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Packed with rich sauces, succulent seafood, and velvety textures, Belgian food brings so much depth and flavor to European cuisine.
Internationally known for its mouthwatering chocolate and rich beers, there’s so much more to this beloved cuisine than first meets the eye.
There are an incredible array of influences in Belgian food, creating a cuisine that offers both luxurious, delicate tastes and wholesome, hearty dishes.
Prepare to explore the diverse flavors of Belgium, as our local guide takes us through 18 of the country’s must-try dishes.
Traditional Belgian Foods To Try
Belgian Appetizers and Mains
1 – Frietjes or Frites – Fries
Fries (frites in French or frieten in Flemish) are essentially the unofficial national dish of Belgium.
Belgium’s secret to the perfect fries is a 2-step process that involves first finding the right potatoes, then double-frying these freshly-cut potatoes.
To get the perfect balance of outer crunchiness and inner softness, the soft potatoes are fried first at a lower temperature to cook their inside to a soft consistency; and second, briefly at a higher temperature to make the outside crispy.
Locals commonly dip their fries in mayonnaise rather than ketchup and trust them, it tastes rather delicious.
These are a must-try and can be easily found at any restaurant, cafe, bar, or street food trucks (friterie) in Belgium.
But remember not to call them ‘French Fries’, because there is a lot of controversy between Belgians and French as to who invented fries!
2 – Mosselen-Friet – Steamed Mussels & Fries
Mosselen-friet is a delicious dish that consists of mussels with fries. This unique combination is an easily available Belgian classic.
Belgian mussels are generally from the North Sea, giving them a fresh and silky taste. They are cooked with many flavors, including garlic cream, mustard sauce, traditional beer, or in a classic vegetable broth.
For Belgians, the most popular and common form of cooking mussels is ‘Moules marinière’, which is mussels with white wine, shallots, parsley, and butter.
Dipping the fries in the leftover broth/sauce is the perfect way to devour this dish!
3 – Waterzooi – Chicken or Fish Stew
Originating from the city of Ghent, waterzooi is a flavorsome stew of chicken or fish, carrots, onions, celeriac, leeks, potatoes, and herbs.
The ingredients are stewed in cream and thickened vegetable broth, and topped with an egg yolk.
Waterzooi was originally made with fish, but today is often made with chicken.
This warm, creamy water-based stew is the ideal remedy for a cold winter’s day.
4 – Grey Shrimp Croquettes
A Belgian delicacy, this seafood dish is made of grey shrimp called ‘Purus’.
These tender shrimp are native to the Flemish sea, and known as the “Caviar of the North Sea.”
These sweet grey shrimps are harvested along the Belgium coast by fishermen on horseback.
The exquisite taste of these shrimp makes them an absolute joy to try.
Coated in crispy breadcrumbs, grey shrimp croquettes are a wildly popular snack choice in Belgium.
5 – Tomaat met Grijze Garnalen – Tomatoes Stuffed with Shrimp
Another fresh and acidic seafood dish made of grey shrimps is Tomaat met Grijze Garnalen.
This Belgian staple mixes tender shrimps with a mayonnaise dressing and salad. The mixture is then stuffed inside a cold juicy tomato.
It may also be occasionally served with a ripe, green salad on the side.
Though it is made with only three ingredients, this dish is light, juicy, and makes a great appetizer for any meal!
6 – Filet Américain – Steak Tartare
Steak Tartare is locally referred to as Filet américain, which literally translates to American filet of beef.
Steak tartare or filet américain consists of finely chopped, crushed, or minced raw lean beef, mixed with onions and spices, and topped with an egg yolk.
In Belgium, steak tartare forms a big part of the beloved ‘Martino’ sandwich. This wholesome sandwich is made with Martino sauce (which usually consists of tabasco, mustard, ketchup, and mayo), onion, pickles, and salad.
Like other dishes in Belgian cuisine, steak tartare is commonly eaten with a portion of fries and enjoyed with a pint of beer.
Originally a French dish, the steak tartare was recreated in a special way by Joseph Niels in 1926, the owner of a family restaurant, who passed down the recipe to his grandchildren before it became an iconic dish of Belgium.
7 – Anguilles au Vert – Eels in Green Sauce
Anguilles au Vert translates to ‘eel in the green’ in English. This fascinating Belgian seafood dish is very much one of the country’s delicacies.
Eel is a very tasty fish, with a texture similar to that of chicken. The dish consists of stewed eel, cooked in a thick green sauce.
The sauce gains its color from green herbs like parsley, watercress, and basil, which are added throughout the cooking process. It is often served with fries.
This dish has a humble history that dates back to when local fishermen in Antwerp used to catch eel in the Schelde River, then prepare it in whatever herbs they had available.
However, today this unique food is a Belgian delicacy, and it can be found at some of the best restaurants in Belgium.
8 – Carbonnades Flamandes – Flemish Beef Stew
Carbonnade à la flamande (in French) or Stoofvlees (in Flemish) means “stew meat”. This rich meat stew is made by slowly simmering beef in Belgium beer in a thickened sauce with bread, mustard, onion, and various seasonings.
The stew may include vegetables like mushrooms and is often garnished with garlic. While most beef stews are prepared with wine, this Belgian stew is thickened with beer. This is the secret ingredient, and it is what makes this rich dish so rich and comforting.
Carbonnade à la flamande pairs well with a side of fries, bread, or rice.
9 – Poulet-Frites-Compote – Chicken with Fries and Applesauce
Belgians enjoy mixing sweet and savory. This beloved Belgian staple is made with three simple but delicious ingredients, and it is a dish that you are sure to love.
Poulet-frites-compote is, as the name suggests, a dish of chicken, fries, and applesauce. Beautifully simple, what is not to love about one of Belgium’s de facto comfort foods?
The contrast between the savory chicken, salty fries, and the spicy, sweet cinnamon-flavored applesauce is a real treat.
10 – Stoemp – Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables
A beloved dish in Flanders, the northern region of Belgium, stoemp is a dish that consists of creamy mashed potatoes mixed with earthy root vegetables such as carrots, sprouts, leek, onions, shallots, and celery, cooked in cream or milk.
The mashed potato mixture also has butter and egg, giving it a thick, satisfying texture. It is often served with fried bacon, sausage, minced beef, or a fried egg. It can also accompany a juicy steak or tenderloin cut.
However, the most common style of this dish is wortelstoemp, which is a simple version that uses only carrots in the mashed potatoes.
11 – Frikadellen met Krieken – Meatballs in Cherry Sauce
Frikadellen met krieken is an utterly fascinating dish of meatballs in a cherry sauce. Originating in the region of Antwerp, this is a quirky dish that is in fact not known to many Belgians outside of the region.
Frikadellen met krieken is a typical example of Belgian cuisine that often combines sweet and savory flavors. The saltiness of the meatballs pairs perfectly with the sour-sweetness of the sour cherries and the syrup.
Commonly served at town fairs, festivals, or family gatherings, this dish can be eaten as both a main course or a dessert.
12 – Konijn met Pruimen – Rabbit with Prunes
Konijn met Pruimen is a Flemish dish dating back the early 1900s, when rabbit meat was used as a source of protein by the poorer population in this region.
Traditionally, aside from being affordable and easy to raise, the rabbit meat was also seen as a tasty, light, and healthy meat.
In time, this traditional dish has been refined into a specialty dish that is cooked primarily on special occasions.
The original style of this dish combines rabbit with prunes to add sweetness to this flavorful dish. It is often served with a side of croquettes.
Belgian Desserts and Drinks
13 – Tarte au Riz – Rice Tart
A classic from the Verviers, Walloon, in the southern part of Belgium, tarte au riz is a wholesome pie made from a rice pudding base, with a filling of sweet milk, cream, and egg custard, and glazed with sugar icing.
These sweet tarts, baked at high temperatures, come in different sizes. They can be bought as large pies or as small individual tarts.
You can find these hearty, sweet delights in bakeries throughout Belgium.
14 – Liège Waffles and Brussels Waffles – Waffles
Contrary to worldwide belief, there is actually no such thing as a ‘Belgian Waffle’ in Belgium. There are, instead, two types of waffles: Liège Waffles and Brussels Waffles.
Liège waffles are thicker, richer, chewier, and much sweeter. These are commonly baked in plain, or cinnamon flavors with ingrained sugar crystals.
Brussels waffles are bigger, lighter, flakier, and crispier. These rectangular waffles are not as sweet as their Liège counterparts.
Both waffles are usually topped with sweet sugar, whipped cream, chocolate, ice cream, and various fruits. The waffles in Belgium are truly heavenly and unparalleled to anywhere else in the world.
15 – Sirop de Liège – Liège Syrup
This syrup from Liège is a jelly-like jam made of evaporated juices from fruits like apples, pears, apricots, prunes, and dates.
Liège Syrup is a sticky sweet jam that is served with bread, baguettes, and cheese. Because of its thick consistency, the syrup is also used in marinades, sauces, salad dressings, and on desserts such as pancakes.
What makes this syrup unique is its three-stage production process. This process involves first crushing the fruits, then cooking the mixture into a fruit compote, and finally pressing the fruits to extract the juice.
The juices are then filtered through a continuous evaporation process to finally obtain this exquisite syrup.
16 – Speculaas – Gingerbread Shortcrust Cookies
Most people have heard of the gingerbread-like cookies, Speculoos. These famous cookies have been a part of Belgian tradition for many centuries.
Speculaas cookies were originally baked in Belgium as a tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) on December 5-6.
These thin, crunchy, caramel-filled biscuits, infused with a little spice, taste amazing with a piping hot cup of coffee. The mixture of spices used includes cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, pepper, cardamom, and nutmeg.
Speculaas are essentially the unofficial national cookies of Belgium. Speculoos spreads (creamy, granular, or crunchy) can also be found globally.
17 – Belgian Truffle Chocolates
It would be criminal not to include one of Belgium’s most iconic exports: chocolate.
Today a prominent part of Belgian cuisine and Belgium’s economy, chocolates have been produced in Belgium since the 19th century.
Chocolates are a major ingredient in most Belgian desserts and have found their way in many of the desserts.
Some of Belgium’s most popular chocolates are spherical truffle chocolates. These delightful sweets have a ganache and cream-filled center and a crust of chocolate, cocoa, coconut, and hazelnuts, and they are a must-try food in Belgium.
You should also try another of Belgium’s most beloved foods: chocolate pralines. Pralines have a soft, liquid filling and a sweet chocolate casing.
Whether you try some of the renowned chocolate brands like Neuhaus, Godiva, and Leonidas, or choose from one of the thousands of local chocolatiers, you’re in for a rich, utterly indulgent treat, no matter what!
18 – Belgian Beer
Belgium is renowned for its beer, and Belgians are extremely proud of their world-famous beer. There are over 800 different types and tastes of Belgian beer to try.
Every beer has a specific flavor and texture, and Belgian beers are served in uniquely shaped glasses. Belgians are particular about the shape of the glass, as it improves the flavor of the beer.
Trappist beers are popular Belgian beers that are made in monasteries by monks. Other types of beers include pale lager, wheat beer, blonde ale, stout, flemish red, champagne beers, winter beers, and fruit beers/ciders.
While beer is often an acquired taste, with Belgium’s extensive range of beers, there is surely a beer for everyone.
Traditional Belgian Foods Summary
Belgian cuisine is one of big, hearty dishes, and an abundance of both sweet and savory flavors combining to make some truly memorable dishes.
Succulent, tender seafood dishes bring a breathtaking taste of the North Sea to restaurant tables, while fries and other potato dishes let you sink into a state of comfort and satisfaction.
Then there is the indulgent side of Belgian food. The luxurious chocolates, the rich, syrup-coated waffles, and the wholesome beers, with so much depth to their flavor, are the stuff culinary dreams are made of!
Belgium is a beautiful country, with some truly beautiful food. Whether your palate caters to sweet, savory, or a fusion of both, there’s so much in Belgian cuisine for you to get excited about.
Before we leave the cobbled Brussels streets and picturesque green mountains, one last time here is the list of all the foods we looked at in this article.
- Frietjes or Frites – Fries
- Mosselen-Friet – Steamed Mussels & Fries
- Waterzooi – Chicken or Fish Stew
- Grey Shrimp Croquettes
- Tomaat met Grijze Garnalen – Tomatoes Stuffed with Shrimp
- Filet Américain – Steak Tartare
- Anguilles au Vert – Eels in Green Herb Sauce
- Carbonnades Flamandes – Flemish Beef Stew
- Poulet-Frites-Compote – Chicken with Fries and Applesauce
- Stoemp – Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables
- Frikadellen met Krieken – Meatballs in Cherry Sauce
- Konijn met Pruimen – Rabbit with Prunes
- Tarte au Riz – Rice Tart
- Liège Waffles and Brussels Waffles – Waffles
- Sirop de Liège – Liège Syrup
- Speculaas – Gingerbread Shortcrust Cookies
- Belgian Truffle Chocolates
- Belgian Beer
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Contributor: Himadri Karani is a copywriter who lives in Antwerpen, Belgium. She is deeply passionate about Belgian cuisine and loves sharing insight into Belgian food and culture through her writing.
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