As far as Brussels is concerned, Belgian cuisine has a lot of French influences. You can find amazing croissants, and bakeries are present everywhere. Even the bakery section of the average grocery store is far beyond what you would find here in the States. Crepes are also very popular in Belgium, both sweet and savory. Basically, this place is carb heaven--especially when you factor in the beer.
Mmmm beer. Beer brewing began in Belgium around the Middle Ages during the first crusade, when Catholic abbeys would brew beer to raise money. The country now produces more distinct types of beer per capita than any other region in the world. According to wiki, on average, Belgians drink a lot of beer per year--about 84 litres.* Most beers in Belgium are bought or served in bottles, rather than cans, and almost every style of beer has its own particular, uniquely shaped glass or other drinking-vessel. One of the coolest things about visiting bars in Belgium is seeing the neat glasses you get with each type of beer.
Obviously there are tons of different types of Belgian beer; there are 120 different varieties and 580 different brands. Generally, Belgian beer tends to be more yeasty and higher in alcohol content (hells yeah!) than other countries' beer.
Some common types of Belgian beer are Ales (blonde/red/amber/brown), Lagers, White, Trappist (brewed by monks!), Duvel "devil" beers which are really strong, and Lambics--my personal favorite. Lambic beers are stored for years in wooden casts fermenting from wild yeasts that occur in the air. They are often blended with fruits to counter the somewhat sour flavor, and taste close to our cider-type beer, though much stronger and more, you know, beer-y. On the beer menu, you'll find them under "spontaneous fermentation" which I think just sounds hilarious. My favorite type of lambic beer is gueuze.
A framboise (raspberry) lambic beer served in a wooden case. You pick up the wooden handle (in the foreground) and pour into your glass. Cool!
But you need something to wash down all that beer, right? Lucky for you, Belgium has some amazing food. "Traditional" Belgian fare is pretty simple: we're talking meat and potatoes. One of the most classic dishes is carbonnade, a yummy stew similar to the French beef bourguignon, but made with beer instead of red wine. It's hearty, but also a bit sweet.
Carbonnade #1 (from In't Spinnekopke), served in an adorable little red pot with some greens, and frites which are out of the frame.
Carbonnade #2 from 9 Et Voisons.
Another common dish is boudin, sausage served with potatoes. And of course, you have your mussels (moules). Almost every restaurant in Belgium serves mussels, but unfortunately for me my seafood allergy prohibited me from indulging. Something else that I noticed on every menu was filet américain. It's very finely minced ground beef eaten raw and cold. I consider myself a carnivore...but I decided to pass on that one thank you. Beef tartare is not my thing.
Boudin, also from 9 Et Voisons.
Lest you think that Belgian cuisine always involves meat, there is hope for all you vegetarians out there! While I didn't really come across a lot of salad or even fresh vegetable options, everyone knows that Belgians are famous for their frites, i.e. french fries.
While friteries aren't as common as I had expected (I guess I figured I would see one on every street corner), you'll find them clustered around touristy areas. I paid a visit to one of the most popular in Brussels, Fritland, right next to the Grand Place and I have to say I was not disappointed. These frites were AMAZING--apparently, the secret is in the frying process. Belgian frites are double-fried, first to cook and the second time to brown. And yes, Belgians enjoy their frites with mayonnaise (ew!), but Fritland offered a ton of different sauces, including my favorite, ketchup. They were thick, but still crispy--basically two things I never thought could exist together in a fry.
It's also quite easy to find cheap eats in Brussels. Two places I discovered (well, really found through the Spotted by Locals blog) are Hop Dog and Mr. Falafel. Hop Dog specializes in chicken sausage; think of it as a healthier version of our fast food. Also cheap and fast is Mr. Falafel, everything I have read says it is the best place to find falafal in the city. And for 4 euros, you get a large falafel sandwich and all the veggies you want at the salad bar.
I was also surprised by the high quality of Mediterranean and Asian food available in Brussels. The city has tons of kebab places and a whole street in the Place St. Gery (the trendy area of town) full of Thai restaurants. I went to Yaki and got a huge plate of chicken, veggies, and rice for 10 euros. Can't argue with that!
And if you are one of those people who just wants good old fashioned American style food...Brussels is awash in American chains like McDonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut (which is actually considered pretty fine dining)....and sadly, Chi Chis. If you want to make a ton of money, I suggest you move to Brussels and open a great authentic Mexican place. Because there are no real good Mexican options in town.
So to sum up, the food in Belgium is amazing and you should expect to eat very well while you are there. Between the chocolate, waffles, beer, pastries, stews, frites, and everything else--you better make sure you do a lot of walking to work off all those yummy meals.
Just two crazy kids, enjoying some traditional Belgian food.
Oh, shit...I forgot to mention the cookies.
*The average Belgian also eats about 15 pounds of chocolate per year--compared to the average American's consumption of only 11 pounds. But after eating their chocolate, I don't blame them at all.