MEALS AND CUSTOMS
Belgians are noted for their politeness, which is evident in business and at home. No dinner guest would ever be late, nor would a guest arrive without a bouquet of flowers or a beautifully wrapped box of candies. A short aperitif hour is customary, followed by a leisurely dinner with wine and likely one of Belgium’s famed liqueurs with the after-dinner coffee: elixir de spa (pine-flavored), or walzin or elixir d’Anvers, both of which are similar to Benedictine, the liqueur prepared by the French Benedictine monks.
The usual Belgian day begins with a light break-fast of bread or rolls with jam, unsalted butter, and cafe au lait. A midmorning break of coffee and waffles or cookies is likely for the women and children, while men will enjoy a beer or two.
Traditionally, the noon meal is the main meal of the day: businessmen take a two-hour break and most children come home from school. This is the meal that begins with soup or hors d’oeuvres, then a hearty meat or fish dish with potatoes, followed by a separate course of salad or cooked vegetables. Frequently the meat is carved in the kitchen and the platter garnished with seasonal vegetables. It is interesting to note that vegetables and salads are almost a social status symbol – the higher the level, the more vegetables and salads are used. For most families, however, potatoes are the only vegetable requirement. A dessert for dinner would be fruit and cheese, a tart or pudding. Wine or beer is usually served as well.
Throughout the day, snacks of waffles, coffee, and cookies or frites to order, dunked in mayonnaise, are generously indulged in. The evening meal is usually a light supper of leftovers or simple egg, cheese, or fish dishes.
As in other countries in the western world, Belgian city dwellers are finding that the pressures of urban life make it increasingly difficult to enjoy that leisurely noon meal.
Sunday is a quiet day devoted to family and friends and often features a specially prepared dinner. For some families, Sunday is the day for dinner out, and in Belgium this is a delightful prospect, for all restaurants strive to achieve a high level of renown, especially since many gastronomic societies keep watchful eyes on the menus and specialties of these establishments.
FOODS COMMONLY USED
“Coffee is a passion” and frites are so popular at home and as snacks everywhere that coffee and fried potatoes may be labeled Belgian staples. Belgium’s national dish is biftek, frites, salade – also the usual lunch for almost everyone. Biftek is not a steak per se but is the general term used to describe any well-trimmed boneless piece of meat, whether it is beef, veal, pork, or horsemeat. The frites are usually eaten with varieties of mayonnaise, such as tartar sauce, Russian dressing or bearnaise sauce, accompanied with pickles or pickled onions. In fact, mayonnaise seems to appear almost everywhere in one form or another. Fish and seafood are loved, deep-fried foods and potato-based soups enjoyed. The famed waterzooi is somewhere between a soup and a stew, made from fish or chicken in a well-simmered broth that is lightly thickened with eggs and cream and served in a soup plate accompanied with potatoes or buttered bread. As it sounds, it is a meal in itself. Sometimes the broth may be served first with the fish or chicken and the simmered vegetables served as a separate course.