Brugge is known for lace making, Belgian beer, crispy fries, decadent waffles and sublime chocolates.
The blend of French, German and Dutch food styles in Belgium coordinate with the countries 3 official languages. The cuisine we tried was delicious enough to attract any foodie. We also indulged in their famous junk food.
Belgian waffles are fairly thick, crispy and coppery colored on the outside, tender and fluffy inside. Traditionally made with a yeast dough although today, many recipes use baking powder. The waffles have extra-deep pockets ideal for holding fresh berries, whipped cream, ice cream, chocolate sauce or whatever you fancy. Liege and Belgian waffles are the most common types of waffles found in Brugge. We enjoyed the traditional Belgian waffle dough (photo above). The Liege version uses a sweet batter and we were already adding sweet toppings so we enjoyed the traditional version.
The American love affair with waffles first began when Belgian waffles were introduced at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Everyone loved the light crispy waffle topped with strawberries and whipped cream.
Belgian fries or frites are a national delicacy and an absolute must to try. Condiments are an essential part of the experience and nearly every vendor we saw offered a choice of between 6-12 dipping sauces. The most traditional topping for fries is not ketchup, but mayonnaise in Belgium. Other favorites are garlic aioli, herb mayonnaise, lemon aioli, mustard sauce, curry mayonnaise, barbecue sauce and many more.
The deep-fried potato snacks are typically thickly cut and fried twice, with a little cooling time in between. This makes the fries crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. Often served in a paper cone by food trucks and tiny storefronts they make a hearty and delicious gluten free snack.
The term ‘french fries’ has instigated an ongoing debate between France and Belgium. The name is claimed to have originated during World War I when American soldiers thought they were in France not Belgian when introduced to these delicious fried potatoes. French was also the language spoken in Belgium at the time and the soldiers nicknamed them ‘French fries’.
Although there are several beers named after Brugge only two, Brugse Zot and Brugse Straffe Hendrik, are actually brewed in the city itself. If you know us, you will know we rarely have a beer, but in the spirit of trying each country’s flavors, we skipped the famous blond version and tried the dark version of Brugse Zot – and enjoyed it.
Cafes spill out onto the sidewalks in Belgium just like the rest of Europe. Walking past the tables is a great way to see what patrons are eating or drinking and we had seen, on a number of occasions, red beverages poured into glasses with a beer shaped bottle sitting next to them. We learned it was ‘fruit beer’, so on our final night in town we tried a cherry beer. It was lovely and thirst quenching with only 4% alcohol content. Initially manufactured in Belgium, fruit beer is now available worldwide.
Without a doubt, the chocolates we had in Brugge are the best we have ever tasted.
Belgian chocolate is produced in Belgium with most of the raw materials originating in Africa, Central and South America. In 1894, in order to prevent exchanging natural cocoa butter in chocolate with low-quality fats from other sources, a minimum level of 35 percent pure cocoa was imposed and regulated by law.
By the 19th century Belgium and Switzerland became the most important producers of quality chocolates in Europe and by the 1960’s Belgium exported ‘Belgian chocolates’ worldwide.
Beware that although the industry has been regulated for 125 years, unfortunately there is not a universal standard for the chocolate to be labelled “Belgian”. Belgians strongly contend that the actual production of a ‘Belgian chocolate’ must take place inside Belgium and 90% of the country’s 2000 chocolate makers adhere to those codes. However some traditional Belgian chocolatiers have been purchased by non-Belgian companies and have moved production out of Belgium yet are still labeling their products as ‘Belgian chocolates’.
Without an EU protected food status designation, chocolatiers who remain 100% Belgian find the “Belgian chocolate” brand hard to protect. We recommend you research before buying. In our limited experience, fresh, locally made Belgian chocolates are worth supporting and protecting. In Brugge for example there are dozens of chocolate shops but there are only 7 that create their treats either in the back of their shops or within the city.
Pralines in Belgium are usually soft-centred confections encased in chocolate, not the nut candies found in North America and France. Belgian pralines are like a delicious truffle and may have nuts, marzipan, salted caramel, coffee, liquors, cream liqueur, cherry or creme centers that contrast with its outer coating. They also have truffles, distinguishable from pralines by their round shape and texture, which also have a variety of wonderfully flavored centers.
We tried a few freshly made pralines from as many shops as we could and these five chocolateries offered melt-in-your-mouth exceptional treats: The Chocolate Line, Home Sweet Home, Chocolates and Happiness, Van Oost and Pralinette.
The small local chocolate museum we did not visit but later learned they had a section in the museum dedicated to the health benefits of chocolate. Perhaps we should have stopped in. Next time…
A visit to Belgium wouldn’t be complete without trying delicious fries, waffles and chocolates.
Bruges is also known for its lace making and it known to craft some of the most luxurious lace in the world. It is a fascinating technique and every time we see lace making demonstrations, kits or quantities of lace for sale, we stop and admire the intricate handiwork and craftsmanship. Perhaps this is a craft to try?
Onze Lieve Vrouw Kerk
We enjoyed a magnificent view from our apart-hotel living room window of the Church of our Lady’s medieval 380′ (115 m) brick tower.
The interior is filled with art treasures and paintings.
The large wooden pulpit has dozens of beautifully carved cherubs hanging off its sides. The pièce de résistance of Our Lady is the white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo in 1501-1504. It is a wonderful piece of Michelangelo’s oeuvre and is purported to be the only sculpture of Michelangelo’s to have left Italy during his lifetime.
Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed
Tucked into a tight corner is the somber 14th-century Basilica of the Holy Blood. It houses a relic of the Holy Blood believed to be the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood was allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea, who according to the 4 gospels, was the man who assumed responsibility for the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion.
The Basilica was built between 1134 and 1157 and inside the walls have been completely painted with murals throughout. The shrine of the Precious Blood was made in 1617 and contains 66 pounds(30kg) of gold and silver and more than100 precious stones and brought to the city after the Second Crusade (1147-1149).
The Noble Brotherhood of the Holy Blood was founded shortly after 1400 and 31 members of the Brotherhood are tasked with safeguarding the relic.
The Provost or church leader can be recognized by his rich neck chain. On special occasions the Brothers wear a black silken tabard embroidered with a pelican and her chick. The neck chain is worn for ceremonial duties.
Parts of St. Salvator Cathedral dates back to the 10th century, making this the oldest parish church in Brugge. However, in 1834 when Belgium won her independence, St. Salvator’s was given the status of a cathedral and the church was extensively renovated. Most of Brugge was built in the Gothic style so this Neo-Romanesque church stands out.
Striking embroidered tapestries from the 18th century line the walls. Brussels was the center of the famous Flemish tapestries and these works of art, featuring scenes from the Bible, were made in Brussels as well.
Onze Lieve Vrouw ter Potterie
The Museum of our Lady of the Pottery is a historic hospital complex. The hospital was first mentioned in records dating back to the 13th century, when the nuns cared for pilgrims, travellers and the sick. Nowadays, the historic infirmary and convent house the museum collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, stained glass, a silver collection, monastic and religious relics and healthcare items.
Standing on the high altar in the beautiful baroque interior of the adjacent church, is a 13th century ‘miracle’ statue. Our Lady of the Pottery became a popular place of pilgrimage due to this sculpture of the Madonna and Child.
The miracles are told on the tapestries and in the colourful stained glass windows.
Belfort – Belfry
The 366 steps to the top of the belfry were enough of a deterrent for us to stay and enjoy this 13th century tower from the ground.
In the early 1850’s American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) visited Brugge and wrote about the city. He climbed the Belfry and wrote about his experience. Here is a sampling of two poems he penned.
The Belfry of Bruges
And this one …
A carillon is a set of bells which can be played using a keyboard thereby creating a more melodious sound than bells rung from ropes could. The Belfry has an impressive 47 carillon bells and we listened as the city carillonneur playing incredible tunes.
In the medieval ages, the Belfry’s bells were used to indicate the start and end of the workday, to signal a fire or for special events. Brugge’s Belfort is included on the World Heritage Site of Belfries of Belgium and France.
There are 4 preserved old city gateways remaining in Brugge and the 15th century Kruispoort claims to be best preserved. First built in 1297-1304, then rebuilt in 1366 and after being destroyed again, it was rebuilt a 3rd time in 1400. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Napoleon and the German army all entered Brugge through this historic gate.
Minnewater or Lake of Love
One symbol of Brugge is the swan. Dozens of them float up and down the picturesque canals and on the reservoir called Minnewater. There is a legend as to why these beautiful birds are in the city.
“In 1488 the people of Brugge executed one of the town administrators, Pieter Lanchal, who belonged to the court of Maximilian of Austria. Lanchals’ family coat of arms featured a white swan on it. Maximilian punished Brugge by demanding that the city had to keep swans on their lakes and canals till eternity.”
If you arrive by train in Brugge and walk towards the city center, you will walk past Minnewater Park. Minnewater, referred to as the “Lake of Love”, is in the center of the park and in 1740 the picturesque Lovers Bridge was built to cross it.
Another striking building can be seen on the east bank of the Lake of Love. The small Neo-Gothic castle was built in 1890 for a city alderman. Today it is a restaurant.
Windmills have been built on the city rampart on the outer wall of the city since the construction of the wall at the end of the 13th century. Following a riverside pathway we walked past 3 or 4 windmills each perched high on a berm. Sint-Janshuismolen, built in 1770 is the only one open to visitors where grain is still ground.
In the second half of the 19th century, Bruges became one of the world’s early tourist destinations. Although occupied in both World War I and World War II the city suffered virtually no damage in either and has been able to retain its significant and authentic old world charm.
Bruges has over 80 bridges making it easy to navigate the city and get from one side of the canals to the other, reminding us of the hundreds of canal bridges in Venice. We loved our stay and hope to return.
Proost from these Bruggeling,
Ted + Julia