Visiting the country of Belgium hardly ever makes it on anyone's bucket list. This small country is nestled along the North Sea and is often overshadowed by its more romantic French neighbor to the south or the ever so thrilling city of Amsterdam above it. Belgium is getting the shaft -- and it's a real shame.
There are many reasons you could give to disregard this small and sometimes strange country altogether (and I say that with love and respect, as a Belgian citizen). Like the fact that this country's number one tourist attraction is a tiny statue of a little boy taking a piss. OR that the entire country and its residents are the butt of every French joke. OR that the residents are at such odds with one another they can't agree on a government (so they'd rather go without). But if you take a look at Belgium's regional cuisine, you'll see that the food is reason enough to make a trip to this extra rainy, yet beautifully forested country.
Now, the food of Belgium is not pretty -- you'll see what we mean below -- but that's only because more thought is put into the flavor than the appearance. But don't take our word for it, go to Belgium and give these dishes a try. And once you're done eating, Paris is only an hour and fifteen minutes away by train.
Chicon Au Gratin / Gegratineerde witloof
Potato gratin's got nothing on this typical Belgian dish. Made with endives, each piece is wrapped in a slice of ham, topped with béchamel sauce and blanketed in melted cheese. What's even better is that this is a main course, not just some side dish.
Moules-frites / Mosselen-friet
No two foods complement each other better than a big bowl of mussels with a plate of Belgian fries. Because once you've finished the mussels, the white wine broth that's left in the bottom of the bowl is the best thing to dip fries in.
Gaufre / Wafel
Flickr: Mary Lee Hahn
Belgian waffles are nothing like what you find in North America. The most common waffle you can find in Belgium is called the Liege waffle. It's richer and denser than other waffles because it's made with buttery brioche dough and chunks of pearl sugar that caramelize on the crust when cooked. They're AWESOME.
Boudin Blanc / Witte Pens
Boudin blanc is a white sausage that's made with milk. Its delicate flavor and fine texture is unlike any other sausage out there. It's usually prepared grilled or sauteed and is best served with mashed potatoes or apple compote.
Frites / Frieten
By now most people know that the French don't get credit for fries. It's the Belgians we have to thank for this wonderful way of handling potatoes. And so it's only natural that they make them best. You can find fry stands all over the country -- sometimes even just on the side of the road -- and they always offer you the best sauces for dipping. Though you can never go wrong with straight mayonnaise.
Flickr: Alan (merrionsq)
If you think mashed potatoes are good, just wait till you try stoemp. They're the creamiest potatoes you've ever had, that are made even better with the addition of carrots or leeks. They're like mashed potatoes 2.0.
Crevette Grise / Grijze Granalen
Flickr: Nate Gray: A Culinary (Photo) Journal
Don't let the look of these shrimp scare you. What they lack in aesthetics they more than make up for in flavor. Tiny crevette grise -- also known as brown shrimp -- are fished out of the North Sea and are a popular dish. They're often served in a salad stuffed inside a tomato. But they can also be enjoyed served unpeeled and accompanied by a good Belgian beer.
Chocolate fans, this is the country where you belong. There are over 2,000 chocolatiers (!!!) in Belgium. And it's all excellent thanks to an 1884 Belgian law that regulates the composition of its chocolate. The chocolate alone is a worth making the trip to this country. Seriously.
Carbonnades Flamandes / Stoverij
Think Beef Bourguignon, but replace the wine with beer. Pure genius, we know.
Flickr: Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It.
Filet Americain is similar to steak tartar, only it's simpler in preparation. This dish is made with finely minced ground beef, topped with sauce Americain, and served with fries (of course) and bread. Put aside your skepticism and take a bite, you'll instantly understand why this is a national favorite.
*Sauce American is a mixture of ketchup, chervil, onions, capers, celery and mayonnaise -- of course.
Speculoos / Speculaas
Flickr: jenny downing
You might know these cookies as the airline cookie, but they hold a dearer place in the hearts of Belgians. Made to celebrate St Nicholas' feast, these spiced shortbread cookies can be found with the most beautiful designs. And, they're very good alongside a shot of espresso.
Flickr: Smabs Sputzer
Since Belgium is a cold, wet country, it's only natural that they make great stews. And one of the greatest is the waterzooi. It's a rich fish stew -- though now it's more commonly made with chicken -- that will warm your bones on the coldest of days.
Flickr: Bernt Rostad
If the food doesn't do it for you, we're sure the beer will. This little country -- it's about the size of Maryland -- has about 180 breweries. It makes A LOT of beer, and really good beer at that. From Flemish reds to lambics, dubbels to blondes, you won't be able to try them all. But you should definitely try.
This article has been updated with Flemish translations of the names of the dishes, for ease of reference.