The best local dishes from Brussels combine influences from all over Belgium. The French-speaking area of Wallonia in the south contributes rich sauces and elaborate flavours, while Flanders in the north inspires Brussels cuisine with the hearty simplicity of its dishes. Good use is made of seasonal ingredients, which range from locally grown vegetables to North Sea shrimp.

    The city is justly famous for its beers, such as light amber ales and dark malty stouts. Belgium is also the origin of several dishes that are popular around the world, including French fries and Belgian waffles. Make sure to feast on the original version of these famous foods while exploring the capital of Belgium.



    Brussels' most beloved dish

    Mussels are a key ingredient in Belgian cuisine, growing abundantly in Belgium's rivers and estuaries. For moules-frites, the mussels are cooked in huge pots until their shells pop open. They're then coated in a delicate white wine sauce flavoured with butter, garlic, shallots, and bay leaves. A popular variant in Brussels uses lemon-mustard sauce instead.

    The mussels are served with frites (thick-cut Belgian chips that are deep-fried twice for extra crispiness) and mayonnaise on the side. Dip them in the broth to soak up the flavour of the mussels and sauce. Although Moules-frites is eaten year-round, it's most popular as a warming comfort food in winter.


    Boulet à la liégeoise

    A sweet and tangy meatball dish

    Boulet à la liégeoise is a dish of traditional Belgian meatballs cooked in a sweet and sour sauce. They’re made of minced pork, beef or veal and combined with breadcrumbs, onions, and parsley. Usually, 2 or 3 of these large meatballs are simmered in a dark sauce flavoured with sugar, currants, and Liège syrup.

    Like many Belgian dishes, it's commonly served with chips, often accompanied by a side of mayonnaise or freshly made apple sauce. Unlike the rather similar Flemish meatballs, the contradictory flavours of boulet à la liégeoise are strongly influenced by southern Belgian and French cuisine. You may also see it on menus as boulet sauce lapin, named after its reputed inventor, Géraldine Lapin.


    Brussels pork carbonnade

    Hearty stew with a distinctive red colour

    Carbonnade is a rich Flemish stew made by simmering the meat and onions in beer and flavouring the sauce with garlic, thyme, bay leaves and mustard. The type of beer used varies but it's generally a dark aged Belgian beer to give the stew a complex flavour. A good carbonnade is simple, no more than meat and flavourings, cooked until rich and tender.

    The most common meat used for carbonnade is beef, but the Brussels version is more often made using pork. It's usually served with mashed potatoes, chips or stoemp (mashed potatoes and vegetables), plus a good helping of vegetables and bread. Given the ingredients, the classic drink pairing is a glass of dark Belgian beer.



    Hearty dish made with leftovers

    Stoemp is one of Brussels’ most popular side dishes, though it often appears as a main course. The main ingredient is mashed potatoes, sometimes combined with cream or butter. It's then mixed with various other root vegetables that have been boiled or fried and pureed.

    Stoemp was originally invented to use up old vegetables, so you can make it with almost anything. Common vegetables added to it are carrots, leeks, onions and cabbage, and you may also get little bits of bacon and various herbs for flavour. You'll often see stoemp moulded into little 'cakes' before being served on a plate.


    Paling in't groen

    Traditional fishermen's cuisine

    Paling in't groen literally translates as 'eel in the green', and that's exactly what goes into this homey dish. Freshwater eel is sliced into chunks and then simmered in a green sauce made with white wine and fresh herbs, with a wedge of lemon or lime. The herbs vary depending on the chef but typically include sage, thyme, mint, watercress and basil.

    The dish was originally eaten by fishermen working on the rivers, who would catch huge numbers of eels and cook them with whatever herbs they found growing wild. When made right, the sauce has a vivid green colour and fresh, zingy flavour. It's best eaten piping hot, with crusty bread on hand to mop up the sauce.


    Filet américain

    Mix it to your preferences

    Filet américain is Belgium's version of steak tartare, made using the freshest raw beef. The meat is finely minced in a grinder before being mixed with onions, capers, mayonnaise, tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. It's often prepared at the table – many restaurants will give you the ingredients and let you make it just the way you like it.

    Filet américain is most commonly spread over thick slices of crusty Belgian bread, or in a sandwich at lunch. Restaurants serve it with a hearty helping of chips and maybe a salad, some pickles, or homemade mayonnaise. When looking for it on menus, look out for the phrase américain préparé, which refers to the same dish.



    A quick lunch or late-night craving

    Mitraillette is a sandwich stuffed with just about everything you desire. Start with a half-baguette and pile on hamburgers, meatballs or sausages, followed by your choice of onions, tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, béarnaise, or garlic sauce. The final touch is a huge fistful of chips stuffed between the layers.

    Invented right here in Brussels, a good mitraillette is endlessly customisable. It's a popular snack in a late-night friterie (chip shop) at the end of a long night of bar-hopping in Brussels.



    Buttery dish similar to soup or stew

    Waterzooi is a rich, velvety stew in which small chunks of meat or fish are cooked in a soup made of egg yolk, cream and vegetable broth. Thinly sliced carrots, leeks, onions and potatoes are added and slowly simmered until tender. Parsley, thyme and bay leaves are added for extra flavour.

    The stew is served with a baguette or chunk of bread to absorb the leftover cream and broth. While the main ingredient was originally fish or other seafood, most restaurants now use chicken for waterzooi. It's also common to see alternative versions using mussels or other shellfish.


    Shrimp croquettes

    Crunchy shell and a smooth, creamy filling

    Shrimp croquettes are a quintessential street snack in Brussels, though most restaurants serve them as a starter. The main ingredient is grey North Sea shrimp, although prawn is also sometimes used, cooked in a thick béchamel sauce. The whole thing is then covered in a breadcrumb mix and deep-fried.

    The dish became popular during the early 20th century as a way to keep shrimp fresh. Arguments abound about whether the recipe should include cheese in the filling and how to season the breadcrumbs. Where everyone can agree is that the croquettes should be served with a wedge of lemon and that uniquely Belgian side, deep-fried parsley.


    Brussels waffles

    Part of Belgian cooking since medieval times

    Belgium lays claim to the invention of the waffle, and you can't truly say you've tried one until you've eaten the original version. The batter is whisked together to make it fluffy, then poured onto a waffle iron and baked to give it that unique pattern of squares. Each area of Belgium has its own particular recipe.

    The Brussels waffle is lighter than other varieties, with bigger pockets and straight edges. It should be eaten warm, with copious amounts of icing sugar and a hearty dollop of whipped cream, though chocolate spread is also a popular choice. Grab one freshly made from a street vendor for the ultimate Brussels waffle experience.

    Victoria Hughes | Contributing Writer

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