Chips. Mussels. Waffles. Chocolate. Beer. A culinary combination fit for a kingly dinner and a heavenly union. But the Kingdom of Belgium isn’t really Belgium as we see it from abroad. Despite existing as a single state since 1830, Belgium is a combination of two territories and three cultural groups that have put the sustainability of the Capital of Europe in question.
To the North lies the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders. To the South the French-speaking Wallonia. Tucked away in the East lies a small German-speaking community which composes under 1% of the country’s total population.
The economic balance of Flanders and Wallonia has fluctuated throughout history with trading towns such as Bruges (pictured above) and Ghent driving the regions prosperity, a prosperity overtaken by Wallonia during the Industrial Revolution. During the second half of the 20th Century, economic power shifted back towards Flanders with Walloon industry suffering a significant decline and unemployment rising, tensions between the regions threatened the Belgian State and resulted in each region gaining more autonomy in a 1993 reform which made Belgium a Federal state.
As with its political turmoil, Belgium exhibits a wide variety of regional food and drink. With both the Walloons and the Flemish enjoying the products of their union, perhaps its the country’s cuisine that’s still holding it together.
Peket is the Walloon term for Genever, the botanical blend that transformed into gin in England in the 17th Century. The word “Peket” means “spicy” in the old Walloon language and the spirit is mainly produced in the Meuse basin where much of the Walloon population lives. Although Genever is officially protected in regions of Holland, Germany and France, Belgium produces some of the highest quality genevers which is stored in clay jugs and served in chilled shot glasses and first sipped by bending over the glass, not touching it with ones hands. Peket comes in a variety of flavors depending on the botanicals and fruits with which is was produced.
In the Walloon town of Arlon, you will find residents drinking this special wine primarily served in the springtime as “Maitrank” translates to “May wine”. Maitrank uses German white wine as its base in which is infused with the herb sweet woodruff (the herb in the above image). It is often mixed with eau de vie such as brandy, a sparkling wine and sugar to create a punch.
Belgian’s regions produce a host of delicious beers. When visiting the country’s beer bars, you’ll often find yourself presented with a menu listing over 300 of them. But it is the Trappist beers that garner the most attention. The Trappists are an order of Catholic nuns and monks that make and sell products to fund their monasteries and convents. The six monasteries in Belgium that produce Trappist beer are Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Chimay, Orval and Achel, all of which are recognized as producing some of the world’s finest beers.