As I stated in a few of the responses to last week’s posts I would like to focus on food in Belgium this week! Not only because it is one of my favorite topics, but because in my opinion it is an important part of Belgian culture and the way the world views Belgium.
First I would like to give you a little bit of background history on Belgian cuisine. Before 1900 Belgian cuisine was highly influenced by the French, with their extravagant dishes and luxurious lifestyles of the upper-class. It was until after 1900 that Belgium started to develop dishes as their own, rather than copying other nations’ cuisines. With the development of tourism came a new interest in a “local cuisine”. Because food plays such a vital role in our lives, the popularity of consuming a national dish helped build today’s Belgian identity. Most Belgian cookbooks of today veer away from common dishes like moules-frites and more towards specificities in cooking, such as large plates and refinement. However there are a number of dishes I would personally include if I were to write my own Belgian cookbook. They would include:
1) Frites- In the United States we refer to these as french fries. While the French and Belgians both claim frites to be their own creation, in my opinion they were created in Belgium. As I mentioned earlier the Belgians highly regarded French cuisine before 1900, and thus cooked in the French style. The named developed out of the way in which the potatoes are cooked, the French way. However, because Belgian cuisine did not exist at the time of their creation people started referring to them as french fries, or oftentimes in other parts of Europe as chips. The Belgians are very bitter about this and get quite offended at the mention of french fries! Because of their popularity in Belgium it is common to pass by a number of friteries and snack shops in a neighborhood. Most friteries offer a selection of up to 15 sauces and serve the frites in a paper cone with a tiny plastic fork. They are the perfect afternoon snack after a long day of school!
2.) Moules- Moules is the French word for Mussels, a popular dish in Belgium that I have yet to try! They are most commonly served with frites on the side. This dish developed because of the high amount of mussels around the Belgian coast (do you remember the name of the northern region and which language they speak?). The mussels can be cooked in a number of ways, of which the consumer gets to choose! It is another dish that is very popular in France.
3.) Gaufres- Any guesses on what this word might refer to? If you guessed Belgian waffles you are correct! The concept of a waffle dates back to medieval times, however the waffle we know today is a much more recent creation. In America we have a version of waffle we call the Belgian waffle. I’m sure you’ve all tried one before! As strange as this may sound, the same form of waffle doesn’t exist in Belgium. The waffle was introduced in America at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was a version adapted and simplified from the Brussels waffle, which is what I eat here. Other waffles include the Liège waffle, American waffle, and Flemish waffle. The difference between each is the list of ingredients used to achieve the final result. Which type of waffle do you think you eat when you have waffles?
4.) Belgian Chocolate- Chocolate is one of the specialties Belgians are happy to claim as their own, and it is probably my favorite part of Belgian cuisine! The streets throughout Brussels are riddled with various chocolate shops, advertising the best Belgian chocolates. A number of the chocolate companies create their chocolates by hand, which I was able to watch when I visited the chocolate museum in Brussels. Neuhaus, which is probably my favorite chocolate company so far, is responsible for creating the praline. For those of you who don’t know, pralines are chocolates that are filled with a soft almost fudgy center (and they are absolutely delicious!). What is your favorite kind of chocolate?
That’s a quick overview of the best foods Belgium has to over (or so the tourists believe, because all of the food here is amazing!). A few other specialties include waterzooi (I actually have no idea what it is), beer, and speculoos (a cookie served with tea and coffee). As you can see, Belgium doesn’t focus solely on one food. Instead it is a nation of diversified tastes ranging from frites and seafood to chocolate and waffles! I hope you enjoyed reading about the delicious food I’m enjoying during my time abroad. I can’t wait for you all to try Belgian chocolate!
Have a great week!