Waffles, fries, chocolate, beer… Belgium may be famous for its junk food, but there’s far more to its national cuisine than that.
Ahead of the Eat! Brussels food festival, taking place in the capital September 11–14, we’ve picked 10 lesser-known Belgian dishes that are pleasure filled, not pound heavy. They’re listed in French and Flemish, though in this bilingual nation, most restaurants will use both.
Carbonnades Flamandes / Stoverij
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At first glance, you may mistake this hearty beef casserole for French staple boeuf bourguignon, but it’s beer, rather than wine, that the Belgians cook with—giving it an earthier taste. Stoverij usually comes with frites for dipping.
Try it at: Le Clan des Belges, Brussels
A creamy fish stew using eggs and butter, waterzooi originated in Ghent, where local lad Charles V (the Holy Roman Emperor) is said to have counted it as his favorite dish. Today, it’s more likely to be made with chicken than fish—either way, it’s served as a soup.
Try it at: t’Klokhuys, Ghent
Sirop de Liège / Luikse Siroop
A sweet, sticky brown jelly made from evaporated fruit juices—dates, apples, and pears are stock ingredients—Sirop de Liège trumps even Euro favorite Nutella when it comes to spreads. Smear it on a baguette for breakfast, or pair it with cheeses at lunch.
Try it at: Chez Franz, Brussels
Moules-frites / Mosselen-friet
Summer in Belgium means mussel season: North Sea mussels, which are fleshier and larger than French ones, are harvested June through April, and cooked either in a classic vegetable and white wine broth or in beer. Served with fries, they’re the unofficial national dish. Do as the locals do, and pick out the mussels using an empty shell as tongs.
Try it at: Poules Moules, Bruges
Anguilles au Vert / Paling in’t Groen
Luckily, “eel in green sauce” is more appetizing than it sounds. Chunks of white, meaty eel (which has the consistency of chicken, only with a more gamey taste) are stewed in a thick, herby sauce of sorrel and chervil—hence its bright green color.
Try it at: Belga Queen, Brussels
Tomates aux Crevettes Grises / Tomaat met Grijze Garnalen
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Juicy crevettes grises—tiny gray shrimp—are known as “the caviar of the North Sea.” In this popular appetizer, they’re peeled, mixed with mayo, and used to stuff cold tomatoes.
Try it at: Belvedere, Ostend
Yes, Belgium has an (unofficial) national cookie. These flat, spiced shortbreads are so beloved you can even get speculoos-flavored spread—as well as ice cream or gelato. Originally baked to celebrate St. Nicholas Day (December 6), you’ll now find them year-round.
Try it at: Maison Dandoy, Brussels
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A staple of Brussels cuisine, stoemp blends mashed potatoes and vegetables such as brussels sprouts, carrots, onion, and kale. It’s usually served either as a side dish, or as an entrée with sausage or stewed meat.
Try it at: Royal Brasserie Brussels
Tarte au Riz / Rijsttaart
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It looks like a quiche, but it tastes so much sweeter. Originating in Verviers, near Liège, tarte au riz is a sweet flan filled with a custardy mixture of rice and milk, and glazed with egg.
Try it at: Boulangerie Alexandre, Pepinster
Boulet au Sauce Lapin / Balletjes op Luikse Wijze
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“Meatballs in rabbit sauce” may be the direct translation, but no rabbits were harmed in the making of this meal. The meatballs (“boulettes” are small, “boulets” are larger, and both are usually a mix of pork or beef) come served in a sweet and sour sauce made of onion, vinegar, brown sugar, and Sirop de Liège. Expect to see them served with frites, crudités, or even a fruit compote.
Try it at: Café Lequet, Liège