Fresh milk as a beverage is not too popular; even children prefer to drink cafe au lait. Much fresh cream and whole milk are used in the preparation of soups, custards, and many sauces. Cheeses are often eaten with breads for breakfast. Creme fraiche, a thick and slightly tangy cream, is used both in France and Belgium for cooking, with fruits and in desserts.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Fresh seasonal fruits are preferred and good variety and excellent quality are to he had in supermarkets, specialty stores, and open markets. A typical Belgian touch is to add dried fruits to many meat dishes, especially in the winter when vegetables are scarce and more costly.
Vegetables are of great importance in the Belgian diet and seldom served without distinction; they are usually served as a separate course, appropriately sauced and garnished, but often overcooked. Potatoes are a part of almost every lunch and dinner, especially when meat or fish is served. Cabbage, turnips, and potatoes are winter staples. Especially favored vegetables include cabbage, escarole, Belgian endive, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cressonette (water-cress), leeks, hop sprouts, and, of course, the ever-present potato, especially in the form of frites, served with some variety of mayonnaise.
MEATS AND ALTERNATES
Walloon cookery is noted for an extensive use of pork, but to all Belgians meat is an important part of dinner, followed by fish or seafood, which are also much enjoyed. But whether the main dish is meat or fish, the omnipresent side dish of some form of potatoes always makes the meal filling. Favored meats: pork, beef, veal, horsemeat; no lamb or mutton. Game meats are very popular and Belgians love to hunt: marcassin (wild boar), hare, rabbit, roe-buck, wild deer, wild duck, grouse, snipe, quail, partridge, and thrush. Favored fish: salmon, mullet, trout, turbot, skate, flounder, pike, carp, whitefish, dourade, mackerel, lotte, cod, herring. All seafood and shellfish are savored, especially mussels, which are called “the poor man’s oysters.” Other seafoods enjoyed are: eels, scallops, clams, crayfish, small crevettes, and large shrimp, oysters, and lobsters.
Eggs are consumed mostly as part of other dishes: rich egg and cream sauces, mayonnaise, etc. Occasionally eggs may be part of light supper dish-es. Nuts and legumes are not an important part of the Belgian diet.
BREADS AND GRAINS
Dry breakfast cereals or hot cooked porridges are seldom used. Crusty white bread is preferred either as the “Belgian family loaf” or as crusty small rolls called pistolets, which are a favorite late Sunday breakfast treat.
Unquestionably, the Belgians consume a consider-able amount of fat in the form of dressings and sauces, mayonnaise accompaniments, fried foods, and but-ter, which is used lavishly. Butter preferences are as individual as wine preferences and the particular butter is selected by the name of the producer and the area it comes from, but whoever produced it or wherever it came from, the true Belgian will choose unsalted butter as having the superior taste. Both butter and lard are used in cooking and baking.
SWEETS AND SNACKS
The object of desire – sweets to satisfy the Belgian sweet tooth – are everywhere in evidence. And of course, Belgian chocolate and Belgian waffles (with strawberries and whipped cream) are legendary. Boulangeries, patisseries, and confiseries are never too far away. For any occasion, gifts of exquisitely pack-aged candies are appropriate and customary. A typical popular snack is the readily available Belgian waffles, served with butter and sugar or whipped cream and sometimes fresh fruit. Belgians also manage to consume, with ease, great quantities of crisp dry cookies (achieved by using ammonium carbonate instead of an equal amount of baking powder). The frequent cup of coffee is seldom served alone; usually it too is accompanied by a sweet baked product. Late afternoon ladies’ gatherings also enjoy “cakes and gossip.”
There is only a subtle use of onions and garlic in Belgian cookery and fresh herbs of all kinds are preferred. The favorite herb is chervil, while the favorite spice is nutmeg. The richness of butter, cream, and eggs stands alone as the flavoring in many dishes.
Estaminets are the popular beer taverns where businessmen are said to down unbelievable quantities of beer. Coffee is served to all ages at all meals and often between meals as well. Belgians are very knowledgeable about wine selection and usually purchase their wine with their groceries. Wine is frequently served with dinner.