In Belgium: Stories from the Land of Chocolates, Waffles, Beer and Fries


Belgium! The land of beer, chocolates, waffles and fries! What’s not to like? Pair that with the beautiful architecture, rich history and nice people and who wouldn’t like living there? I would move in a second! 🙂 This visit to Belgium was inspired many years ago by a movie that sparked an interest to see Brugge. The movie is called In Bruges, and though the movie wasn’t anything to write home about, the setting for the movie left a lasting impression on me. So this summer, I was lucky enough to make this old wish come true! I realize
it may be hard to cover all the culinary wonders of Belgium with one post (I could probably have one post just on waffles :)), but I’ll give it my best try 🙂

First morning in Bruxelles, breakfast was none other than waffles 🙂 And of course, the token cappuccino for me 🙂 And can I say that I really like the ones served in glass cups cause of all the layers that are visible. I’m still trying to perfect this art 🙂

So, a little education on different types of waffles you can find at every corner at any city in Belgium 🙂 The waffle featured in the first photo is what’s called a Bruxelles waffle, and the waffle in the photo above is what’s called a Liege waffle (recipes for both kinds are at the end of this post). The main difference between the two is the thickness of the batter before they are pressed in the waffle machine. The Bruxelles waffles are usually bigger and fluffier, with deep ridges – their batter resembles that of North American pancake, slightly runny, but thicker than batter for crepes. Liege waffles (originating in the little town in south of Belgium called Liege) batter is more denser, more bread like and thicker. They are often smaller when prepared (see above), not as fluffy and their ridges are not as deep.

Here, at a waffle spot in Ghent, the girl is showings us how a Liege waffle looks like before it’s grilled. If you could look closely, you would see pockets where sugar is stuffed in, so that when they’re ready, they can be eaten with no toppings (often some powdered sugar is enough). However, there have tons of choices for toppings for both Liege and Bruxelles “Gaufre”, such as melted chocolate (my favorite), fruit and whipped cream, even real Canadian maple syrup! 🙂  Liege waffles also have their own Liege waffle maker that allows the grills to get to the right temperature as not to burn the sugar.  The lady in the above picture also pointed out that flipping the waffle maker half way through the cooking process helps to evenly distribute the chunks of sugar in the batter, so it wouldn’t all run to one side.

Needless to say, my chocolate covered Liege gaufre was gone before you could say chocolate! 🙂

Even the little bee couldn’t get enough! 🙂

According to our guide book, the place best recommended for waffles is Aux Gaufres de Bruxelles, and it didn’t dissapoint (as you can see from my above clean plate :))

So after breakfast, and some searching for Astérix and Obelix murals, we worked up an appetite for lunch.  One of the recommended places was an old stagecoach inn from 1762  In’t Spinnekopke (In the Spider’s Web).

Mussels are one of the Belgium’s prized specialties, and wanting to try an authentic Belgian dish, I opted for “Waterzooi Moules”, pictured below.

Waterzooi is a typical stew of Flanders, with zooi meaning to stew – it’s made with various vegetables and then a choice of chicken, beef or seafood.

So, what is one to do, when you get snacky after walking around all day, admiring the Belgian architecture?  Well, get a cone of fries of course!  Another pride of Belgian cuisine, and one that is taken quite seriously, is the fry.  And don’t make a mistake of asking for “french fries” at a restaurant, as one fellow tourist did at a table next to ours in Brugge – he was met with a stern look from the waitress – “We don’t have French fries” she said 🙂  It is a common misconception that these little guys originated in France, when in fact, they were invented in Belgium sometime at the end of the 17th century.  Fries are so important to Belgians that there is even a Fry Museum in Brugges (below).

 

You can find a fry stand (or ‘friekot’) almost anywhere in any Belgian town, and it’s made fresh right in front of you, served in a cone shaped carboard container with salt and  many different mayo based sauces.  Instant heaven!

Another big passion of the Belgique is beer. Belgians have been brewing beer since the Middle Ages, and there are literally 1000s of brands and kinds to choose from (even for a non-drinker it’s overwhelming).

One of the most distinctive beers in Belgium is the Lambic beer, which is fermented differently from most other beers (which are fermented using carefully cultivated strands of brewer’s yeasts) – Lambic is produced by spontateous fermentation – it’s exposed to wild yeasts and bacteria, naturally occuring in the Senne valley in which Bruxelles lies. This gives the beer a dry and cidery taste. There are more sweet kinds, mixed with fruit – the most common being the Kriek and the less sweet Geuze.

Kriek is perfect for non-beer drinkers, in my opinion, at least if they are anything like me, and don’t like the bitter taste of beer. Kriek is more like carbonated very fruity cherry juice with undertones of beer – very refreshing! 🙂

In Brugge, the only family brewery still left – De Halve Maan, offers daily tours, which includes a glass of their unpasteurized goldenblond Brugse Zot, as well as the great view from top of the brewery.  Their premium brew – Straffe Hendrik comes in 750 ml bottles, in 9% and 11% alcohol variety.  The 9% is very smooth with no bitter aftertaste, and especially good when paired with the local Brugge Blomme cheese.

Old empty beer bottles in the Halve Maan brewery.

So, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Belgium? For me, it’s always been chocolate. Chocolate shops are everywhere and there are SO many options and chocolat artisanal to choose from. One can either chose his/her own selection or buy the pre-selected assortment. And then there are many other chocolate confections to choose from, as evident from the photo below 🙂 Something for everyone 🙂 One thing to remember, that I’ve learned from a serious chocolatier, is to never put chocolate in the fridge as it ruins the taste – keep it in a cool dark place. 🙂

Our trip continued from Bruxelles to Ghent, a lovely small town on the canals, with charming architecture, and plenty of interesting cafes, such as this one – The Pi Cafe! 🙂

The 3.14 Cafe in the GroentenMarkt Quartier in Ghent specialized in coffee drinks, so this seemed a perfect spot to try out some novelties. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the name of the lovely creation below, but I do remember it has some kind of alcohol in it (perfect for a morning drink , I’d say :)). 

Latte Macchiato at Cafe 3.14 in Ghent.  Apologies for the brand placement.

People watching is my favorite part of sitting at a cafe, and we were lucky enough to catch this sweet gesture in front of the bakery, right beside Cafe 3.14.  Do you think she’s a tourist?

The visitor information office in Ghent, underneath the Belfry Tower was quite useful, and offered walking tours of the town.  Needless to say, all that walking around in the sun makes one quite hungry 🙂  The reward?  A lovely meal of steak with hollandaise sauce and fresh fries (what can be better?)

Our walking tour recommended eating in the Patershol Quartier, famously named the ‘gastronomical centre of Ghent’.  However, it seems that most of the restaurants here are not open for lunch, so we walked to the nearby Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market) plaza (and once home to the tanners guild), which, when it’s not housing the Friday market is full of restaurants and cafes.  Vridagmarkt is also home to “socialist ‘house of the people’ (Ons Huis, Bond Moyson), which was once the hospital of the first people’s of Ghent.

In the Vrijdagmarkt, there were plenty of choices to choose from, and mostly on the expensive side, so we were lucky to find this little gem – De Gulden Valk – that offered a lunch menu for 12 euros, that included soup, steak and fries 🙂  Oh and of course – Kriek 🙂

Walking around in the the Patershol Quartier in Ghent, we passed by this lovely fascade and I couldn’t pass up photographing it – the red brick and the red door contrasted with white flowers made for a perfect photo opportunity 🙂  And it’s just one of the many examples of the Flemish architecture – I was in photo heaven 🙂

In Brugge, while hiding out from the rain, I got to enjoy this yummy creation below.

And when it was time for an after-dinner treat, this whipped-cream cappuccino (a first for me), didn’t dissapoint 🙂

On our last morning in Brugge, we were lucky to stumble upon this hidden oasis, right beside the Minnewaterpark and the Lake of Love.  ‘t Oost!  promotes the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and encourages  ‘slow food’ – savouring every bite, while enjoying one’s surroundings.  They have menus in 4 different languages, and even a huge map on the wall in which you can indicate with a pin where you come from 🙂

My simple breakfast consisted of a latte macchiato, a croissant and a typical Flemish almond cookie 🙂

A couple of locals have just left the cafe, and the evidence of their morning coffee is a testament to the enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures…

Today’s specials are featured at the front entrance of ‘t Oost 🙂

Plants in the backyard terrace of ‘t Oost.

After savouring every sip of my latte macciato, it was time for more gastronomical exploration!  Chocolate! Yumm!

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RECIPES

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Gaufre de Bruxelles

  • 3 1/4 cups (1 lb. — 500g) all purpose flour
  • one sachet (7g) instant dried yeast
  • 4 medium eggs
  • whole milk (you can also add some sparkling mineral water and make them even fluffier)
  • two sticks (1/2 lb. — 250g) butter
  • vanilla sugar
  • some salt

1. Take a cup of milk and heat it until it is lukewarm then mix in your yeast. You can now leave the yeast standing for a while.

2. In the mean time – melt the butter, but stop as soon as it melts, don’t over heat it or even burn it – you will lose the taste. You also need to…

3. …separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and beat the egg whites until you get snow.

4. Now take a big giant huge bowl and throw in all the flour, vanilla sugar (one sachet) and some salt. Make a hole in the middle of the flour and fill it with melted butter, dissolved yeast and egg yolk.

5. Mix while you are adding milk (and some mineral water if you want). You should mix it really well so there are no lumps. The question you might ask here is how dense should the dough be, how much milk? It should be thick, think pancakes and then make it a bit thicker.

6. OK, now gently mix the beaten egg whites into the dough…don’t overmix.

7. Leave the dough to rest and rise at room temperature for a while. How long? Until the volume of the dough doubles or even triples! We told you to take a really big bowl. If you are in a hurry then wait for 30 minutes to one hour, but if you can, make the waffle dough in the evening and leave it overnight.

8. Use the oil to grease the waffle iron (which should be hot hot hot) so your waffles don’t stick to it and pour the dough in it. Bake the until they turn golden brown.

9. Sprinkle some powdered sugar all over the Brussels waffles.

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Gaufre de Liege

  • 6 tablespoons warm milk (no hotter than 110°F)
  • 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar 

  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups (230 grams) bread flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, at slightly cooler than room temperature
  • 140 grams turbinado sugar, or pearl sugar if you choose

1.  Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk; then add the yeast. Make sure that the milk is not too hot, lest it kill the yeast instead of promoting its growth. Place a plate or some kind of cover on top of the bowl with the milk, sugar and yeast. Set aside for about five minutes. When you check on it, the yeast should have bubbled up, looking light brown and spongy.

2.  Meanwhile, mix the sifted bread flour with the cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Pour in the yeast mixture; then add the whole egg and egg yolk. Mix on medium speed until it is fully combined. The dough will be yellow and stiff, yielding only slightly to a poke.

3.  Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest in a warm place for about thirty minutes.

4.  Beat in the butter piece by piece; you do not have to wait for the prior piece to be fully incorporated before adding the next. When the dough has incorporated about half of the butter, the mixture will be like a very thick, somewhat broken-up paste. If you keep engaging the mixer on medium-high speed, the dough will eventually become a cohesive whole, looking smoother and more feeling more elastic. Scrape the sides of the bowl if needed.

5.  Kneading very gently, incorporate the sugar crystals just enough to get them evenly distributed. Work quickly so as not to soften the buttery dough too much.

6.  Divide the dough into a dozen equal pieces, gently forming them into balls.

7.  Place the balls of dough on a cutting board in a warmish place for fifteen minutes or so. During the last two minutes of this resting time, preheat your waffle iron until it is very warm, but not hot.

8.  Spray the griddles with cooking oil. Place each ball of dough in a whole square or section of the waffle iron. Like regular waffle batter, the dough will start to puff up. Cook the waffles until the surface is golden to dark brown. Be sure that the waffle iron you are using is appropriately deep, or else the interior of the waffle will not be cooked through. If you are using a vintage stovetop waffle iron, flip the iron every thirty to forty seconds, lifting the iron to check the rate of browning. The browning should be gradual to allow the interior to fully develop.

9.  Set the waffles on a cooling rack as they come out of the iron to promote a crispy exterior. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

10.  Any leftover waffles, if they are not dark brown, can be carefully re-cooked in a toaster for approximately thirty to sixty seconds. Leftover waffles may also be kept in an airtight container between sheets of parchment paper, for up to three days.

Makes 12 waffles

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6 responses to “In Belgium: Stories from the Land of Chocolates, Waffles, Beer and Fries

  1. I really enjoyed this fantastic post! I have only visited Europe once, but Brugge was unquestionably one of my favorite places to see and your post helped me remember why! Thanks!

  2. Great post! I love all of your photographs. I’ve just moved to Ghent and agree with you that it is indeed a charming place 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Thank you Leah 🙂 You’re so lucky to get to live in Ghent! 🙂 I think I would be out every day taking photographs of the city if I lived there…there are so many great photo opportunities 🙂 Not to mention all the waffles! mmmmm 🙂 🙂

  3. You are so very talented… Loved your pictures and posts! You’re making me visit Ghent 🙂

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