If you’re not sure what to expect of Belgian cuisine, think incredible sweet treats, high quality beers and generous helpings of savoury delicacies! Borrowing elements from neighbouring French, Dutch and German food cultures, Belgium is often referred to as having German serving sizes, with French quality food. Although many recipes are regional, Bruges offers many of the most iconic dishes and drinks, so you definitely won’t be disappointed when you hop off the coach here.
Belgian waffles are the first thing that come to mind because, let’s face it, they are delicious! Surprisingly, the best ones in Bruges (according to many locals that I spoke to) are from a small white van (Arlecchino Gelateria) that can be found on the Burg Square. Unlike a lot of other waffle shops that just warm up pre-made waffles when you order them, this place makes them fresh for you, resulting in a soft, fluffy, layered texture, almost like a thicker version of a croissant. There are a lot of different toppings, but if you want to keep it traditional, get a plain waffle with icing sugar dusted over it. Wanting something a bit more indulgant? You can get melted chocolate, whipped cream, gelato, fresh fruit, or a combination of all of it (and probably an accompanying heart attack, but hey, there’s worse ways to go!).
Frites, hot chips, fries – whatever you’d like to call them – are a delicious and wildly unhealthy Belgian treat that you definitely have to try. What makes Belgian frites different is that they’re traditionally fried twice in ox fat, and more commonly double fried in lard or oil. You can pick these up almost anywhere in Bruges, but make sure you serve them with mayonnaise if you want to keep it traditional. Personally, I’d stay away from the overpriced and overcooked food vans right in front of the Bell Tower. Friterie 1900 is yummy and has an upper level where you can eat and look out on to the main square. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can visit Royal Frituur which fry their frites twice in vegetable oil and have a tasty vegan mayo. Either way, they’re worth a taste test!
This may not be a food, but for many Belgians, it is equally as important! Beer makes up a huge part of Belgian culture and they are renowned for having some of the best in the world. From small breweries to international exports, there is a beer for everyone. One of their iconic beers is the Trappist beer, which is traditionally brewed by monks in a monastery. I would highly recommend getting all of your test-tasting out of the way in one go with a beer tasting. There are several offered throughout the city, but the one at The Bauhaus Hostel is affordable and fun, with a generous serving of six different beers. These range from the banana and citrus flavoured Goedendag sterk blond (8%), to the stronger St Bernardus (10%), a Trappist abbey ale. It’s a night you won’t forget (or maybe you will, if you go hard on the St Bernardus…).
Belgian chocolate is up there with the best of them and is one of the country’s largest exports. Their production of chocolate dates back to the 17th Century, and Belgium has since created specific regulating bodies so that the delicious taste and high production standards are maintained. The most iconic Belgian chocolates to try are the pralines (soft centred chocolates); truffles (flaky or smooth chocolate balls); animals, figurines and eggs (hand-finished luxury chocolates made out of moulds). The most iconic chocolate to try in Bruges is the white chocolate swan, but you’ll walk past window displays of hundreds of choices, so feel free to indulge!
Hearty savoury dishes
Mussels cooked with onions and celery (moules-frites), beef stew made with beer (Carbonade flamande), and traditional slow cooked meats served with roasted vegetables – you will never feel hungry after a Belgian meal! These large meals are very authentic, but are traditionally served in winter, so you may find them a bit harder to find during your summer visit. We went to a restaurant called Lion Belge in Bruges and ordered lamb, chicken and white asparagus (vegetarian) dishes. We were treated with impossibly huge main meals, with extra bowls full of salad and frites. Our local bike tour guide also recommended Bistro Pro Deo for great local food, but anywhere should be quite good as long as it’s not too close to the main market square – just make sure you go on an empty stomach!