Every time that I land into a new country, I always make it a point to try the local cuisine! So after staying for about 3 years in Belgium, I’ve come up with this top 25 list of things that everyone should eat and drink when in Belgium!
Before I go on, there are two things that you need to know first about the Belgian cuisine:
- It is widely varied: it is mostly made up of different regional dishes with influences from the neighboring cuisines: French, German, and Dutch (Netherlands). There’s even this saying that Belgian food is “served in the quantity of German cuisine (which is a lot!) but with the quality of French food”.
- It’s not just about the Belgian fries, waffles, and chocolates: though they are undoubtedly and sinfully delicious, there’s more to the country’s national cuisine than these famous snacks!
But of course, these 3 desserts will still be included in my top 25, but the rest would be the lesser-known dishes that at first, might seem not so aesthetically pleasant, but I assure you: the flavors are superb! Belgians really put more focus into the quality and taste of the food; so it’s definitely something that every foodie would go crazy for.
Now if you don’t know this yet, Belgium has 3 official languages which are: Flemish (a local dialect of Dutch), French, and German. Naturally, food and drinks would be listed in these languages but a majority of the restaurants just use the Flemish and French translation (which I will indicate for each number; though sometimes I will still keep the pure Dutch translation).
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#1 Belgian Fries Frieten or Frietjes / Frites
This is my favorite fries in the world! Don’t call it “French Fries” though, because it’s definitely not ‘French’ and Belgians might not like it if you call it that. There’s actually an ongoing dispute about where fries originated (Belgium or France) but there’s strong evidence that it was first made in Belgium since there were records of it dating back to 1680 wherein France only had records of for as early as the 1770s. With this, Belgians argue that the reason why it’s called ‘French Fries’ today is because of how the Americans during WWI (who were eating the snack) mistakenly had the feeling that they were in France—the Belgian soldiers and citizens around them at that time were predominantly speaking French.
All that history aside, one thing that we can definitely agree on is that Belgian Fries are awesome. The secret is double frying of course; ensuring that it’s soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. An interesting thing about this though is that Belgians love dipping it in mayonnaise instead of ketchup. It might sound weird at first but after trying it out, it’s actually a great combination!
(They actually have different dips for their fried stuff and one dip that you should try is Andalouse; a special Belgian sauce made up of mayonnaise, tomato paste, and peppers! It’s sooooo good!)
#2 Belgian Chocolates Chocolade / Chocolat
It’s just utterly divine that every other country in the world tries to smack a ‘Belgian chocolate’ label on their product as they try to imitate and replicate the real thing… yet no one will ever beat the chocolate here. NO ONE!
The Belgians simply perfected this type of gourmet that it’s a must to try one of the famous brands like Neuhaus (the inventor of the ‘praline‘), Godiva, Leonidas, and Nirvana. Though of course, there are a more brands and shops in Belgium (like Marcolini, Wittamer, etc.) that can definitely make you cry with joy. (In fact, there are over 2,000 chocolatiers here!!!)
To add to the frenzy of chocolate, I even noticed that there are various things here that they try to put chocolate into—which is expected—and Belgians love it themselves (duh) though I do notice that they often eat chocolate… like a LOT! For breakfast, after tea, after coffee, etc. (It’s actually only in Belgium that I experienced being given a piece of chocolate whenever I order coffee or tea.)
#3 Waffles Wafel / Gauffre
For this, it’s important to remember that there’s NO such thing as a ‘Belgian Waffle’ in Belgium since that is rather a type of waffle that’s coined in North America. So naturally, you won’t ever find a ‘Belgian Waffle’ type here in Belgium since they have a LOT of varieties, 3 of the most common ones are:
Images from brugeswaffles.com & acemal.com
- Liège Waffles – richer, denser, sweeter, and chewier. It has pearl sugars and is the most prevalent type of waffle available; often prepared in plain, vanilla, and cinnamon varieties and can be topped with cream, chocolate, fruits, ice cream, etc.
- Brussels Waffles – bigger, lighter, crispier and have larger pockets. It’s easily identified given that it’s rectangular.
- Galettes campinoises – thinner but rigid and crunchy. It’s buttery, crumbly and soft in the mouth (not to be mistaken with the French galettes which are like pancakes).
#4 Fry Shacks (Fast Food) Frituur / Friterie
If McDonalds is the first thing that comes to your mind when it comes to fast food, here in Belgium, it would rather be the frituur and they are insanely popular (which makes sense because these are the ones that sell Belgian fries; with this, it makes me wonder actually, why McDonalds is even here—then again they’re not a lot in numbers, and their stronger competitor/equivalent that is more in numbers would rather be the Belgian-owned fast food chain: Quick).
So other than fries, what you can also see in a frituur are numerous types of fried meat. My favorites would be the frikandel or curryworst (I am a sucker for special curryworst which has added fresh onions and lots of ketchup + mayonnaise), bitterballen, boulet, Mexicano, and kroketten!
They also have a wide range of dips to choose from! Aside from the already mentioned ketchup, mayonnaise and Andalouse, they also have curry ketchup, tartar sauce, cocktail Whisky sause, andalouse, American, samurai, riche, Mexican, oriental, Brazil, béarnaise or Diablo.
#5 Rice Tart Rijsttaart / Tarte au Riz
(Originated in Verviers near Liège – Walloon [south] part of Belgium)
One of my favorites!
It’s made into small tarts like this, but there are big pie versions in bakeries. Basically, it’s like a custard mix of rice and milk/cream which is then glazed with egg. It’s sweet but very heavenly!
#6 Liège syrup Luikse siroop / Sirop de Liège
As the name goes, it’s a syrup from Liège; but actually, more like jam or sticky brown jelly. It’s made from evaporated fruit juices like apples, pears, and dates (other fruit juices may be used too).
It’s primarily used as a spread for breads or tartines (open-faced sandwiches) that is accompanied with cheese. Otherwise it is used as a sauce or part of a sauce for some meat dishes or as toppings for waffles and pancakes.
#7 Speculoos Speculaas / Spéculoos
You must have heard of speculoos! I mean you should have. Well then, it’s time for you to know that it originated in the Netherlands and Belgium since it’s customarily served on December 5 and 6 to celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day (it was created in the shape of St. Nicholas).
Today, it’s still made on St. Nicholas’ Day but more commercially available in small biscuit cuts. If you haven’t tasted this yet (you should!) they are spiced shortcrust biscuits wherein the mixture of spice is called as ‘speculaaskruiden’ (consisting of at least cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise seeds and nutmeg). To identify different speculoos biscuits, know that the Dutch speculoos is more cake-like, Belgian speculoos is more heavily-spiced in thin cookies, while the German speculoos (served on St. Nicholas Day in the westernmost parts only) are cookie-like but less spiced.
I noticed that Belgians would sometimes dip these speculoos cookies in their tea/coffee/water and then spread it along a slice of bread (which would then become its spread).
TRIVIA: The well-known speculoos spreads (creamy, granular or crunchy) that are popular today was actually started in Belgium and it was in 2008 that it gained worldwide fame when some contestants in a Belgian TV show made them.
#8 “Lard Balls” (also called Dutch Doughnuts or Dutchies) Smoutebollen / Croustillons
Also famous in the Netherlands, these are deep-fried balls made of sweet dough. It’s often sprinkled with powdered sugar and served in paper cones (normally found in fairgrounds and in Christmas markets)
#9 Sandwiches Broodjes / Sandwich
This is actually not a ‘Belgian cuisine’ since it’s universal and eminent in most of Europe; however, if you want to experience a ‘Belgian thing’ and eat like the Belgians do, there are a lot of sandwich shops that have a LOT of choices for bread type, toppings, and spreads. (I am in love with how fresh their bread is!)
Personally, I always order a brown sandwich bread with salad in the style of: martino (which I will discuss later on in one of the numbers below). One trivia that you should know is that Belgians usually have these sandwiches as a meal; they have a light one for breakfast (NOT waffles; it’s rather bread with spreads, meat, etc.), a medium one for lunch (these broodjes) and then a heavy one for dinner (mostly potatoes with meat + vegetables).
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Charcuterie is actually a form of meat preservation that produces forcemeat, sausages, galantine, etc. and it is one of the ways of cooking in France. However, Belgians have this in their diet too but more primarily composed of smoked ham slices and pâté. (The south of Belgium, Ardennes, is renowned for this kind of food).
Another kind of pâté that you might have heard of is the Brussels pâté which is a paste of ground pork liver. This is customarily paired with bread, cheese, and sausages—a good composition for a meal or snack!
#11 Tomato with Shrimps Tomaat garnaal / Tomate-crevette
These shrimps are very juicy and tasty! They are tiny grey shrimps known as the ‘caviar of the North Sea‘ and in this, they are frequently served in a salad stuffed inside a tomato. However they can also be just on top of a salad mixed with mayonnaise and spices, just eaten directly with no mixes, or served unpeeled (commonly accompanied with a good Belgian beer!)
#12 Steak Tartare “Martino” / Préparé, or Filet Américain
Steak tartare is basically made from finely chopped, crushed, or minced raw lean beef steak. In Belgium it is served with onions and more spices than the regular steak tartare. Other than spreading it on bread slices, it is also used as a sauce for fries; however, I rather want this steak tartare to be in the popular sandwich called ‘martino‘ which constitutes martino sauce (that has a hint of tabasco, otherwise you can just have ketchup and/or mayonnaise as sauce), onions, pickles and salad. It is soooo good!
NOTE: There are health concerns given how this is made of raw beef, however it is generally safe since the preparation is made clean; there’s very low chance of bacterial infection here. But if you’re pregnant or suffering from a illness, keep away from this since at your current state, you are more susceptible to risks of infection.
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#13 Mussels (with Fries) Mosselen met friet / Moules-frites
The unofficial national dish of Belgium: mussels with fries!
It sounds like an odd combination, I know, but it really works.
Other than this combo, mussels are prepared in a lot of ways here: it can be natural, in a garlic cream, or in a form called ‘Moules marinière’ (like the photo above: it has white wine, shallots, parsley and butter—this broth is amazing.)
#14 Gratin with Chicory Gegratineerde witloof / Chicons au gratin
This is a kind of main meal made of potato gratin with endives or chicory, typically in béchamel sauce with cheese. A ‘Belgian way’ of preparing this is that the endives are each wrapped in a slice of ham, topped with gratin, béchamel sauce, and melted cheese (also called Witloof met hesp). So how about that for a peculiar kind of gratin?
#15 Blood Sausage Bloedworst (Pensen or Beuling) / Boudin
This is a type of meat sausage that, as the name goes, is mixed with blood (it also has breadcrumbs). The mention of ‘blood’ might scare you from this but give it a try! It’s delicious in its own way; it is grilled, sauteed, barbecued or eaten raw and best served with potatoes and apple sauce.
#16 White Sausage Witte pens / Boudin blanc
If you really don’t like the blood sausage, here’s the alternative for you: white sausage made of pork without the blood, but with milk. So the relish for this one will be more delicate. I love eating this for breakfast! Belgians in general, grill or saute this and mix it with mashed potatoes or apple compote.
In some regions, these white sausages have green bits as they are speckled with spices like parsley or chives; but near Antwerp, they are purely white.
A typical fare in Flanders (north of Belgium): stoemp is made of mashed potatoes with vegetables like celery, shallots, and onions. Some restaurants offer this with cream and/or milk and then paired with bacon, fried egg, sausage, minced beef, fish, or even horse (yes, they eat horse meat here too! I haven’t tried one yet though).
#18 Belgian Beef Stew Stoofvlees (Stoverij) / Carbonade flamande
Most beef stews or beef bourguignon are prepared with wine, but with Belgians they mix it with something different. What else, but… BEER! And it is pure genius. It’s very tasty and rich! Lekker!
Pair it off with fries or bread (or if you’re Asian like me, rice) and it becomes even more of a wonderful grub!
Another typical fare from Flanders (originating from Ghent), waterzooi is a rich and creamy stew with a soup base that’s usually made up of egg yolk, cream, butter and thickened vegetable broth. Originally it was mixed with fish but today, chicken is more commonly used. This is the perfect go-to food for you especially when the colder days in Belgium are in!
TRIVIA: This is said to be the favorite meal of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (who was born in Ghent).
#20 Meatballs with Cherries Frikadellen met krieken
A classic eat in Flanders as well, and the title says it all as to what it is: meatballs with sweet & sour cherries and syrup! It’s absolutely delicious and the flavors are a great mix.
#21 Rabbit with Prunes Konijn met pruimen
Yes, rabbits. I was actually only told that it was rabbit meat after I ate a plate… and well, I kind of felt bad because I thought of a cute furry rabbit. But then again, a part of me felt a bit good because it was delectable. (It was clearly a dilemma). Anyhow, I’d still recommend this because of its wonderful flavors; trying it once would be fine.
This is actually a Flemish thing and the rabbit, starting in the early 1900s, was an important source of protein for the poorer part of the population. Today, it’s still a kind of meat used by everybody, but chiefly for special occasions. There’s actually another rabbit dish and it’s called as konijn in geuze wherein the rabbit is mixed with ‘geuze’: a type of Belgian lambic beer.
#22 “Eel in the Green” Paling in ‘t groen / Anguilles au vert
(Flemish regional dish) If you haven’t tried eel before, don’t fear; it’s a very tasty meat that has a texture similar to chicken but of course with the taste of fish. For Paling in ‘t Groen, these meaty fish pieces are stewed in a thick green sauce made of mixed herbs, giving it an overall savor that’s pronounced and refreshing!
#23 Chicken with Fries & Applesauce Kip met frieten en appelmoes / Poulet-frites-compote
Chicken + Fries + Apple Sauce = simple, but a mix that really works and tickles your tastebuds! If I say so myself, it’s the perfect Belgian comfort food. Guaranteed!
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#24 THE BEER!
Well OF COURSE! Belgians are proud of their beer and they should be! It’s the best in the world! I know a LOT of people who love it, and some of my friends back in Asia would even often jokingly beg me to send over some of the less-popular but great-tasting beers here (there’s so many amazing beers in Belgium aside from the well-known brands like Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, etc. For example, my close friend’s family lives in Westmalle which is where one of the Belgian beer monasteries are found.)
Now I actually don’t like the taste of beer (it’s an acquired taste and I haven’t ‘acquired’ it yet unfortunately) but there are fruit beers here in Belgium that I absolutely love, like the Kriek lambic or cherry beer (ex: Lindemans). Take note that there are a lot of Belgian beers, around 800 different ones, and naturally: Belgians LOVE it and drink it a lot (it’s said that on average, Belgians drink 150 liters of beer per year, per person; I would often see people drinking beer early in the morning in the cafés as if it’s coffee or tea). Did you also know that…
- Some of the most popular Belgian beers are made by monks in monasteries – they are called Trappist beers and they have their own ‘order’ or association: 6 from Belgium, 2 from Netherlands, 1 from Austria, and 1 from the US. In Belgium, these 6 monasteries are: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren.
- Almost every beer has its own particular, uniquely shaped glass – they are only served in those glasses. It’s said that using the correct glass is considered to improve the beer’s flavor.
- Most come in bottles – not cans, and again, mostly being drank from its corresponding glass and not straight from the bottle.
- Some of the Belgian beers have interesting names – Dulle Teve means mad bitch, Duvel means devil, and then there are those beers called as Satan, Lucifer, and more.
*Trivia – Teenagers here are legally allowed to drink beer and wine at the age of 16, but 18 for spirits.
#25 Jenever Genièvre, Genever or Peket
Beer is Belgium’s famous alcoholic beverage; but other than that, you should also know about jenever, said to be the traditional and national spirit of Belgium for over 500 years!
It is juniper-flavored and it is which gin evolved from. The taste varies as well; there’s jonge jenever that tastes almost like vodka, oude jenever that is smoother + malty, and other types of jenevers with distinct grains, giving it various flavors. In Christmas, for example, jenever are served in shot glassesand they can be in vanilla, chocolate, apple, passion fruit, and more!
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Ghent and Bruges Day Tour …straight from Brussels!
Chocolate Walking Tour Explore Brussels’ finest chocolates!
Antwerp Half Day Tour …a quick departure from Brussels!
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Would you give the other lesser-known Belgian eats a try? I hope the answer is YES because if it’s ‘NO’, then boy… you’re gonna miss out on a delectable European cuisine. There really is so much more to Belgian cuisine than the fries, waffles, and chocolates that we have come to love.
Now if you’re Belgian and reading this, I hope I got the terms right and if you think that I’ve failed to include something in this list, then please leave a comment below!