Food in Belgium

The Good, the Bad, and the Chocolate

Traditional Belgian food tends to be heavy and dull, centered around meat, potatoes, mayonnaise, and cream sauces with very little seasoning. (The same seemed to be true in the Netherlands, which is why we—and many locals—sought out Indonesian and Italian restaurants.) You have to go out of your way to find vegetable dishes (other than salad) on menus, even in the height of summer. That said, the meat can be very tasty, and during the last four months of the year, the mussels are delicious.

The frite (what Americans call a French fry and the British call a chip) is king in Belgium. A meal is just a snack if it doesn’t come with frites. Interestingly, pubs aren’t allowed to sell frites; only licensed frituurs and restaurants can. Even in small towns, you’ll find a frites shop (often selling burgers and various other fried foods) every few blocks. Frites here aren’t served with ketchup, as in the United States, but with mayonnaise or curry sauce. Frankly, they didn’t impress us. Heresy though it may be to admit, we actually had better fries in Denmark.

One of Belgians’ favorite foods
A vending machine selling whole loaves of bread at the train station

Bread is another thing that suffers by comparison with Germany or Denmark. The Belgians eat a lot of bread—you almost always get a basket of bread and butter with a restaurant meal, and bakeries have outdoor vending machines where you can buy loaves of sandwich bread after hours. You even find the bread vending machines in train stations, stocked daily so you can pick up a fresh loaf on your way home. But for all that, the bread was just OK—significantly better than what you generally get in the United States, of course, but not as good as in some other parts of northern Europe.

Beer is a big deal in Belgium, with a zillion varieties for sale everywhere. Some monasteries earn their revenues by brewing and selling ale, as they have for centuries. Our beer-loving friends back home will probably think it a terrible waste that we’re in Belgium and neither of us likes beer.

What we do adore in Belgium is the chocolate. Every town has artisan chocolatiers making the smoothest, creamiest, most delicious chocolate candies. We’ve eaten far too many and enjoyed every one. We also walked past lots of shops with chocolate fountains in their windows, which invariably reminds us of our friends Nora and Howard, who met over a chocolate fountain at a work party—and of course had another one at their wedding reception.

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