Some of the best meals we have ever eaten have been in Belgium. Apart from it being a delightful country to explore, it is also a great destination for food lovers.
Cooks and chefs take pride in great cooking
Dotted throughout the country are some 120 Michelin starred restaurants several of them holding three stars – more per capita than in France.
But even when not Michelin rated the standard of cooking in Belgium is astonishingly high. Cooks and chefs take pride in producing great food be it for the home or professionally.
Think frites for a start
Think frites for a start, deliciously crunchy and served with mayonnaise, or a generous dollop of sauce, or maybe with mussels.
Move on to waffles, light and crispy or moist and doughy depending on where you are; tiny grey shrimps (crevettes grises) often served in croquettes in a fairly thick sauce and deep fried; eels in a green chervil and sorrel sauce; rich beef stews (carbonnades flamendes) cooked slowly in excellent Belgium beer; rabbit too is a popular dish, often cooked in Kriek – a superb cherry beer – or maybe with prunes; chicory or endive with ham and a béchamel sauce; waterzooi a soup like stew enriched with cream and eggs. And don’t forget chocolate, jenever and beer.
Chef Didier Bourdeaux and Maison D.
A few months back a young chef came to London for a couple of days – a sort of pop-up Gastronomic Tour of Flanders organised by Visit Flanders. The entire meal from first to last mouthful was truly memorable.
Didier Bourdeaux had wanted to be a chef since a child, and after several years of working in some of the country’s best restaurants, including some with 3 or 2 Michelin stars this very talented chef has achieved his ambition and set up his very own restaurant.
It was a great menu. I like neither eel nor cauliflower so for me to not only eat every mouthful of the appetizer but also to look for more is a testament to his skill as a chef.
I have no problem with lobster, in fact I love it; and the lobster starter with potato, spinach and white asparagus was terrific, but so was the pigeon main course, this time with green asparagus, wild garlic and cabbage.
And the dessert, a crémeux of café noir keun beer was a plateful of sheer lusciousness. All the courses served with different beers to complement the ingredients.
Maison D and Ronse
Maison D, the restaurant Didier runs with his wife Delfine, is in Ronse in East Flanders, just 23 miles from Ghent in the Flemish Ardennes. Apart from desperately wanting to eat at their restaurant, Ronse sounds like an interesting small city.
According to a friend who visited a couple of years back it was once a thriving textile manufacturing centre boasting one of Europe’s oldest railway stations, the 13th century St Hermes church with an impressively large crypt, the Must Textile Museum and Villa Carpentier – an Art Nouveau country estate designed by Victor Horta for Valere Carpentier a textile industrialist (its open for group visits).
Bowled over by Didier’s cooking and also a cookery book
Having been bowled over by Didier’s cooking skills we found ourselves also bowled over by Ruth Van Waerebeek’s excellent book ‘The Taste of Belgium’.
We have a passion for cookery books, be they general ones covering various aspects of cooking or more specialist books that deal with the cuisine of a specific country packed full of recipes and destination information.
The Taste of Belgium: Ruth Van Waerebeek
The Taste of Belgium is a stunner of a book with 250 recipes – some of them dealing with national dishes such as ‘waterzooi’, and indeed frites; others more homely recipes that she learnt from her mother, grandmother and even great grandmother.
Ruth, with an international reputation as a chef, was born in the fascinating medieval city of Ghent and when she grew up actually worked in two of the city’s leading restaurants before setting off to explore the world.
She travelled extensively and can now be found in Chile’s wine country running a gastronomic lodge and cookery school, amongst other activities.
Hearty stews to desserts, cakes and cookies
Her recipes range from hearty stews often involving wine or beer (indeed there is a whole section devoted to cooking with beer); through soups, fish, appetisers and side dishes; the humble potato is elevated to having a whole chapter devoted to it; then comes waffles and breads; and Ruth most definitely does not miss out on desserts, cakes and cookies. Measurements, by the way, are given in both cup and metric.
Anecdotal comments and stories
Interspersed amongst the recipes are anecdotal comments and stories such as memories of Christmas as a child; the fish market in Bruges; the history of some of the plants and herbs she uses and Belgian cities.
The camera used to take the stunning pictures is in the hands of the very talented photographer Regula Ysewijn. If we have a complaint, and it is a slight one, it is that the chatty introductions to each recipe in faux handwriting in light brown ink and in a small point-size type are rather difficult to read.
A ‘must cook it’ cook book
The majority of the recipes are very straightforward, and with the clear instructions, methods, tips and suggestions The Taste of Belgium by Ruth Van Waerebeek is a definite ‘must cook it’, cook book. We love it.
We are convinced that from what we have experienced from Didier Bourdeaux’s skill with cooking and the recipes in the stunning cookery book by Ruth Van Waerebeek the future for seriously good Belgian cuisine and cooking is assured.