Well, Belgium was a surprise. We squeezed it into the middle of our honeymoon between the reputedly awful countries of France and Italy so I’ll be honest and tell you I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it would be Holland without Amsterdam or worse, Germany without all the creepy stoicism.
But Belgium was awesome, you guys.
It was ridiculously cultural and the architecture was amazing – there was so much to Do! and See! and Eat! I think what excited me most about good ol’ Belgie (that’s the nickname Belgium and I decided on and WE DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS, WE’RE IN LOVE) was all the incredible food. It was just so…unexpected.
And so you don’t mistakenly assume I’m running for public office in Belgium, three reasons why not. My unhealthy obsession with food is bipartisan.
Reason #1 to eat in Belgium:
The waffles the waffles the waffles, I am not kidding you about The Waffles, everyone. If you haven’t had the good fortune of stumbling across a true Leige waffle somewhere in your culinary travels you are missing out. They require 2-days advance planning to make and the experience is as follows: crispy, buttery crust gives way to dense, pocketed dough which is punctuated by whole grains of pearl sugar. Pearl Sugar! Doesn’t that sound adorable? Getting your hands on pearl sugar is like spotting a Leprechaun…they don’t even sell it at Williams Sonoma. I looked. Belgians eat these waffles at all hours of the day, typically slathered in all manner of delicious toppings. Speaking of…
Reason #2 to eat in Belgium:
Speculoos. You know when you’re on a flight and the flight attendant’s all, “Peanuts or cookies? Peanuts or cookies? Ma’am? Could you please turn your iPad volume down, those old Dexter episodes are scaring the children behind you.” And so of course you get the cookies because cinnamony Biscoff wafers are the rarest of treats. Well, Belgium upped the ante – this Speculoos stuff is sold in jars and it is essentially ground up Biscoff cookie paste. You can order it all melty-like on your waffle or you can eat it right out of the jar on the way home from the Belgian grocery store with your finger like a small child. You get to pick because: Vacation!
Reason #3 to eat in Belgium:
Belgian Stew is like beef stew but with more beer, you see. In case you forgot you were in Belgium for a minute. What ends up happening when they stew this stuff (which they offer at nearly 94% of all restaurants) is that the alcohol and hops and all that goodness breaks down the meat and it becomes really, really tender. This Belgian beef stew is just the hearty, rib-sticking kind of food you want when you realize you can’t feel your knees because it’s Belgium in November and oh my God I think my eyelids are frozen open.
Reason #4 to eat in Belgium:
Belgian beer is good even when it’s not soaked up by tiny beef sponges! If you’re not from Europe you’ll be agog at the age of some of their breweries – the history behind Belgian beer makes Sam Adams feel like the beer equivalent of Justin Beiber. Though generally hoppier than I like my beer the good stuff was always cold, plentiful and cheap(ish.) And in all seriousness, nothing takes the chill off a frigid Belgian night like a massive mug of beer, for some inexplicable reason.
Reason #5 to eat in Belgium:
Belgium will make you wonder why french fries aren’t hailed as an art form. Let’s all look past the fact that Belgian fries are typically served with a hearty helping of mayonnaise on top (I mean, I love mayonnaise but are you kidding me here Belgium?) They’re twice-fried so they’re extra crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, always piping hot, and usually dolled out in portions that are just embarrassingly large. To put it this way, I have never met a potato that I didn’t like and Belgian fries are what I dream about when I’m starving and dinner reservations are still 2 hours away.
Reason #6 to eat in Belgium:
Belgium has a national candy! No really, it does. At least, the guy selling me the candy said so. He told me “Noses of Ghent” are literally protected by the government – the country hopes to preserve the craftsmanship and history of these little guys…and now I can’t find a single article to link to that says…well. Clearly Candy Man was lying to make a sale. To be fair, you really have to go to Ghent to get them and we only saw them for sale via two lone sidewalk carts. Nonetheless, they are really delicious. The nose-shaped candies are berry flavored and have an almost disconcerting texture: chewy on the outside then liquid in the middle. We bought a bag of 12 and I wish we’d bought a bag of 1200. I don’t care if it was all lies, I dream about these things.
And just to temper the reality of it all for just a second, here are three likely reasons Belgium isn’t more famous for its food scene. In the same way Italian Americans have to answer for Jersey Shore, Belgium owes me an explanation for…
Reason #1 NOT to eat in Belgium:
Why does Belgium have so much Italian food? No, seriously. I mean, I get that they’re neighbors, geographically, but why am I ordering lasagna in a Medieval castle where the waiters speak Flemish? Italian food is not a crime but bad Italian food is. And boy, Belgium has some work to do on their translation of “tomato sauce.” Probably best to stick to beer for now, Belgium.
Reason #2 NOT to eat in Belgium:
I understand that Belgium has arguably the most famous chocolate scene in the world but why does every piece of chocolate sold have to be shaped like something? I mean, what if I just want…chocolate? Belgium’s a cocoa wonderland, for sure, but they’re walking a razor-thin edge between “avant garde” and “Spencer’s Gifts” with all those ridiculous chocolate molds.
Reason #3 NOT to eat in Belgium:
Do you travel with solid gold bars? Does your grandma know how to wire you money? Did you get to Belgium on the Concord? No? Then you can’t afford to eat anything in Belgium. Anywhere.
It really is that expensive.