Belgian cuisine beyond the Belgian waffle
What have the Belgians contributed to the culinary world, other than the Belgian waffle?
Plenty. And you can get a taste of it at Café Bruges in downtown Carlisle. Named after the famous city in Flanders, the Flemish region of Belgium, this casual gastropub offers traditional Belgian beer, mussels, frites, carbonade flamande and waffles, along with French-inspired items, such as crepes, croque-monsieurs and steak-frites.
I zeroed right in on the mussels and frites. The nice part is you have the option of five preparations for your mussels: 1.) Bruges - white wine, shallots, butter and parsley (I went traditional!); 2.) Bruxelles - ale, garlic, leeks and bacon; 3.) Moutarde - mustard and cream; 4.) Thai - coconut and red curry; and 5.) Provencal - tomato, fresh basil, onion and celery.
The choices don’t stop there. With the frites, you get to choose your condiment: house-made mayonnaise, house-made tomato ketchup, Asian spicy-hot mayonnaise, curry ketchup, horseradish sauce, mustard mayonnaise or Dijon mustard. While Americans usually grab ketchup for their fries, Belgians typically eat them with mayonnaise, which explains all the fancy mayo options.
If you’re a lover of Belgian beers and ales, Café Bruges probably has one of the most comprehensive menus in Central Pennsylvania. From Trappist ales and wheat beers to saisons and lambics, you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for, and more. I was a dining with a beer crowd, and many of them ordered flights simply because they couldn’t decide on one beer. While they were out of my first choice, the Wittekerke Rosé, I opted for the regular Wittekerke and I wasn’t sorry. Served in a tall, frosty glass, this Belgian wit was light, crisp and flowery.
As someone who’s been to Belgium, and specifically Bruges, I do have one small objection to what Café Bruges calls “Belgian waffles.” You see, in Belgium, waffles — or “gaufres” in French — have no resemblance to the big, round ones that we eat for breakfast. Instead, the waffles in Belgium are rectangular and more dense, often with ragged edges. They are typically found as street food and either dusted with powdered sugar or baked with pearl sugar, which caramelizes on the outside, creating a crunchy, sugary glaze. Other toppings such as chocolate and fruit are available, but I like my gaufres like I like my funnel cakes — simple and sugary. Sadly, the waffles at Café Bruges were light, round and smelled delicious — in that American Sunday-brunch kind of way. I still miss the waffles in Belgium. Sigh.
What’s your favorite Belgian dish?