Known mainly for its chocolate and beers, Belgium is a surprisingly diverse country that embraces the beauty and singularity of its 3 official languages, Belgian French, Flemish and Belgian German. As anyone who has travelled this flat land will tell you, its 3 regions have no reason to be linguistically or gastronomically envious of their neighbours. But, whatever language or dialect they speak, one of the things that unite Belgians is their love of food, and the joy they take in talking about it… in rather colourful ways. You will see that it is no surprise that the Surrealist movement found a second home in Belgium!
Here are a few ways to express your delight about food like a true Belgian gourmand.
When in Flanders, you can say:
- ‘Iemand de oren van het hoofd eten’, literally to eat the ears of someone’s head when you fancy eating an indecent amount of food.
- ‘Honger is de beste saus’, hunger is the best sauce because any food tastes better when you’re hungry.
- ‘Verandering van spijs doet eten’, or change of food makes you eat, which expresses the increased excitement one gets for food when travelling and changing scenery.
- ‘Ça te goûte ?’ literally means Does it taste to you? This is the Walloon way of making sure that you like what you are eating, to which you can answer:
‘Oufti, didjû ti, qu’ j’ai bon !’ (Oufti, in the name of God, you, I’ve got it good!) to express your fulfilment. In fact, you can use the untranslatable word ‘Oufti’ for all kinds of expressions of surprise, disgust, outrage, amusement… well everything, really.
- If you enjoyed your beer and are ready for ‘the same again’, just ask your waiter for ‘la p’tite sœur’, or the little sister, and…
- … if you’d like to know if your friend would like another beer, they’re likely to answer you with a joyous ‘Non, peut-être !’ or No, maybe!, which means a definite ‘Yes’.
You also should know that, despite the relatively small size and proximity of Belgian towns, the dialects can vary often to the point of misunderstanding. For example, when buying sweets in Liège, ask for ‘chiques’ but in Brussels ask for ‘boules’, as if you ask for ‘chiques’ in Brussels, people will think you are looking for chewing gums, and ‘boules’ (balls) in Liège will make the liégeois think that you might be after something rather indecent.
Here’s a little tour of some Belgian specialities so you’re sure you get what you want:
Frites and Friet
Please, do yourself a favour and don’t called them French fries, at least not at earshot of a Belgian! The pride in our frites lays in the process of cooking them twice and the fact that they are ‘proper’, i.e., pretty thick and crispy on the outside but soft like mashed potato in the inside. You can get them in a cone for next to nothing at the friture if you’re in Wallonia (and not friterie like the French say!) or at the fritkot if you’re in Flanders.
Very flat, two-layered wafers soaked in a syrup, the recipe of which is kept secret by two family-run companies. You can only enjoy this indulgent delicacy during the month of October in Liège, when the funfair is on. Not a kid, adult or elderly person in town skips this delicacy or doesn’t try to guess the ingredients in the precious syrup. Delicious, but careful, ‘ça plaque’ (it’s sticky) like the Walloons say.
A big favourite amongst locals and tourists alike, these huge meatballs are slowly cooked in a gravy of brown beer and Sirop de Liège. The syrup, black and very thick, is adored by the Liégeois, so much so that a full chapter was written about it in the beautiful Walloon short story collection Les Ceux de chez nous (1914).
Literally, the submachine gun, is half a French bread (or the Belgian name for the baguette) filled with chips and covered in sauce. One deadly lunch indeed!
This famous creamy stew originates from Flanders, but is loved across the country. The term ‘zooï’ comes from the Middle Dutch for ‘boil’ and is traditionally made with fish. Simple and fragrant, like most Belgian cuisine, it is heartier than it looks.
Spiced caramel biscuits that are consumed by the kilo at the celebration of Saint Nicholas (who Santa Claus was derived from) on December 6th, but which accompany almost every single cup of tea or coffee in cafés around the country all year round.
Both Walloons and Flemish claim the invention of these cone-shaped sweets that are hard on the outside with a jelly filling in the inside. Due to their short shelf life they’re not suitable for export and thus only available in Belgium (with a few rare exceptions). In Ghent, there is a well-known cuberdon-war between 2 sellers, which regularly requires police intervention!
I could go on and on and on… and while I suggest you read a ‘beer guide’ to know the difference between Pils, Abbey, Trappistes, Lambic, Tripel, Dubbel, etc., the best way is to visit Belgium with your own eyes, taste buds and ears, and enjoy the diversity of food and food-related ‘belgicisms’ for yourself.
As Memrise’s French Language Specialist, I love to prove French is a much more flexible and playful language than most people tend to think by de-dramatising grammar and teaching colourful turns of phrases.
Always trying to find the best multilingual play on words, I wish I had the awesome, lyrical flow of MC Solaar or Jacques Brel.