Flanders’ Foodie Finds
The country of Belgium has three regions.
If you are looking for the region that boasts countless culinary musts, starting with roughly 97 Michelin-starred restaurants (there are 133 in the country overall), decadent chocolate and pralines, comfort foods like Belgian fries and waffles and world-renowned beers, then Flanders, in the north of the country, is the region for you.
In fact, Flanders is said to have one of the world’s highest densities of high-end restaurants. Never fear though, there is a place to eat and drink for all budgets.
Passion for food is what the Flemish people are all about. Small microbreweries, young chefs making names for themselves, and a passion for using local ingredients plays a large part in this sensory tradition that continues to thrive from generation to generation.
Flanders is primarily a Dutch speaking area of Belgium, occupying about 44% of the country including the main cities like Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, and Ghent. The Belgian food in this region is notorious for French quality with German’s portions.
The Culinary Experience in Fine Dining
Higher-end restaurants serve incredible menus that tout regional produce with an inspirational twist. The local chefs at the helm of these restaurants are passionate about the long list of Belgian crops; endives, hop shoots, Brussel sprouts, asparagus (including white gold from April to June), parsnips, and strawberries, turning each flavor into a masterpiece.
Suggestions for a strong culinary experience begins at the much lauded Botanic Sanctuary in Antwerp. This hotel’s four restaurants entices visitors with Michelin-stars at two of the four on-site restaurants. The entire Botanic Sanctuary experience is hidden behind ancient walls within a botanical garden featuring world-class interior design. There are 108 room and suites and a 15th century chapel. One of the Michelin-starred dining experiences, Hertog Jan, is helmed by Gert De Mangeleer and Joachim Boudens, and incorporates a glasshouse, beehives, and an herb garden.
The one-starred Fine Fleur restaurant presents Jacob Jan Boerma and Thomas Diepersloot’s appetite for seasonal and regional ingredients. Bar Bulot is also Gert and Joachim’s gastronomic creation and sister to the Michelin-starred Bar Bulot in Bruges. The experience overall is a chic á la carte brasserie serving traditional Belgian and French fare with a metropolitan vibe.
Another Flanders 3-starred restaurant using local agriculture is Peter Goossens Hof can Cleve. Take the time to discover Jane in Antwerp with dishes by Sergio Herman, or in Ghent try Kobe Desramaults’ seasonal menu at Chambre Separee.
The Under 35 Rebel Chefs And Comfort Food
There is a new group of chefs in Flanders called the Flanders Kitchen Rebels, with 64 top chefs under the age of 35 reveling in Flemish gastronomy. The Kitchen Rebels have taken the trend of nose-to-tail cooking seriously, with an eye toward wasting nothing, creating a zero-waste kitchen. One example is chef Dennis Broeckx at his restaurant L’epicerie due Cirque “Under the Palm Tree.” Here he replaces filets and tenderloins with less obvious cuts of meat in order to use the whole animal.
Bistros and eateries are a class act in Flanders even if you aren’t up for a Michelin meal every night. Even the country’s street food craze features chefs who have perfectly created one dish that allows a taste of the finest details in each bite.
The frietkot (i.e., fries stand) is part of the rich food culture in Flanders. City squares around the country are home to these permanent structures, offering fries with crunchy outsides, soft insides and served in a cone with mayonnaise. In Brussels, snails are served at some stands too.
While not all are Michelin-starred, there are 179 Flemish restaurants that have been honored with the Bib Gourmand, a distinction for establishments that offer a three-course menu for less than €40, focusing on a fine meal with seasonal products.
The Flander’s Sweet Tooth
Before jumping into a chocolate or praline experience in Flanders, smell your way to a vendor cooking a waffle – Brussels’ style. Waffles are famous in Belgium with a sprinkle of sugar and one of the many diverse toppings.
When it comes to chocolate, and it always comes to chocolate in Flanders, it won’t take long to understand why no other chocolate will ever be good enough.The formula for chocolate here dates back hundreds of years. The Flanders region is often called the capital of chocolate with Callebaut and Puratos (two of the world’s largest chocolate factories) located there. Pralines were first created in Brussels at the arcade Galeries Royales Saint Hubert in 1857. A pharmacist created these treats when he began coating medicine with a thin layer of chocolate for his patients. Later, the medicine was replaced with a soft filling and the praline was officially born in 1912.
Top Belgian chocolatiers include Herman Van Dender, Pierre Marcolini and Dominique Persoone. Each uses the latest innovation and technological developments in the chocolate world; think flavor combinations like wasabi or Earl Grey tea, as an example.
Flanders isn’t just about buying chocolate, you must also visit the chocolate museums found in Brussels and Bruges, and try the chocolate experiences such as chocolate walks, and amazing chocolate tastings and pairings some in tearooms, some in cafés .
There are over 300 chocolate shops in Belgium complete with truffles, pralines, chocolate bars and surprising flavors.
Brands include Charles Neuhaus’ Cote d’Or founded in 1883, Godiva’s which began in Belgium in 1926, and Leonidas has been in the world of chocolate for over 100 years with the philosophy “making pralines accessible to all.” Mary has been part of the chocolate-loving community since 1919 when Mary Delluc set up a business in Brussels. Neuhaus has over 155 years of craftsmanship. Jean Galler is known for luxury desserts was inspired by his grandfather’s chocolate shop opened in 1930. Pierre Marcolini is known for pushing the boundaries with his chocolate creations.
What’s New In Beer
Belgium is called the fatherland of beer by some. The beer culture has even been recognized by UNESCO. Not much has changed in the techniques passed down over the generations, preserving the character of the beers at breweries known around the world like Rochefort, Achel, Chimay, Duvel, Orval, and Westmalle.
Modern brewers have begun crafting more innovative brews with microbreweries, or single batch brews. One statistic states there are over 1,500 beer brands and more than 700 different taste profiles of beers in Belgium, from the Pils, to the Witbier, to the abbey beers made exclusively by monks. Only the abbey beers made by monks can be called Trappist beer and there are just 11 breweries that carry the Authentic Trappist Product (ATP) – six of those breweries in Belgium.
One example of an Abbey Brewery in Flanders is the Grimbergen Abbey Brewery, using brewing traditions from the ancient books of the abbey’s library with new and innovative techniques. The abbey also houses the Grimbergen Fenikshof Bar & Restaurant with a Belgian cuisine alongside the food and beer experience.
As for the beer experience in Flanders, don’t miss an old city walking tour with a Belgian beer angle, a BeerWalk with a guide, or a beer walk tasting class.
Belgian Beer World Opening in 2023
Belgian Beer World will be opening in July 2023 in the Brussels Stock Exchange building with a Beer Museum on its upper floors. There are over 100 brewers who have agreed to participate as part of the main attraction in the renovated building.
There will be a walk-through gallery, which will also be home to a restaurant, shops, and exhibition spaces. The roof terrace with a panoramic view will be accessible to the public, and there will be a bar on the terrace that is reserved for visitors of the Belgian Beer World. Tickets will be required for Belgian Beer World, and the location is also an archaeological site, “Bruxella 1238,” which are the ruins of the Franciscan monastery on which the Bourse Stock Exchange building was built.