I’ve been all over Europe, but somehow Belgium and I had never been acquainted. I really wanted to meet her for a long time, so, Belgium was high on my list of places to visit on the Grand Adventure. I was looking forward to learning more about Belgium Fabulous – Beer, Chocolate, Lace and Much More.
In fact, there is much, MUCH more to Belgium than I ever imagined. With influences from France and the Netherlands (French-speaking in the south and Dutch-speaking in the North), Belgium has thousands of years of history that includes a prosperous medieval period where the area was a center of commerce and culture. But given its location bordering France, Germany and the Netherlands, Belgium also became a battle ground during both WWI and WWII.
Belgium was one of the founding members of the European Economic Community which later became the European Union. Today Brussels, Belgium hosts the headquarters of the EU and NATO.
So our short visit to Belgium included stops in the important city of Brussels, as well as time in the
beautiful medieval city of Brugge. In both places we set out to learn about the things that make Belgium special. Let’s start with beer.
Beer- brewing beer in Belgium dates back to the 12th century and Belgium beer is recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
We really put in a good effort researching this – sampling about a dozen different beer styles and breweries during our stay. Belgian beer has a stronger alcohol content than beer I’m used to drinking, and I had a headache for a few days. But all in the name of research of course. We tested lagers, amber ales, Flemish Red Ales, Brown Ales, Stouts and sour beer. On average Belgians drinks about 84 liters of beer a year.
But in the 1800’s when the river water was polluted, people drank beer instead of water, consuming about 200 liters a year.
We only visited a couple of breweries, both in Brugge, but there are approximately 225 breweries in this tiny country.
Chocolate – During the 1600’s Belgium was occupied by Spain and it was during this time that drinking chocolate became very popular. Later when Belgium colonized Congo in Africa they began importing the cocoa bean.
But the story goes that chocolates as we know them today did not become popular until 1857 when pharmacist Jean Neuhaus began
covering pills with chocolate to make the medicine more palatable for children (and adults). And the Belgian chocolate was born.
Lace – dating back centuries to a time when the area was known as Flanders, lace making was an art form here in Belgium. Both Brugge and Brussels are, still today, known for the beautiful lace made both by hand (bobbin lace) and by machine. There are shops and demonstrations everywhere. It’s a dying art, one that can hopefully be preserved.
Waffles – surprisingly Belgian waffles are not an ancient thing. In fact, waffles were only introduced to Americans at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair but called Bel-Gen Waffles. A favorite was born! Two kinds of waffles are now popular all over Belgium, particularly with the tourists; the Brussels Waffle is the one created for and introduced in the United States. It is lighter, more rectangular and has deeper holes. It can be eaten plain but you will
often see the tourists walking around with one piled with strawberries and whipped cream, or Nutella or a host of other toppings. The second one, and my favorite is the Leige Waffle, named after a town in eastern Belgium. Darker in color, crispier on the outside, the Leige is filled inside with chunks of gooey sugar. It’s considered uncouth to put anything like fruit or Nutella on a Leige waffle. And trust me, it doesn’t need it. Absolutely delicious, light and sweet on its own. Popular at 4pm with tea.
Frites – as early as 1680 there are records showing the Belgians deep-
frying potato batons. The French will argue the origin of the food, but Belgians firmly disagree – frites are from Belgium. And they are popular! Everywhere you look the double-fried golden fingers are available. Usually served in a paper cone with your choice of dip including ketchup-mayo combos, as well as hollandaise, basil and oil, pepper, curry, spicy, bbq, tartar, mustard and many more.
So we did our best during our short visit to
Belgium to dive into the culture, history and food and learn something about this beautiful little country. Belgium is also one of the worlds largest cut flower exporters, diamond exporters and is the world’s largest exporter of billiard balls . Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world. The Tin Tin strip and The Smurfs were created here.
Betcha didn’t know that did you? Belgium. Worth a visit! Fabuleux or Fabelachtig. Whether French or Dutch, there is a lot of fabulous in Belgium.