Belgians take their frites very seriously, don't dare call them French fries! Why have they become known as French fries and not Belgian fries? The theory is that American soldiers during WWI tasted them and since French was the language spoken by the Belgians they were dubbed French fries.
So what sets the Belgian frite apart and makes them , in some people's estimation, the best in the world? You start with the type of potato, usually Bintje. And the real key? Double frying!
I don't think we tried them in Brussels but I have in Gent and Brugge and they are delightful. Hopefully I will be updating this soon with a recommendation in Brussels.
Americans should get out of their comfort zone and go local-try them with mayonnaise, not ketchup
Mussels with frites are a national dish in Belgium. We call them "moules casserole" as they are cooked in a "casserole" which is a large pan of minimum 3 liters content. This volume is needed to prepare the usual amount of 1 kg mussels per person. This quantity of mussels contains about 250 gr. of flesh.
The crux of the matter is the mussels. They are breed in the waters of Zeeland (South west of the Netherlands) and the flesh is pale. This type is called "Zeeuwse mosselen".
The large scale production and commercialization is centered at Yerseke. Dutch mussel producers supply about 30 million kilos to Belgium during the months from August to end of March. Biggest are the Jumbo quality (price in the shops ± 5 €/kg).
The Belgian preparation of the "Moules Casserole" is with celery, onions, carrots, parsley, pepper and the (sea) water contained in the mussels.
My wife was not willing to give more details about the preparation. After the "French fries" story she insists on keeping secret our Belgian culinary receipts!
Mussels are, of course, eaten with Belgian frites.
To drink we prefer a somewhat acid white wine (never a Chardonnay type wine) such as the Mosel wines. This wine can also be added on cooking. On my photo I choose a Pinot Blanc less acid than Riesling.
Is it dangerous to eat mussels?
I have never been sick with mussels but I have been with oysters.
The mussels of Zeeland undergo a serious bacteriological control and they are cooked.
Some people eat them raw but dip them in vinaigrette. My grandparents always used to eat the Moules casserole with vinegar, mustard or pickles because it was said that the vinegar would neutralize eventual toxins in the mussels.
When I was a kid, mussels were a popular dish, also the poor could afford them. Nowadays mussels are at the same price level as steak!
Other mussels than Dutch have been tried but … they taste different at least in our imagination.
Another national dish. As we have discussed the question of the frites, let's focus on the meat.
Beef in Belgium is of the Bleu-Blanc Belge (Belgian Blue) species. There is a large, often industrialized production of these strong animals with a white or blue piebald coat. We have 1.1 million of them!
Specific are the strong muscular buttocks similar to those of heavy horses, they are called "cul de poulain". The bleu-blanc belge produces a high proportion of tender meat; from there its success with the Belgian consumer who wants prime choice cuts of extremely tender, low-fat meat.
Personally I prefer beef which is less tender but has more taste than the bleu-blanc Belge.
Belgium chocolate is famous, and remarkably linked to Tourism. I think that it is impossible to approach Manneken Pis without being compelled to enter one of the many shops that rival to make the most attractive presentation. I didn't make any kind of enquiry, and I don't know the percentage of Belgians in the greedy clients, but... having such a delight by the door, who could resist?
When visiting Brussels try to be kind with the natives. We are a bit depressive as we don't know if our country will still exist at the end of this year.
So avoid upsetting genuine Brusseleirs like me by writing here repeatedly about "fries" or worse 'French fries".
The "frites" (in French) "fritten or frieten" (in Flemish) originate from Belgium. All most serious historical, gastronomical studies agree on this. "French fries" are fake products; they are an infringement of Belgian proprietary rights!
By the way, have you ever heard a Frenchman use the term "French fries" "Frites Françaises"? The French, although well known for their chauvinism, recognize that Belgium is the champion of the frites. In France the nickname for Belgians is … "frites"!
This being said and understood I will explain here how we Belgians prepare our FRITES-FRIETEN.
The potatoes should be of the "Bintje" type. This species exists since a century and was developed in the north of the Netherlands (Friesland).
There are two possibilities for frying: in ox fat ("blanc de boeuf" "ossewit") or in groundnut ("arachide") oil. The (white) ox fat is generally used in the shops and restaurants. The oil is often used at home (can be filtered when cold). It is essential to renew frequently the fat or oil in order to avoid the occurrence of carbonised particles and the chemical degradation of the fat or oil by the heating at high temperature. In Belgium there is a regulation concerning the choice and use of the frying fat. A two phase process at different temperatures is essential. A first cooking at a fat or oil temperature of 150°-160 C for some minutes. This first stage takes the water out of the potato, then immersion at a higher temperature of 180-190°C to get the frites crusty.
Is that enough to have good frites? Absolutely not! Belgian expertise is needed otherwise you have french fries, english chips, american, spanish, italian, greek more or less fried potatoes but no "frites".
There is a fries stall near Schuman, at Place Jourdan, which is said to have the best fries in town. If you like you can take your fries and go into one of the restaurants/cafés on the square, they don't mind at all.
....and Brussels sprouts? ;-) This is what Belgium is famous for (even though, for me as a German, the best chocolate will always be Swiss chocolate). You will find heaps of both fries and waffle stalls all over the city centre, especially around Grand Place. The same is true for beer and chocolate shops.
Also typically Belgian is a cookie called "speculatius" / "almond cookies" which in Germany is only eaten around xmas time.
Manneken Pis probably is the most used local symbol for souvenirs.
Candy, dolls, Ts-hirts and many many more items are "Manneken Pis"-inized.
It's impossible to return from Brussels without something of this famous boy.
Freedom fries, chips, or frites – whichever name you prefer to use – they’re Belgian! And we take this responsibility very seriously. Made with Belgian Bintje potatoes, cooked twice and served in a paper cone with a side of mayonnaise, these Belgian treats embody potato perfection.
A favorite place to sample fries are at frietkots or fritures, which are outdoor vendors who sell – you guessed it – Belgian fries. There are more than 4000 frietkots throughout Belgium and many carry a selection of over 50 dipping sauces to choose from. One of the most visited frietkots in Brussels is a local favorite, Antoine's, a landmark stand on the Place Jourdan. Whether enjoyed at a three star Michelin restaurant or right off the street, this Belgian specialty is not to be missed.
Welcome to the Wonderful World of Waffles!
Forget about the mal-represented ‘Belgian Waffles’ served for breakfast at your local diner. Waffles have been an important part of the Belgian diet for centuries and are an epicurean encounter which can only be experienced in their natural habitat. Aside from the delicious recipe, the authentic Belgian waffle is unique because of the special waffle irons used to bake them. These waffle irons are only available in Belgium and give Belgian waffles their signature crunchy-golden outside and fluffy inside.
In Belgium there are two types of waffles (or gauffres as we like to call them): the Brussels and the Liege waffle. The Brussels is rectangular in shape with a golden-brown exterior, deep divots and is usually eaten with a knife and fork. Brussels waffles are served with a variety of toppings such as powdered sugar, whipped cream, ice cream, strawberries and chocolate. The Liege waffle is golden-yellow, more dense in texture and has a burned sugar coating on the outside giving it a lightly sweet flavor. This hand-held waffle is sold by street vendors all over Belgium.
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