Belgium is often immediately linked to chocolate, waffles, and beer. Although this is the main food Belgium is famous for, I would like to talk about the real Belgian cuisine. This means, anything beyond chocolate, beer and waffles! There are other must-try foods in Belgium.
Before I dive into any dishes there are certain things you should know that have influenced Belgian cuisine and are pretty important.
First of all, Belgium is located at the North Sea. This means that many dishes in Belgium include seafood and especially Flemish cuisine is heavily influenced by that. When visiting the Belgian coast you should therefore definitely try any delicacies from the North Sea!
Second, fries were invented in Belgium. I know people call them French fries these days (which as a true Belgian, I’ve never understood), but they were actually invented in Belgium and there is a huge difference between French and Belgian fries.
Lastly, Belgium is a relatively young country (founded in 1830), but each region has a very large history that goes back hundreds of years into the past. Therefore, it is hard to speak of a real Belgian cuisine (beyond the fries). However, each region has undoubtedly its historic specialties.
So, now you know the most important things about Belgian cuisine, let’s dive into its most famous dishes!
Cliché, but really the number one type of food that connects the whole country together. And I’m not talking about McDonald’s fries, no, I’m talking about the real Belgian ones! There is a clear distinction!
Traditional Belgian fries are rather short and thick, this is how you distinguish between Belgian and French fries (the latter are large and thin).
Everywhere in the country, you’ll be able to find places where they mainly sell fries and nothing else. Moreover, fries are the ultimate Belgian comfort food and ideal when you don’t feel like cooking. You can best compare it to takeaway pizza but then takeaway fries!
Note: almost all traditional Belgian dishes are served with fries on the side, that’s how important fries are in Belgium!
2. Mosselen met frietjes/Moules Frites
There are 2 things you absolutely need to try when visiting the Belgian coast. One of them is sea mussels with fries!
The dish is as simple as it sounds: deliciously prepared mussels with Belgian fries. You will be able to find this in ANY restaurant at the Belgian coast. When it is the season you will also find them more inland, but make sure to search for a quality restaurant that serves them well.
When at a restaurant be sure that they serve ‘Zeeuwse mosselen’ as these kind are much larger and tastier than others! Moreover, you cannot always eat mussels. There is what they call a mussel season that runs from July/August to February/March.
3. Garnaalkroketten/Shrimp croquettes
Delicacy number 2 you should try at the Belgian coast is shrimp croquettes. As the name says, these are croquettes with grey shrimps inside which they capture in the North Sea! It is usually served with some salad and Belgian fries.
Be sure to find a quality restaurant when ordering this food. As with the mussels, many places serve it but not all of them are true quality. Real fresh shrimp croquettes have lots of shrimps inside! Do not let them fool you with croquettes where you barely see a shrimp!
4. Stoofvlees/Belgian stew
Aside from seafood, Belgium is a meat-eating country. Before the world’s globalization, food in Belgium mainly consisted of meat with potatoes (hence the fries).
One dish in particular combines all the best of Belgian cuisine: Belgian stew. When ordering the food, one should not look too much at the outside of the food (as for people who do not know the dish it might not look very appealing). However, it is delicious!
The dish is made out of beef, fries and a sauce that is made with Belgian beer. It’s hands-down one of the must-try foods in Belgium!
5. Chicon au gratin
This is probably my favourite but maybe just because my grandmother makes them so delicious!
The dish consists of chicory rolled in ham, covered in a cheese sauce and grilled in the oven. It is traditionally eaten with mashed potatoes and sometimes the chicory is replaced by leek (as not everyone is a fan of chicory).
This is by far one of my favourite dishes ever and a Flemish traditional dish you should definitely try when visiting Belgium!
This dish originates from the city of Ghent and dates back to the Middle Ages! Waterzooi was originally based on fish that could be found in the rivers of Ghent. However, as those fish became scarcer it has been replaced by chicken.
Right now the dish is some sort of soup that consists of chicken, vegetables, cream and potatoes. It is a true specialty when you are visiting Ghent and it was also the favourite dish of Emperor Charles V (Keizer Karel V) back in the 16th century.
Another delicious Belgian dish is called vol-au-vent. It consists of pastry filled with a ragout of chicken, meatballs and mushrooms and is consistently served with fries.
Again, this is highly recommended when you visit the country and something you will be able to find in the more traditional Belgian restaurants!
8. Tomate Crevettes
Another traditional seafood dish is tomate crevettes! This list of must-try foods in Belgium wouldn’t be complete without it. It consists of tomatoes filled with shrimps and mayonnaise. It is traditionally served with Belgian fries (as are most Belgian dishes).
This is definitely something you should try when visiting the Belgian coast as the grey shrimps are freshly captured from the North Sea!
9. Paling in ‘t groen
Do you want to try a traditional dish made with local fish? Then try “Paling in ‘t groen”! This is definitely one of the fancier Belgian dishes and also a bit more expensive as the fish is becoming rarer and rarer.
It consists of river eel (found in Belgian rivers) in a delicious green sauce and is traditionally served with fries or bread. You will probably find it in the more high-end restaurants where you should not hesitate to order it!
10. Balletjes met krieken/Meatballs with sour cherries
Another Belgian favourite in this post is meatballs with sour cherries or “Balletjes met krieken” in Dutch. As the name states, this dish consists out of meatballs with sour cherries and is traditionally served with brown bread and good Belgian butter!
11. Konijn met pruimen/Rabbit with prunes
Rabbit with prunes is another traditional dish made by many Belgian grandmothers and also dates back to the Middle Ages. The dish stems from a time when meat was too expensive to be bought so the people ate rabbits instead.
It is a true winter-dish consisting of rabbit stewed in sour Belgian beer, served with dried prunes and any kind of potatoes. It’s definitely one of the must-try foods in Belgium.
This dish might not look incredibly good but it definitely tastes like it! You might have noticed that you should be a potato lover to live in Belgium and this dish makes no exception on that rule.
Belgian stoemp holds its name due to all the ingredients being mashed together. It is made up of meat, potatoes and vegetables mixed in a very unorthodox way.
Moreover, there is not really a fixed recipe. This dish can be adapted to every season and its current vegetables. However, it is usually a more winterish recipe!
I hope that you enjoyed these 12 traditional Belgian dishes and that you have a much clearer idea now of what Belgian cuisine looks like! However, you should know that this list is not exhaustive and that many more regional delicacies can be found in Belgium. One example is dishes made with asparagus, a true Belgian vegetable!
You should also know that with most Belgian dishes drinking beer is advised! Belgium has more than 1000 beers of its own, so you will definitely find one that fits the dish! Absolutely don’t be ashamed to ask the waiter what kind of beer would fit well with your food.
After any Belgian meal, do not forget to order dessert as well! Belgium has many traditional desserts such as Dame Blanche (vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce), mattentaarten (pastry cakes with a light filling), appelflappen (pastry filled with apple) and just anything they serve with chocolate!
Anyway, I hope you will enjoy one or more of these meals on your next trip to Belgium! Now you know all the must-try foods in Belgium.
This is a special guest post written by Emma! Emma is a Belgian student who loves to share her passion for travel on Instagram and her blog Emma’s Roadmap, which is filled with city guides and tips to help you save valuable time when planning a trip!