In her brilliant Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook, Ruth Van Waerebeek said, “We Belgians are fond of saying that our food is cooked with French finesse — and served in portions of German generosity.” Travelers have an ideal chance to sample the country’s wares throughout 2012 at Brusselicious events — the Gourmet Year in Brussels (brusselicious.be).
What’s fascinating is how often beer is incorporated. I recently survived a five-day whirlwind tour of six breweries in Flanders and almost as many high-end restaurants specializing in beer cuisine or beer pairings (beer degustation). All I could wish was that it had been 10 days, as it is a great way to see and experience more of the country.
My first night in Antwerp — known as Belgian’s fashion and diamond city, so save the jewelry shopping for here — included a delightful dinner at the sparkling De Groote Witte Arend restaurant with three dishes made and paired with three different beers from Grimbergen.
There are almost 30 different styles of Belgium beer, but it is the uniqueness — of lambics, gueuzes, sour reds, saisons, and abbey beers — that appeals to serious beer aficionados. The late bard of beer, Michael Jackson, confidently labeled six Belgian beers World Classics: Duvel Golden Ale, Rodenbach Grand Cru, Westmalle Tripel, Chimay Bleue, Orval, and Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus.
Our trip continued with a beer (or wine) pairing dinner at the tony Den Dyver Restaurant in Bruges, usually second on the checklist of any traveler to Belgium. It is difficult to overestimate the medieval charm of Bruges with the network of antique canals that flow below its beguiling streets. A meal at the highly touted De Karmeliet should seal the deal.
It is only the visiting crowds that may become wearying, but the simple antidote for that is to move on to similar allures in Ghent, where we indulged in a beer-pairing dinner at the trendy brasserie Belga Queen (there’s also a Brussels branch), and then wandered across a canal to ‘t Dreupelkot, one of the world’s most well-stocked genever bars. (Genever is a sort of Flemish gin, often flavored, that is just a notch below beer in national popularity.)
Belgians are also fond of festivals, and judicious planning could keep one partying here year-round, from the annual Carnival in Binche, south of Brussels, to the elaborately costumed Ommegang celebration each July in Brussels Grand Place.