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Belgian cuisine is widely varied with significant regional variations while also reflecting the cuisines of neighbouring France, Germany and the Netherlands. It is sometimes said that Belgian food is served in the quantity of German cuisine but with quality of French food. Outside the country, Belgium is best known for its chocolate and beer.
Belgians typically eat three meals a day, with a light breakfast, light or medium sized lunch and large dinner.
Though Belgium has many distinctive national dishes, many internationally-popular foods like hamburgers and spaghetti bolognese are also popular in Belgium. The list contains dishes of Belgian origin, or those considered typically Belgian.
- Boterhammen / Tartines: Slices of rustic bread and an uncovered spread, often pâté or soft cheese, served on a cutting board. A typical variety is a slice of bread with quark and sliced radishes, typically accompanied by a glass of gueuze.
- Charcuterie, particularly smoked ham (Jambon d'Ardennes) and pâté, often made of game such as wild boar. The forested Ardennes region in the south of Belgium is renowned for this type of food.
- Salade Liégeoise: a salad with green beans, bacon, onions and vinegar. It is usually associated with Liège.
- Tomate-crevette / Tomaat-garnaal: a snack or starter of grey shrimp (which is particularly popular in Belgium) and mayonnaise stuffed into a hollowed-out raw tomato.
- Moules-frites / Mosselen-friet: mussels cooked or steamed with onions and celery served with fries. The recipe has often been referred to as the country's national dish but is also popular in the neighboring Nord region of France.
- Waterzooi: a rich stew and soup of chicken or fish, vegetables, cream and eggs, usually associated with the town of Ghent.
- Gegratineerde witloof / Chicons au gratin: a gratin of chicory in béchamel sauce with cheese. Often the chicory is wrapped with ham.
- Kip met frieten en appelmoes / Poulet-frites-compote (chicken, fries and apple sauce).
- Konijn in geuze / Lapin à la gueuze: rabbit in geuze, which is a spontaneously fermented beer from the area around Brussels.
- Filet américain: Very finely minced ground beef eaten raw and cold. It is spread on a sandwich or bread with and sometimes topped with a sauce, usually with Sauce américaine, and served with fries. When served as a dinner, it is mixed with onions and capers like steak tartare, but it retains the name américain.
- Paling in 't groen / Anguilles au vert: Eel in a green sauce of mixed herbs (including chervil and parsley). Served with bread or fries. Usually accompanied by a beer or (sometimes) an Alsace wine.
- Pêches au thon / Perziken met tonijn: halved canned or fresh peaches stuffed with a mix of tuna and mayonnaise, i.e. tuna salad.
- Boudin / Pensen, beuling or bloedworst: a type of sausage in which the meat, or blood, is mixed with fine breadcrumbs. Often eaten with potatoes and apple sauce, sometimes eaten raw or barbequeued.
- Stoemp: potato mashed with vegetables (usually carrots or cabbage), often served with sausages.
- Carbonnades Flamandes / Stoverij: a Belgian beef stew, similar to the French Beef Bourguignon, but made with beer instead of red wine. Served with bread or fries and mustard. Usually accompanied by a beer.
Sweet dishes and desserts
- Waffles, sometimes eaten as a street snack and sold by ice-cream vans. Among the better-known styles are the Liège waffle, Brussels waffle and the stroopwafel,
- Speculoos: a shortcrust cinnamon cookie.
- Smoutebollen / Croustillons: Deep-fried balls of sweet dough, eaten at fairgrounds or on special occasions
- Tarte au riz / Rijstevlaai: a pie with a filling based on rice pudding, native to Verviers.
Fries, deep-fried chipped potatoes, are very popular in Belgium where they are thought to have originated. The earliest evidence of the dish comes from a book entitled Curiosités de la table dans les Pays-Bas-Belgiques written in 1781, which described how inhabitants of Namur, Dinant and Andenne around the Meuse River had eaten fried potatoes since around 1680. Though they are usually known as "French fries" in the United States, it is argued that American soldiers during the First World War erroneously believed that they were being served the dish in France.
In Belgium, fries are sold at fast food stands or in dedicated fast-food restaurants called "friteries" or "fritkot"or frituur. They are often served with a variety of sauces and eaten either on their own or in the company of other snacks. Traditionally, they are served in a "cornet de frites", a cone-shaped white piece of cardboard then wrapped in a piece of paper with the sauce on the top. Other street foods like frikandel, gehaktbal or croquette are sold alongside. In some cases, the fries are served in the form of a sandwich along with their sauce and meat known as a "mitraillette".
Most Belgian households have a deep fryer, allowing them to make their own fries and other deep-fried foods at home.
Mayonnaise, and ketchup, are the sauces traditionally eaten with fries in Belgium. Friteries and other fast-food establishments tend to offer a number of different sauces for the fries and meats. including aioli and sauce Americaine but also a spicy varieties like Béarnaise sauce. There are frequently over a dozen options, and most are mayonnaise-based. Varieties include:
- Aioli / Look-saus (garlic mayonnaise).
- Pepper-sauce - mayonnaise with green pepper.
- Sauce andalouse - mayonnaise with tomato paste and peppers.
- Sauce Americaine - mayonnaise with tomato, chervil, onions, capers and celery.
- "Bicky" Dressing (Gele Bicky-sauce), a commercial brand made from mayonnaise, white cabbage, tarragon, cucumber, onion, mustard and dextrose.
- Curry ketchup
- Curry mayonnaise
- Mammoet-sauce - mayonnaise, tomato, onion, glucose, garlic, soy sauce.
- Sauce "Pickles"- a yellow vinegar based sauce with turmeric, mustard and crunchy vegetable chunks, similar to Piccalilli.
- Samurai-sauce - mayonnaise with harissa.
- Tartar sauce.
- Zigeuner sauce; A "gypsy" sauce of tomatoes, paprika and chopped bell peppers, borrowed from Germany.
For a comparatively small country, Belgium produces a very large number of beers in a range of different styles – in fact, it has more distinct types of beer per capita than anywhere else in the world. In 2011, there were 1,132 different varieties of beer being produced in the country. The brewing tradition in Belgium can be traced back to the early Middle Ages and 6 varieties are still produced in Trappist Monasteries where brewing was initially used to fund their upkeep.
On average, Belgians drink 84 litres of beer each year, down from around 200 each year in 1900. Most beers are bought or served in bottles, rather than cans, and almost every style of beer has its own particular, uniquely shaped glass or other drinking-vessel. Using the correct glass is considered to improve its flavor.
The varied nature of Belgian beers makes it possible to match them against each course of a meal, for instance:
- Wheat beer with seafood or fish.
- Blonde or Tripel beers with eel, chicken or white meat
- Dubbel or other dark beers with dark meat
- Fruit Lambics with dessert
A number of traditional Belgian dishes use beer as an ingredient. One is carbonade, a stew of beef cooked in beer, similar to boeuf bourguignon. The beer used is typically the regional speciality: lambic in Brussels, De Koninck in Antwerp, so that the taste of the dish varies. Another is rabbit in gueuze. The Trappist monastery at Chimay also manufactures cheese that is "washed" with beer to enhance its flavor.
Belgium is famed for its high quality chocolate and over 2,000 chocolatiers, both small and large. Belgium's association with chocolate goes back as far as 1635 when the country was under Spanish occupation and during the early 20th century, the country was able to import cocoa from its colony, the Belgian Congo. Today, chocolate is very popular in Belgium, with 172,000 tonnes produced each year, and widely exported.
What makes Belgian chocolate unique is the quality of ingredients (many aspects of its composition are regulated by law) and adherence to traditional manufacturing techniques. In particular, vegetable-base fats are not used. Many firms produce chocolates by hand, which is laborious and explains the prevalence of small, independent chocolate outlets, which are popular with tourists. Famous chocolate companies, like Neuhaus and Guylian strictly follow traditional (and sometimes secret) recipes for their products.
Seafood pralines (pralines shaped like sea shells or fish) are popular with tourists and are sold all over Belgium.
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- Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium, Michael Jackson, ISBN 0-7624-0403-5
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