It may be a small country, but Belgium is packed with sights that attract tourists from all over the world. One of the attractions is definitely architecture, as well as nicely preserved medieval streets. Throughout its history, Belgium found itself involved to a great degree in the history of Europe, which shaped its culture, especially food. Thus, today you can find some of the most delicious meals in local Belgian restaurants.
Belgian cuisine is best known worldwide for its waffles, chocolate, beer, and fries. The greatest influences on the variety of the Belgian cuisine have come from the neighbouring German, France, and the Netherlands. The good quality of Belgian dishes mainly comes from highly valued regional ingredients. The most typical Belgian dishes usually include the ingredients such as leek, potatoes, white asparagus, grey shrimp, a variety of meat, butter, cheese, etc. Some of the regional products are the couque biscuit from Dinant, waterzooi from Ghent, and tarte au riz from Verviers.
Throughout its history, the territory we now call Belgium has been occupied by the Spanish, French, Germans, and the Austrians, and all of them left their mark on Belgian cuisine. From a myriad of flavorful meals, some of the most famous include:
- Boterhammen: A popular appetizer made with slices of crusty, rustic bread served with soft cheese or spread such as pate.
- Charcuterie: Smoked ham and wild boar or game pate is typically served as an appetizer. The origin of the dish comes from the Ardennes region in the south of Belgium.
- Tomate-crevette: An appetizer or snack made with grey shrimp and served with raw tomatoes stuffed with mayonnaise.
- Moules-frites: Steamed or cooked mussels, celery, and onion served with fries.
- Carbonade Flamande: This tasty stew, also known as Stoverij, is considered one of the national Belgian dishes. It is usually served with fries and enjoyed with beer.
- Waterzooi: A flavorful soup made with fish or chicken, accompanied by vegetables and with added eggs and cream for richness.
- Gegratineerde witloof: A gratin made with Belgian endives wrapped with ham, cheese, and bechamel sauce.
- Konijn in geuze: Rabbit meat prepared in gueuze, a type of beer coming from Brussels.
- Filet americaine: Finely minced ground beef spread raw and cold on slices of bread. It is served with fries and sauce americaine.
- Paling in ‘t groen: Eel cooked in a green sauce made with a mixture of herbs. The dish is typically served with fries or bread. The Belgians love to savour it with a glass of Alsace wine or beer.
- Peches au thon: A tuna salad with mayonnaise served in peach halves.
- Stoemp: Mashed potatoes, enriched with cabbage and carrots. It is perfectly matched with sausages. One of the most popular sausage in Belgium is Boudin. Besides meat, it is also made with breadcrumbs and blood and usually barbequed.
- Waffles: This type of sweet snack is popular in Belgium and is readily available in the streets.
- Oliebollen: Sweet, dough balls deep-fried and usually eaten at fairgrounds.
- Tarte au riz: A pie filled with race pudding traditional to Verviers.
One thing that should not be missed when in Belgium or if you want to organize an authentic Belgian-inspired night is chocolate. Belgium has a world-class reputation for having high-quality chocolate. Chocolate turned into an important industry when Belgium conquered Congo, a great producer of cocoa. What probably brought Belgium its chocolate fame was the invention of the pralines, chocolate shells filled with various soft fillings.
Planning your meal
Belgium is not such a big country but has a rich cuisine with its treasures hiding in the regional dishes. For your dinner, we chose dishes that will reveal the true authentic taste of Belgian cuisine in every bite.
Appetizers are an important part of a typical Belgian meal. It doesn’t really matter if they are more like light finger food or more flavorful and savory, special attention is paid not only to the taste but to the visual aspect as well. The most commonly used ingredients in preparing unique Belgian appetizers are cheese, greens, sausages, etc. For your dinner, we chose two easy appetizers that will make your guests crave for more.
Herb-Garlic Bread Chunks and Savory Rolls are breeze to make. Bread chunks are crusty bread slices infused with the aromas of garlic, parsley, and basil. Before serving, you can drizzle them with olive oil for an additional flavor. Savory rolls are pastries with cheese flavors, enriched with the nutty flavor of walnuts and sweetness of honey.
Herb-Garlic Bread Chunks
Serves: Yields 1 loaf
2 Garlic Cloves, mashed + a dash of olive oil and a pinch of salt
½ cup Butter, room temperature
2 Tbsp Finely Chopped Basil Leaves
2 Tbsp Finely Chopped Parsley
Kosher Salt, to taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
1 loaf Crusty Baguette
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, to taste
Preheat your oven to 350F / 175C.
Mix together the garlic, butter, and herb. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Cut the bread in half lengthwise. Spread the herb and garlic mixture over both halves and drizzle with some olive oil.
Place the bread on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.
Break or cut into chunks and serve.
Savory Walnut Puffs
1 sheet Puff Pastry, thawed
2-4 Tbsp Double Cream or Mascarpone
3 oz Roquefort Cheese
½ cup Grated Gruyere Cheese
3 Tbsp Finely Chopped Fresh Rosemary
½ cup Chopped Walnuts
Honey, for drizzling
Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper and set aside.
Dust your working surface with flour and roll out the pastry until it is ¼-inch thick. Cut the pastry lengthwise in half and set aside.
Mix together the cream and cheeses and spread it over the pastry halves. Sprinkle with the rosemary and walnuts and drizzle with honey.
Roll up the pastries starting from the long side and pinch to seal the edges. Cut the rolls into slices (approx. ½-inch thick).
Arrange the slices onto the prepared trays and freeze for 15 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 400F / 200C and bake the pastries for 10-15 minutes until golden.
When done, allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
Stoofvlees is a rich and flavorful stew that will create an explosion of flavors with each spoonful you take. Its authentic taste comes from a couple ingredients. First, the browned beef is simmered in Belgian dark beer and loonse stroop. If not possible to find original Belgium loonse stroop, a regular red currant syrup will do the job as well.
2-3 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 knob of Butter
2 Onions, roughly chopped
2 lbs Stewing Beef, cut into large chunks
Sea Salt, to taste
Black Pepper, to taste
4 cups Dark Beer (such as Belgian Maredsous)
2 Tbsp Loonse Stroop or thick red currant syrup
1 bouquet Garni (or combine a few sprigs of fresh parsley, fresh thyme, and 2 bay leaves)
2 Tbsp Mustard
2 slices Brown Bread
1 Tbsp Vinegar
Add a tablespoon of oil and a knob of butter to a large casserole dish and heat on medium. Add the onions and saute until lightly browned. Transfer the onions to a plate.
Pour 1-2 more tablespoons of the oil into the casserole dish and heat on medium.
Season the beef with salt and pepper, add to the casserole and stir-fry until browned (work in batches in order not to overcrowd the casserole. Transfer to the plate with the onions.
Pour the syrup and beer into the dish and cook on high until it begins to boil. Scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the dish. Return the beef and onions to the casserole, add the bouquet garni and cloves, stir well and cook on medium.
In the meantime, spread the mustard on one side of each slice of bread. Gently place the slices with the mustard side down on top of the stew. The slices will disintegrate gradually.
Allow to simmer for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally. Put the lid on and cook for 10-15 more minutes. Remove the stew from the stove and discard the cloves and bouquet garni. Drizzle in the vinegar, stir and allow to rest for 12 hours before serving.
A true treasure of the Belgian cuisine are its desserts. Waffles are probably the most famous sweet treat, however, Belgium has so many regional desserts that you cannot find anywhere else except at their place of origin. Such is the case with the authentic cake Mattentaart that you can find only in the bakeries of Geraardsbergen. As a matter of fact, some 10 years ago, the European Union granted Protected Geographical Indication status, which means that it cannot be produced anywhere else except in Geraardsbergen and the municipality of Lierde. It is said that the origin of the cake dates back to the Middle Ages, and the name itself actually refers to curdled milk, which is the main ingredient for this amazing dessert. Now following the recipe below, you can easily make this cake and offer your guests a truly unique experience.
1.5 l Whole Milk
2 cups Fresh Thick Buttermilk
1 Tbsp Vinegar, if needed
10.5 oz Puff Pastry
2 Eggs, whites and yolks separated
1.8 oz Sugar
⅛ cup Rum
1.7 oz Ground Almonds
¼ tsp Baking Powder
Butter, for greasing
Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Pour in the buttermilk and you will notice that the milk starts curdling. If that doesn’t happen, add the vinegar.
Reduce the heat, stir the milk and make sure it doesn’t boil. Once the milk has curdled, remove from the stove.
Set a clean cloth over a big pot and secure it tightly. Pour the curdled milk into the cloth as if to strain and leave it to drain overnight. If the curds are still not dry in the morning, leave to drain a bit more. Once the curds are dry, mix them with an immersion blender and set aside.
Preheat your oven to 440F / 225C. Grease a pie mold and set aside.
Divide the puff pastry into two parts, one smaller than the other. Roll out the pastry and transfer the bigger part to the pie mold lining both the bottoms and the sides. Keep the smaller part aside to top the pie later.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and set aside.
Add the sugar, egg yolks, rum, baking powder, and almonds to the curds and stir until combined. Gently fold in the egg whites and pour the filling over the pie pastry. Top with the pastry and bake in the preheated oven for about half an hour.
When done, allow to cool before serving.
Belgium is also known as a home of great beer. Brewing originally started in monasteries, where beers were brewed in a number of different ways. Besides the main ingredients such as barley, water, and yeast, spices and herbs were used as well. The techniques used in monasteries survived for many years and were handed over to local brewers. There is a wide variety of these beers, usually known as Abbey beers. Some of the world-famous beers that you can most probably find in the nearby stores are Stella Artois, Leffe, Duvel, etc.
Besides beer, a beverage worth mentioning is janever, the national beverage of Belgium. This alcoholic drink originated in Hasselt, a city in the east of Belgium, known for the production of alcoholic beverages. Janever is a strong drink that comes in a variety of tastes such as kiwi, apple, chocolate, vanilla, cactus, etc.
So, to end this hearty Belgian dinner, make sure you stock on beer, and you don’t have anything to worry about.