Start leading a healthy life style and it is only natural that your taste buds will slowly mature and seek out more complex flavors. A decade ago I would have drank a Budweiser. But ever since my compulsion to almost completely eradicate sugar from my diet, my beer cravings have turned “dark”.
If you know your beer, then you no doubt have savored a Belgian beer or two. It does not take long to see Belgium’s love for brew is steeped in history. Although in 1900 Belgium boasted over 3200 breweries, now just over 100 still exist. Despite the massive decline in numbers, you can find specialist beer bars serving over 500 different kinds of beer.
In times past, some of Belgium’s finest beers were brewed by Trappists, a silent order of Cistercian monks – Chimay being one. To induce a second fermentation process yeast is added at bottling, so make a careful pour to avoid disturbing the bottom sediment. While many Abbeys have licensed their beers to commercial breweries, such as Leffe, brew standards remain high.
As of late, a thick dark stout with hints of coffee and a tall creamy head is next to impossible to turn down. Almost as rewarding and surprisingly complex is a Witbier or “white beer”, Hoegaarden being a more mainstream brand. While most beer is made from barley, white beer is made from wheat, making it light and refreshing. Take a minute and savor the subtle hints of coriander and orange peel, laced in cloudy sediment.
Little wonder why Brussels and beer have gone hand in hand for ages. Very interesting to note is the peculiar air that resides along the river Senne that flows through Brussels, home to a natural airborne yeast called Brettanomyces. Brewers for centuries simply left their wheat-beer wort uncovered for the air to naturally add its yeast. Once fermented the beer is then moved to wooden casks. After a year or more drinkers can finally enjoy its slightly winey edge called Lambic, another typical beer in Brussels.
All this drinking would quite possibly increase ones tolerance to alcohol. This is certainly evident in the sheer strength of some Belgian beers. Single (around 3%) double (around 6%) and treble (around 9%) are all dwarfed by beers reaching in excess of 12%.
It is evident that Belgians know how to drink, but they also know how to eat. A tradition linked to festive occasions, freshly made and sprinkled with icing sugar, gaufres or wafels are an indulgence you cannot pass up! Simply the name Belgian waffles rolls off the tongue like something you learned in elementary school. There is nothing quite like watching your fork cut through the corner of a thick Belgium waffle, as the intoxicating sweet scent hits your nostrils. Do not let the sheer thickness fool you, these waffles are light as air with a subtle crispiness, a wonderful display of melt in your mouth ecstasy. Eat to your heart’s content and still walk away feeling satisfied, not bloated nor lethargic.
Belgian chocolate is world-renowned and for good reason. Belgian chocolate manufactures use high-quality cocoa beans and generous amounts of cocoa butter. Traveling to Belgium and not sampling chocolate would be equivalent to touring Paris and not stopping to gaze at the Eiffel Tower. While the majority of hand-made chocolates here are pralines, you get the sense they know what they are doing and have been doing it for a very long time. Handmade Belgium chocolates are generally inexpressive, sampling a handful might only set you back a Euro or two. Start small as these chocolates are very rich and you will get your fill very quickly. Go in hungry and leave feeling like a million bucks, as there is nothing quite like watching someone slip on a fitted white glove, select and then package your chocolates in a highly appealing baggy.
Belgian frites (fries) are arguably the best fries in the world. Surprisingly despite the thickness of cut, these fries are plenty crunchy. Fries are submerged in two oils with different temperatures until crisp and served with a heap of mayonnaise.
Belgians have enough confidence in their home-grown beef that they eat it raw, Filet Americain style. While I was not brave enough to try that, I did enjoy Moules (muscles). Traditionally muscles are served in a big bucket along with fries. Muscles in white wine are a good place to start, but be sure only to eat the muscles which have opened.
So whatever your tastes buds, there is something here for you.
*Source material: Top 10 – Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent
“Beer” photo provided by Chow
“Waffle” photo provided by Flickr user: nibblekibble
“Chocolate” photo provided by Flickr user: Leonidas Belgian Chocolate
“Fries” photo provided by Penguin says Feed Me!
“Mussels” photo provided by Lets Talk More