The so-called capital of the European Union, Brussels is a world-class destination famous for a great many things. There’s the grand architecture, as well as the rich history and culture you can see most everywhere you look here. Amidst all the old things, there’s also something hip and modern about Brussels, seen best in the local businesses and all that jazz. One thing that remains incredibly overlooked in Brussels, however, is the local food culture. It’s a shame, really, as this multicultural hub at the crossroads of some of Europe’s greatest centers has so much to offer in the culinary arena. To help you get started, here are the best street foods you must try in Brussels, Belgium.
1. Belgian frites
Belgian frites is Belgium’s answer to the worldwide favorite French fries. Nobody knows where it really originated (there is a longstanding debate about whether or not it started in Belgium or France), but Belgian frites is considered a national delicacy. It depends on the person if he’ll eat it with his fingers or with a fork, but Belgian frites are more or less the same as French fries. They’re either salted or served with some sauce, be it ketchup or mayonnaise (the clear favorite). Belgian frites, however, are slightly thin and fried twice in animal fat. You can get Belgian frites from just about anywhere in Belgium, and they even have a museum dedicated to this national delicacy called the Frietmuseum.
2. Sausage and onion baguette
Another quick eat staple in the streets of Belgium is the sausage and onion baguette. It’s a popular street food that is ubiquitous in the country, appealing to the taste preferences of both Belgians and tourists. It’s a simple and straightforward dish. It’s essentially a sandwich. The baguette serves as the base, cut open. In between the slices are perfectly cooked pieces of sausage (it can be an entire sausage or sliced, it depends on the vendor), then topped with some onions (some serve these caramelized). You can also add a condiment of your choice or keep it as is.
3. Caricoles (Whelks)
Brussels, the Belgian capital, is quite a long way from the sea, so it comes as a surprise that Belgians enjoy a fair amount of seafood specialties. One that is deeply intertwined with Brussels is “caricoles,” known as whelks in English. These are basically sea snails and are practically Brussels’ answer to the French escargot. In Brussels, caricoles is usually served with piping hot broth, which can be flavored with various aromatics, depending on who’s cooking. To get the snail flesh out of the shell, locals use a pin or a needle to hook it and coax it out. Caricoles is especially popular during the summer during the Foires du Midi festival.
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Belgians have a sweet tooth (Belgian chocolate anyone?) so it comes as no surprise that churros, the popular fried dough pastry from the Iberian peninsula, has made quite a mark in Brussels’ food culture. It’s as ubiquitous as waffles and Belgian frites in the streets of Brussels– you can have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and after an entire night of partying, if you know where to look. Churros is usually served dusted with confectioner’s sugar and with your dip of choice, be it hot chocolate or caramel.
5. Doner kebabs
Culinary favorites from other parts of the world are also finding their way to the streets of Brussels and, eventually, the hearts of many Belgians. Such is the story of the famed doner kebab, brought over by immigrants from the east. It’s the most famous kind of kebab in Brussels, typically made of seasoned meat, whether it’s beef, lamb, or chicken. There are various food stands and restaurants where you can get a doner kebab, but Brussels residents can all agree the best is at L'Express, a Lebanese restaurant near Grand Place.
6. Baked potatoes
From Belgian frites, we’re moving on to another Brussels favorite that is also made of potatoes: baked potatoes! It has reached comfort food status in Brussels and is available in a wide variety of styles. You can get the classic baked potatoes dusted with paprika, or you can go for a more adventurous take with various other ingredients, such as cheddar cheese, Worcestershire powder, onions, parsley–the works, really! Some prefer it roasted rather than baked, served with other vegetables.
7. Brussels waffles
Unbeknownst to other outsiders, there are actually two types of Belgian waffles: the Brussels waffle and the Liege waffle. The former (which is the star of this section), is considerably bigger than its brother and has a prominent rectangular shape. In terms of color, it’s lighter than the Liege waffle and lightly dusted with icing sugar once served. Ideally, a Brussels waffle should be light and soft, while being a bit crunchy on the outside. Yum!
If you think the sausage and onion baguette is already a filling meal, wait until you have a mitraillette on your hands. This meaty Belgian sandwich is overloaded with fries, meat (it can be in the form of a sausage, steak, or burger), and drizzled with sauces then laden in a demi-baguette. For its size and overall value for money, it has earned quite a cult following among students in Brussels, where it was supposed to have originated (although some dispute the mitraillette came from Flanders). After Brussels was hit by a bombing accident in 2016, the mitraillette became a symbol of friendship.
Originally a Savoyard dish, tartiflette has woven itself in the very fabric of Brussels’ food culture. It’s a type of gratin from the Alps, made with potatoes and reblochon cheese, baked together with lardons and onions. Some add wine, some add creme fraiche, and some add both to enhance the effect of the melted cheese after baking, making it a warm and gooey delight. It’s best served in all its glory and shared with all your friends, family, and loved ones.
10. Smoutebollen (Lard balls)
Move past the rough English translation of smoutebollen and you are in for a deep-fried and doughy treat. A Flemish version of doughnuts, smoutebollen is a popular summer staple, found in all the festivals and fairs, fried until golden and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. It’s made with simple ingredients, so it’s really amazing how milk, eggs, flour, sugar, and then some can create such a crispy then gooey dough.
Don't forget to leave some room for drinks!
Belgians love everything food and wine. Slowly make your way through these highly recommended street foods and savor every bite. For more of Brussels, browse our website and check out our Brussels and Belgium travel guides.
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