chaudfontaine, is a very famous brand of water.
Belgium is to beer what France is to wine; it is home to one of the world’s greatest beer traditions. As in other European countries in the Middle Ages, beers were brewed in many different ways and with many different ingredients. In addition to the usual ingredients such as water, barley malt, hops and yeast, many herbs and spices were also used. This activity was often carried out in monasteries, with each monastery developing its own style. For one reason or another, and this is unique to Belgium, many of these monasteries survived almost into modern times, and the process was entrusted to a local commercial brewer when the monastery closed. These brewers often increased the recipe and process to sweeten the taste slightly and make it more marketable, but the variety survived in this way. These beers are called abbey beers and there are hundreds and hundreds of them with a range of complex flavours that you can’t imagine until you try them.
The Trappist label is controlled by international law, just like the label for champagne in France. In Belgium, there are only six Trappist abbeys that produce beer with the Trappist label. To be allowed to carry the Trappist label, some rules have to be followed in the brewing process. The beer must be fermented on the abbey’s premises, the monks of the abbey must be involved in the brewing process and the profit from the sale of the beer must be used to support the monastery (like a non-profit organisation).
Belgium offers an incredible variety of beers. Wheat/white beers (with their blend of barley and wheat) and lambic beers (sour-tasting wheat beers brewed by spontaneous fermentation) originate from Belgium. For non-beer lovers, lambic beers are always interesting to try, as they are often brewed with fruity flavours and do not taste like normal beer. Belgian series beers include Stella Artois, Duvel, Leffe, Jupiler and Hoegaarden. The names given to some beers are quite imaginative: for example, Verboden Vrucht (forbidden fruit), Mort Subite (sudden death), De Kopstoot (assface), Judas and Delirium Tremens.
Kriek (sweet and sour cherry beer) and, for the Christmas season, Silent Night are also recommended.
Simple blonde derivatives (4%-5.5%): Stella Artois, Jupiler, Maes, Cristal, Primus, Martens, Bavik.
Trappist beers (5 to 10%): Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle.
Geuze: Belle-Vue, the Lambic Sudden Death, Lindemans in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Timmermans, Boon, Cantillon, 3 Fountains, Oud Beersel, Giradin, Hanssens, De Troch.
White beers: Hoegaarden, Dentergemse, Brugse Witte.
The city of Hasselt is famous in Belgium for its local alcoholic drink, jenever. It is quite a strong liquor, but it comes in all sorts of flavours beyond imagination, including, but not limited to, vanilla, apple, cactus, kiwi, chocolate and much more. Hasselt is located in the east of Belgium, about an hour by train from Brussels and 50 minutes from Antwerp. Trains leave Antwerp twice an hour.
Pubs, or cafés, are very common. They all offer a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, both hot and cold. Some serve food, others do not. Some specialise in beer, wine, cocktails or something else. Smoking in pubs is against the law.