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Food, Dining, & Drinks
Dining in Belgium is an odd combination of socialization
and formality as there are some rules you must follow, but dining is almost always
intended for socializing with others.
Family visits in Belgium are very rare as only close
friends and family are invited to a local's house. If you do happen to be a
close friend, then you probably already know that you should bring chocolates, if
not, bring chocolates. No matter the setting though, arrive on time in an outfit
that is formal; remember it is the host's job and honor to introduce everyone
so let them do this instead of introducing yourself to the other guests.
As soon as you make it to the table, wait to sit until you are shown a seat and
wait to sit down until invited to do so; generally women are asked to sit down first,
then men take a seat. Dinner may begin with a toast, which you may stand for, then
you'll begin eating. The Belgians eat in the continental
style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) and they always keep their wrists
above the table within sight.
As dinner comes to an end, remember to finish all the food on your plate as leaving
any is viewed as wasteful and impolite. Once the food is gone, place your fork and
knife together to indicate that you are finished and compliment the host on your
favorite dishes; the Belgians take great pride in their food and this, if given
sincerely, is a great compliment.
If you're having a business dinner, there may be no actual business discussed
as, again, meals are generally considered a time to get to know each other and to
socialize. It's also important to note that if you're with your spouse,
you most likely won't be seated together as couples are generally separated,
but this gives you an opportunity to meet new people.
If dining out, restaurant bills will generally include a service charge so no additional
tip is expected, although rounding up is common. For extraordinary service a tip
is appreciated, but not common.
History & Influences
Belgium has been blessed with a great variety of local
foods and ingredients. Local vegetables that are common include asparagus, endives,
and of course Brussels sprouts. They also have access to the sea and, to a lesser
extent, wild game roamed the land for centuries. These native items, along with
fruits and mustards have formed the base of the Belgian diet to this day.
Due to the relatively flat landscape and prosperous location,
Belgium has had numerous outside influences over time. These influences
come from neighbors like the Dutch,
Germans, French, plus those from further away
like the Spanish and ancient Romans. Each of these groups
has influenced the food in the way of ingredients and cooking techniques.
Of these many groups, the two greatest influences are, of course, the
French and Dutch as most of the people in
Belgium are ethnic Dutch or French. The Belgians claim
their dishes reflect French complexity, but in the proportions of the
Germans and there is no doubt that in Walloons this French contribution
is impossible to miss. Likewise, in Flanders there is an undoubtedly Dutch influence,
but in both regions, the food remains uniquely Belgian.
In recent history the food has changed vastly in some ways and maintained uniformity
in others. Old dishes are rarely reinvented today, but new foods are regularly introduced
or new ideas are mixed with tradition. For example, traditional
Belgian waffles are now regularly served as quick service food on street
Although there are no true staple foods in Belgium most
dishes do include a starch, such as bread or potatoes. Asparagus is also very common
in dishes when it's in season in the early summer months.
Regional Variations & Specialties
Belgian Frites: more commonly known in English as "French
Fries" or "chips" this side is actual Belgian
in origin and still popular today; when served with another specialty, mussels,
it is called "mosselen friet"
Carbonnades Flamandes: the national dish, this is a beef and beer
Chocolate: considered a leader in chocolate production, there are
Kippenwaterzooi: creamy chicken stew with potatoes, carrots, and
Mussels: a specialty from the sea, most common in Brussels; when
served with another specialty, Belgian Frites, it is called "mosselen
Tomates aux Crevettes: tomatoes stuffed with shrimp and mayonnaise
Waffles: often served as a snack, can be topped with fruits, chocolate,
or any other number of sweets
There is no particular non-alcoholic drink to look for when in
Belgium. The country offers milk, juices, coffee, tea, milk, and soft drinks
like most countries, but none seem to stand out as unique or particularly local.
This quickly changes when you address alcoholic drinks. Beer is the drink of choice
in Belgium and it's taken so seriously that most
beers demand to be drunk from a different shaped glass (much like wine in neighboring
France). Most beers in Belgium are produced by small local breweries and can be
found in any restaurant or bar. For a less popular local drink try the jenever
(or genierve), which is a distilled drink that can come in about any flavor
and can be very strong so sip slowly. While it's nearly impossible to find a
wider selection of high quality beers, international beers, wines, and hard liquors
are also available.
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Belgium,
but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people
may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be
different from what your system is used to.
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