Belgium, -my second home land- is I have to admit, is a foodie destination. Everyone heard of the chocolate and the Belgian beer because they are world famous. I spent July there and at this time I discovered lots of funny stories and quirky historical facts about the Belgian cuisine what I like to share immediately with you:
Belgian praline was born in a pharmacy
In 1857, Jean Neuhaus was the owner of a pharmacy in the Galerie de la Reine in Brussels. But it was not an usual drugstore: the man sold tasty sweets and pills against coughing that he covered with a thin layer of chocolate to conceal their bitter taste. His grandson was inspired by this genius method but decided to put some « crème fraiche » in them rather than grandpa’s medicine. And voilà! The praline was born.
Brussels waffles became world famous in 1964
The Americans discovered the delicious Brussels waffles – or Belgian waffles – during the New York’s World Fair in 1964. Maurice and Rose Vermersch, a couple from Brussels were serving waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries to the visitors. It’s said that they served 2 500 waffles a day. A legend was born!
Endive is the gothic vegetable
Legend says that a farmer had hidden his harvest of chicory in a cellar, under a layer of earth, during the Belgian revolution. When he went back to retrieve it, the color of the vegetables had disappeared: it was white. He called it witloof- white leaf in Dutch. Nobody knows if it’s true but what’s for sure is that Franciscus Bresiers, the head gardener of the botanical garden of Brussels, was the one who perfected the method to grow that strange gothic (it grows in dark and cold places and it has of white complexion, so it is gothic) vegetable in the 19th century.
Nowadays Belgians eat around 8 kg of endive per year. The endive is a super food against stomach and colon cancer (they are rolled in ham with a cheese sauce, or make a salad from them with fresh strawberry and balsamic vinegar with salt and pepper)
I’m really sorry if the sprouts evoke bad memories for some readers. This hybrid cabbage variety was selected in the 17th century because it grows vertically so that it takes considerably less space. And this was a strong asset at the time when Brussels was growing rapidly and the arable land was shrinking.
French fries or Belgian fries that is the question
Who invented the fries there is no proof of it. What it is sure about it that the Belgian fries are delicious and better than the French. The secret is that in Belgium they cook them twice, traditionally in beef fat, first at 160° and then at 180°. The fries are done when you hear them singing!
Café Liégeois comes from Vienna?
Café Viennoise was very trendy in the beginning of the 20th century but when the WWI broke in, the name soon lost its popularity. Parisian coffee owners decided to change the name to « café Liégeois » to honor the courage of Liège in the fights against the German invader and the name is still in use today. So it’s not a Belgian specialty but you can have it in Liège.
Belgium exports more than 60% of its beer production
And the first market is France, even if our neighbors buy considerably less of the oat soda since the rise of the taxes on that product. Belgium breweries produce more than 2500 types of beer among which you’ll find the famous Trappist beers (like Orval, Lambics and Gueuze) they are produced only in a certain part of Belgium situated in the South-West of Brussels.
The Belgians still fish shrimps on horseback
In Belgium you can eat shrimps as croquettes, filled with tomatoes. Grey shrimps are one of the staples of Belgian cuisine. North of the country 12 fishers still harvest shrimps on horseback, a method protected by UNESCO. You can go to the seaside and participate on the event at the end of August!
Pronounce the word loudly: cu-ber-don
What is it? Cuberdon is a kind of sweet you’ll find only in Belgium. This small sugar cone is filled with thick, fruity syrup. Today it exists in 30 different flavors. Some people think the shape of the curberdon is inspired by the hat of a priest and that is was probably created by a clergy member somewhere around Brugges. Other people claim that cuberdons were created by a pharmacist, just like the pralines. In Flanders, they call it « neuzeke » which means little nose. It is a cute name istn’t it?
Weird Belgian food names
Filet Américain is a kind of boeuf tartare and has nothing to do with Americans. In fact it’s it is raw meat they put on the baguette and garnish with sprouts and kiwi! Pain à la Grecque literally means Greek bread comes from Brussels and not from Greece. Oiseaux sans tête (birds without head) it is not a title of a horror movie and they aren’t birds at all in the dish but rather it is made with chicken filled with minced meat rolled in a thin slice of beef. Boulets sauce lapin (rabbit in sauce) do not contain any rabbit. Tête de veau en turtle, the head of the calf and turtle! is an other weird Belgian food specialty and it has nothing to do with a turtle!