The most important tip I can give you on Belgium local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Belgium, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Belgium
Belgians like to eat. Belgium is famous for its good cuisine and people like to go to restaurants frequently. Best description for Belgian food would be “French food in German quantities”. General rules As anywhere else in the world, avoid the tourist traps, where the touts are trying to get you in the restaurants. You will get average to bad quality food for average to high prices, and, at busy times, they will try to get rid of you as soon as possible to make space for the next customer. A good example of this is the famous “Rue des Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat” in Brussels in this picture. Belgium is a country that understands what eating is all about and can be a real gastronomic paradise. You can have a decent meal in about every tavern, from small snacks to a complete dinner. Just pop into one of those and enjoy it. If you want to eat really well for not too much money, ask the local people or the hotel manager (that is, supposing he does not have a brother restaurant-manager) to give some advice for a good restaurant. Not a bad idea is to find a restaurant or tavern a little bit outside of the cities (if advised by some locals) they are usually not too expensive but deliver decent -> high quality food. And ordering the specialties during the season will be both beneficial for your wallet and the quality of the food. Quality has its price: since the introduction of the euro, price for eating out in Belgium nearly doubled. Expensive food like lobster or turbot will always cost a lot of money at any restaurant. But you can also find some local and simple dishes, rather cheap and still very tasty (such as sausages, potatoes and spinach). Normally a dinner (3 dishes) will be around 30 – 50 eurosm depending your choices of food and restaurant. And for cheap, greasy food, just find a local ‘frituur’, it will be the best Belgian Fries you’ll have had in ages. Specialities Moules et frites/Mosselen met friet, Brussels A number of dishes are considered distinctly Belgian specialities and should be on every visitor’s agenda. Mussels are a firm favorite and a side-dish of Moules et frites/Mosselen met friet (Mussels with French fries). The traditional way is to cook them in a pot with white wine and/or onions and celery, then eat them up using only a mussel shell to scoop them out. The top season is September to April, and as with all other shellfish, do not eat the closed ones. Belgium’s mussels always come from the nearby Netherlands. Imports from other countries are looked down on. Balletjes/Boulettes are meatballs with fries. They will either be served with a tomato sauce or with the sauce from Liège, which is based on a local syrup. For this reason they will often be introduced as Boulets Liégeois. Frikadellen met krieken are also meatballs, served with cherries in a sauce of cherryjuice. This is eaten with bread. Stoemp is mashed potatoes and carrots with bacon and sausages. It is a typical meal from Brussels. Stoofvlees is a traditional beef stew and is usually served with (you have guessed it already) fries. Witloof met kaassaus/Chicons au gratin is a traditional gratin of chicory with ham and a cheesy bechamel sauce, usually served with mashed potatoes or croquettes. Konijn met pruimen: rabbit cooked in beer and dried plums. Despite the name, french fries (frieten in Dutch, frites in French) are proudly claimed as a Belgian invention. Whether or not this is true, they certainly have perfected it although not everybody agrees with their choice of mayonnaise over ketchup as the preferred condiment (ketchup is considered to be “for kids”). Every village has at least one frituur/friterie, an establishment selling cheap take-away fries, with a huge choice of sauces and fried meat to go with them. The traditional thing to try is friet met stoofvlees, but remember the mayonnaise on it . Waffles (wafels in Dutch, gaufres in French) come in two types: Gaufres de Bruxelles/Brusselse wafels : a light and airy variety. a heavier variety with a gooey center known as Gaufres de Liège/Luikse wafels. The latter are often eaten as a street/ take-away snack while shopping and therefore can be found at stands on the streets of the cities. Last but not least, Belgian chocolate is famed around the world. Famous chocolatiers include Godiva, Leonidas, Guylian, Galler, Marcolini and Neuhaus, but the best stuff can be found at tiny boutiques, too small to build worldwide brands. In nearly all supermarkets, you can buy the brand Côte d’Or, generally considered the best ‘everyday’ chocolate (for breakfast or break) among Belgians. International As a small country in the centre of western Europe, the cuisine is influenced not only by the surrounding countries but also by many other countries. This is also emphasized by many foreigners coming to this country to make a living here, for instance by starting a restaurant. You can find all types of restaurants: French/Belgian: A traditional Belgian restaurant serves the kind of food you will also find in the best French restaurants. Of course there are local differences: at the coast (in France as well as in Belgium) you have a better chance to find some good seafood, like mussels, turbot, sole or the famous North Sea shrimp. In the southern woods of the Ardennes (remember the battle of the Bulge?), you are better off choosing game or local fish like trout. English/Irish: There are Irish bars and pubs everywhere and Belgium is no exception, try the Schuman area of Brussels for more Irish pubs than you can shake a stick at. There is also an English pub just off of Place de la Monnaie in central Brussels. American: There are McDonald’s or lookalikes in most every town. The Belgian variant is called “Quick”. You may also find a local booth serving sausages, hot dogs or hamburgers. Try it: the meat tastes the same, but the bread is much better. Ketchup in this region is bland and made with less sugar (even the Heintz brand). Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Subway also have establishments. There are no real American restaurants, although there is an American bar on the Toison d’Or in Brussels that serves food. Mexican: Only in the cities and rather costly for only medium quality. ChiChi’s (near Bourse) and Pablo’s (near Port des Namur) serve Mexican American food, neither of which would be considered a good value by American standards. ChiChi’s uses reconstituted meats. Pablo’s uses higher quality meat, but you pay a premium for it. Chinese: They have a long tradition of restaurants in Belgium. Rather cheap, but an acceptable quality. German/Austrian: Maxburg in the Schuman area (next to Spicy Grill) makes a good schnitzel. Greek/Spanish/Italian: Like all over the world, nice, rather cheap, with a good atmosphere and typical music (Greek: Choose meat, especially lamb) (Spanish: Choose paella and tapas) (Italian: Choose anything). Japanese/Thai: You usually find them only in the cities and they are rather expensive, but they give you great quality. The prices and the quality are both satisfying in a concentrated cluster of Thai restaurants near Bourse station. Avoid Phat Thai though if you don’t want disruptions – as they let pan handlers and flower pushers enter and carry out their “work”. Arabic/Moroccan: Rather cheap, with a great variety of local dishes, especially with lamb; no fish or pork or beef. Turkish: Rather cheap, with a great variety of local dishes, especially with chicken and lamb and also vegetarian dishes, dishes with fish are rare; no pork or beef. Belgium offers a wide selection of other international restaurants.
What to Drink in Belgium
Water Tap water is drinkable everywhere in Belgium, but most restaurants do not serve it. Hot spring or some other mineral water is typically served and costs about 2 euro per bottle. Beer Belgium is to beer what France is to wine; it is home to one of the greatest beer traditions in the world. Like other European countries in medieval times, beers were brewed in a huge variety of ways with many different ingredients. In addition to the standard ingredients of water, malted barley, hops and yeast, many herbs and spices were also used. This activity was often done in monasteries, each developing a particular style. For some reason, uniquely in Belgium many of these monasteries survived almost into modern times, and the process was handed over to a local commercial brewer if the monastery closed. These brewers would often augment the recipe and process slightly to soften the taste to make it more marketable, but the variety survived in this way. These beers are called Abbey beers and there are hundreds and hundreds with a range of complex tastes unimaginable until you’ve tried them. The Trappist label is controlled by international law, similar to that of Champagne in France. There are only six Trappist Abbeys in Belgium that produce beer qualified to be called Trappist. In order to carry the Trappist label, there are several rules that must be adhered to during the brewing process. The beer must be fermented within the walls of the abbey, the monks of the abbey must be involved in the beer-making process, and profit from the sale of the beer must be directed towards supporting the monastery (similar to a non-profit organization). Belgium offers an incredible diversity of beers. Several well known mass-produced Belgian beers are Stella Artois, Duvel, Leffe, Jupiler, Hoegaarden. The names given to some beers are pretty imaginative: eg Verboden Vrucht (Forbidden Fruit), Mort Subite (Sudden Death), De Kopstoot (Head Butt), Judas and Delirium Tremens. Warmly recommended are also Kriek (sweet and sour cherry beer) and, for the Christmas season, Stille Nacht (Silent night). Plain blond draughts (4%-5,5%): Stella Artois, Jupiler, Maes, Cristal, Primus, Martens, Bavik. Trappist ales (5%-10%): Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle. Geuze: Belle-Vue, the lambic Mort Subite (Sudden Death), Lindemans in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Timmermans, Boon, Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Oud Beersel, Giradin, Hanssens, De Troch. White beers: Hoegaarden, Dentergemse, Brugse Witte. Jenever The city of Hasselt is well known in Belgium for it’s local alcoholic beverage, called jenever. It is a rather strong liquor, but it comes in all kinds of tastes beyond your imagination, including, but not limited to, vanilla, apple, cactus, kiwi, chocolate and much more. Hasselt lies in the east of Belgium, and is about one hour away by train from Brussels or Antwerp. Pubs Pubs, or cafés, are wide spread. They all have a large variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic, hot and cold beverages. Some serve food, others don’t. Some might be specialised in beer, or wine, or cocktails, or something else. As from July 1st 2011, smoking in pubs is forbidden by law.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.