Belgium is a small country. Lots of people have never really thought about it; you rarely hear “Brussels” on the lips of people planning a round-the-world trip, which is a darn shame. The majority of people only really think about Belgium in one context (and it ain’t because of NATO headquarters): the Belgian waffle. And so it came to pass that when we began planning our trip to Belgium, I devoted myself to the idea of eating waffles. Waffles for breakfast, for dinner, for a post-dinner snack: I was going to eat waffles in amounts that would qualify me for a stint on “Celebrity Rehab”…if I were a celebrity anywhere but in my own head. I did–and it was glorious.
What makes the Belgium waffle so incredible and different from your standard pop-in-the-toaster American fare? First, much like American Chinese food, what Americans would consider a Belgian waffle actually isn’t. It isn’t strictly a breakfast food, and you wouldn’t eat it with syrup. There are a few types of waffles available from vendors and in specialty restaurants. On the streets in Brussels, you’re most likely going to find the Brussels waffle (naturally) and the liege waffle.
What are the differences? The Brussels waffle, according to everyone’s favorite quasi-accurate Internet news source (Wikipedia) is usually made with a yeast-leavened batter. They are cooked to be perfectly rectangular. My heart belongs to the liege waffle, which is irregularly-shaped (much like myself, post-waffle-binge) and densely chewy. The liege made from brioche dough and that special pearl sugar which can be so hard to find outside of Belgium–a true sweet treat.
Now, the real debate: what to put on your waffle? For me, the idea of having a waffle that was not smothered in cream, strawberries, and melted chocolate–preferably Nutella–was absurd. I did not cross the North Sea in a boat to eat a dry waffle; a point upon which my three-year-old and I were in rare agreement. My husband, who is more civilized, gently explained to us that we were being crass: a truly well-cooked liege waffle needs no accoutrement. It stands alone in pearly-sugared perfection. Obviously we ignored him and piled our waffles high, but a bit of internet research bears my husband out: connoisseurs tend to go plain.
Surely, there was so much more to our trip to Belgium than waffles and beer. But for a gal who tends to think with her stomach, capping off a day of sightseeing with one of Liege’s lovely waffles? Perfection. How do you like your waffles?
(all photos by author)