Belgian food is unknown to many people. Despite Belgium is a small country, it has an incredibly rich food culture.
Let´s take a deeper look into more unknown specialities of the Belgian cuisine.
A guest article by the blogger Babs from www.travelgearforkids.com
When it comes to Belgian food , most think of chocolate, beer and french (from frenched, not from France!!) fries. When you ask for typical Belgian cuisine, those are the answers that will pop into mind. And you are not wrong, of course. But there is way more of yummy traditional Belgian food.
Belgian chocolate is the very best in the world (and believe me, we’ve tasted a lot of chocolate around the globe over the years). With over 500 different kinds of beer, the country is heaven for those who enjoy the bitter alcoholic drink. And don’t get me started on fries, because we Belgians tend to pick up a little package at least once a week. It’s our not-so-secret comfort food.
However, we also have far more healthier and filling options! The Belgian cuisine consists mainly of sea food, meats and a lot of seasonal vegetables. Keep on reading to discover the 10 dishes you have to try when in Belgium.
Flemish stew (Stoofvlees of stoverij / Carbonade flamande)
This beef stew might be the most iconic traditional Belgian food. The famous TV cook Jeroen Meus even declared the first of March as the national stoofvlees-friet (Flemish stew & fries) day. In contradiction to other beef stews that are traditionally made with wine, the Belgians create their dish with dark beer. Together with mustard, a slice of bread and herbs like laurel and thyme, it creates a wonderful dark brown sauce packed with flavor. The meat is cooked up to 3 hours, which makes it unbelievably tender. The stew is traditionally eaten with fries, but you can also combine it with bread or croquettes (mashed potatoes in a bread crump jacket). As a side dish you can choose either apple sauce or a fresh salad. A true treasure of food in Belgium.
Another famous stew in the Belgian cuisine only comes with a Dutch name: waterzooi. “Water” meaning, well… water and zooi comes from an old word for “to boil”, mostly fish. In origin, it was a local dish from the city of Ghent, hence the full name. The stew was made with fresh or saltwater fish, but nowadays it’s more common to use chicken. All kind of veggies (but definitely carrots and leeks), potatoes and cream complete the dish. The usual way to serve it, is as a soup combined with some bread.
Hotch pot (Hutsepot/Hochepot)
Another stew to add to the list! Hutsepot is a typical farmer’s Winter dish made with all kind of winter veggies, potatoes and meat. There is no real traditional recipe: you can just pick whatever you like. For the meat that ranges from beef (marrow pipe, oxtail, ribs) to pork (sausage, cheeks, ribs) and mutton (shoulder, ribs). The most commonly used winter vegetables in Belgian food are carrots, Brussels sprouts, celeriac, turnip and parsnip.
Speculaas is a type of cookie made with a special herb mix and usually comes shaped in figures. Traditionally it was made in Belgium and The Netherlands for the celebration of Saint Nicolas on the 5th (N) or 6th (B) of December. Although still being massively produced around this period, it is commonly available throughout the year as well.
You often get is as a side cookie with a cup of coffee (though usually not in funny shapes, sorry to disappoint). The Belgian speculoos differs from the Dutch in that it is harder and spicier, while our Northern neighbors tend to make them softer and often filled with almond past. Both are equally delicious!
We, Belgians, are that crazy about speculaas that we even have a speculaas bread spread since a couple of years. This is not to be missed out about the Belgian kitchen.
Shrimp tomato & Shrimp croquettes (Tomaat garnaal/Tomate crevette, garnaalkroketten)
Two Belgian dishes for the price of one, as they are both made with the tiny grey Northsea shrimps.
By the way: These small sea creatures were traditionally caught by fishermen on horseback in the shallow waters of the North Sea. This is still practiced in the coastal town of Oostduinkerke and has been added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Tomate crevette is basically a hollowed tomato filled with a mix of shrimps and mayonnaise. It is commonly served with a salad and accompanied either by bread or fries. This dish is eaten cold, which makes it a perfect summer meal.
Another favorite of Belgians are shrimp croquettes. They are usually served as an appetizer with lemon wedges and fried parsley and a bit of bread. Though it is not uncommon to eat them as a main dish accompanied by fries (surprise, surprise) either.
One of those typical Belgian meals we love in winter (or actually, at any season) is what we call ‘stoemp’. Basically it is mashed potatoes that were roughly crushed rather than mixed. Any type of vegetal can then be added to the mixture. When you add carrots you get ‘carrot stoemp’, when you add spinach you get ‘spinach stoemp’. You see where I’m going.
It’s often combined with sausage, but really, anything will do. It’s one of those simple but perfect-from-grandma kind of dishes in Belgium.
Eel in the green (Paling in’t groen / Anguille au vert)
Eels are a delicacy in Belgian cuisine, no matter how you eat them: cooked or smoked. However, eel in the green is one of those dishes you really have to try. The meal has its origin around Antwerp, where the river De Schelde provided the eel. Local fisherman prepared their fish with the herbs found at the banks of the river. Those were mainly sorrel and chervil, but also parsley and watercress. The fish (which reminds a bit of chicken as it is quite firm) is cut up in chunks of about 5 cm and the herbs give the sauce that distinct green color. It’s a must-try of Belgian food. Honestly. But don’t forget to check your teeth for any leftover green bits afterwards.
In the months of May and June, Belgium tends to go crazy. And it’s all about this little vegetable: the white asparagus. Softer and sweeter than its green brother, the white asparagus is considered a luxurious delicacy in Belgian cuisine. Since it’s not that easy to grow, they’re rather expensive, but believe me, it’s worth it!
During the short season, there is no escaping: you’ll find them on every menu. The most traditional way is ‘Asparagus Flemish style’. The vegetable is boiled to perfection and served with cut up hardboiled eggs and a butter sauce. Sounds too simple? Just try it. If you rather have them another way, try them in pasta, soup or quiche.
Endive gratin with ham (Witloof met ham en kaassaus in de oven / Chicon au gratin)
Another comforting winter meal is a gratin made with endive. The bitter taste of the vegetable requires some adjusting, but the ham and white sauce soften the taste and make for a great combination altogether. It is served plain or with mashed potatoes. As it is a traditional homecooked meal of the Belgian kitchen, you won’t find it that often at the restaurant.
Meatloaf with cherries (Gehaktbrood met krieken)
And last but not least, one of my personal favorites of Belgian food: The combination of meat loaf and sour cherries. It’s another example of a hearty homecooked meal. The minced meat is shaped into a large or smaller ball(s) and slowly baked. This results in a crispy crust on the outside and juicy meat on the inside. The cherries are heated. You can eat them with bread or mashed potatoes. Two words: yum yum.
About the author:
“Born for traveling” is how Babs likes to describe herself. Together with her wife Kath and their daughter Norah, she enjoys tropical beaches, charming little towns and stunning hilltop views. Whenever they are not off traveling the world, the girls spend their time exploring home country Belgium. As social influencers and part time digital nomads, they are working on making their blog www.travelgearforkids.com big, a page about travel equipment for children.
Click here for a list of great day trips from Brussels.