Belgium is an amazing small country, somewhere in Europe. Don’t struggle with that, it’s not a geography lesson. I just want to talk about the top 5 famous things from Belgium. Probably most of you know about these famous things from Belgium already, but there could be some surprises.
Here is my straightforward 5 item list for which I consider Belgium to be famous for.
Belgium is famous for:
1. Potato Chips or Fries
Commonly referred to as “french fries”, but guess what? The fries are not really French, but Belgian.
Can be found everywhere (every street corner and every cafe) and are sold in a cone, small or big. But the chips are not made (anymore) from freshly peeled potatoes, but bought from the freezer section from the supermarket.
The price is on average around 3 euro plus the ketchup or mayo, so that is an extra 50 cents to 1 euro. I would say all of it looked, smelled and tasted the same, no matter the place.
Tip: A real Belgian will always eat chips with mayo. The combo chips with ketchup is an American thing. Well, I guess the ketchup is American because the Italians also don’t put ketchup on their pizzas.
Each time I’ve entered a supermarket I ended up staring at the beer shelves for minutes. It’s hard not to stop and admire the showcases of beer because each supermarket has an impressive collection. I was mesmerized, although I was not a beer drinker back then. (I’m not stating that I am now).
The first beer I ever finished by myself was in Belgium. From the many different brands of Belgian beer, I spotted some with 11% alcohol. I was shocked since I know usually wine has that much alcohol.
Again, buy your beer from the supermarket (Delhaize). You can find the same beers in the souvenirs shops, which can be opened until late, but it’s more expensive there. Also, you can have a big beer at any of the many bars, but the price is over 4 euros.
Still, the Pakistani market/souvenir shops are a better option to buy beer after the closing hours of the supermarket. Also asking the guy at the counter to open your beer is a very common request. (it’s funny how in Germany they have a similar habit of beer take-away)
TIP: Lots of people are getting out of the shop with a beer in their hand. Find a nice place to sit, and it’s an outside bar.
Who has not heard of Belgian chocolate? Go strolling on the small, cosy streets of Bruges (a town which you have to visit while in Belgium), and you will find it. There is where you will find many hidden family business chocolate shops.
Most streets are full of very famous, big chocolate brands like Leonidas and Godiva. But these shops are in a lot of countries all over the world. While in Belgium, try something not so famous, like an authentic handmade chocolate. Brands like Leonidas label themselves handmade. As visiting the country of chocolate, it’s a good advertisement to put on a shop window. But I don’t believe that a brand that big still manufactures its goods by hand. It’s factory chocolate, which is sold all over the world. Take your pick. I like to try local shops when travelling.
There is a tiny part of the population, which is allergic to chocolate. For them, it may be a problem. I don’t usually develop an allergic reaction to chocolate, but it happened when I was in Belgium. For the first time in my life, I got a really bad allergy, which decided to burst out on my face. I was stressed out about it, imagining how people will believe I have something contagious. One of the guys I’ve met in a hostel asked me if I got bitten by bed bugs. Now it sounds like a funny story, but back then it was a tragedy for my face. The body reacts in weird ways sometimes.
TIP: Wander off those small, narrow, cosy streets and find yourself some traditional handmade chocolate, from a traditional family business shop. While in Belgium, have a taste of that expensive chocolate. Or buy it as a souvenir.
Who doesn’t love waffles? Waffles come from Belgium and there are two kinds of waffles: Brussels waffle and Liège waffle. Waffles are probably one of the most famous things from Belgium.
The Brussels waffle is the rectangular shape one, which is thicker and crunchy. Because the dough is not sweet, this one can be served with fruits, cream, chocolate or ice cream on top. Or any combination of those things.
The Liége waffle is smaller, oval shape and fluffy. The dough has sugar inside, which caramelizes when it’s baked. That is already a sweet enough waffle and it’s pretty common to eat it simple. But it’s up to you how you want it and what is sweet for you. Take your pick and get creative.
5. Speculaas or Speculoos
Speculoos is a type of biscuit, made from white wheat flour, brown sugar, butter and spices. Traditionally the biscuits were baked to be consumed on the 6th of December, for St. Nicholas feast. Nowadays there are all kinds of variations and there is also a spread, which consists of 60% crushed speculoos cookies. It’s available worldwide and could be a good alternative for the good old peanut butter.
TIP: Most places where they make waffles have Speculoos spread. If you decide to go with a Brussels waffles (the non-sweet one), you can ask for this on top. Like a real Belgian.
Other tips If you want to visit Belgium (which are not so famous):
- Closing times
Before heading someplace, always check before the closing hours. You may be used to early closing hours, but Belgium can surprise you. As a tourist, you should bear in mind the closing hours of supermarkets and museums.
Museums close at 5 pm.
- Delhaize (the cheapest supermarket) closes at 6 or 7 pm (depends on the location). If you are in Bruxelles, there is one near the main square, Grand Place, which was opened till 8 pm. This is the best place to buy chocolate or beer.
- Everything is written in French, Flemish, English and German. West Europe is not always that open to English speaking tourists, but there is no need to worry about that in Belgium.
Most souvenir shops sell the same stuff which can be found in the normal supermarket, but they have touristic prices. Buy the chocolate souvenir from the supermarket. When in doubt, try Cote d’Or.
And since you are in Europe, or you are considering visiting around, I recommend you also check out other cool countries. Germany has the capital of love, Berlin and you can seek adventure for yourself there, with the Before and After the Wall self-guided walking tours.