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Belgium is one of my favorite countries for culinary travel – from the cliché of “Mussels in Brussels”, to the frites, chocolates, and of course, the handcrafted beers, it’s one country I will never tire of visiting.
One of the true culinary gems in Belgium is the waffle. Not the American-style Belgian waffles I grew up with, but I’m talking real Belgium waffles. After my first visit, I learned that there are two distinct styles of waffles commonly found around Belgium, and they are quite different in appearance, texture, and certainly in their taste.
Brussels Style Waffles (Gaufres de Bruxelles)
The first time I tried a Brussels style waffle was in Antwerp. They are rectangular in shape and are often served with a light dusting of powdered sugar or perhaps topped with whipped cream and strawberries. They have a light texture and taste that comes from the yeast-leavened batter they are made from.
Brussels style waffles gave rise to the Belgian waffles we typically see in America and sometimes other parts of the world. They were introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City and were sold as “Bel-Gem Waffles”. Although the concept of waffles had been around for hundreds of years prior, it was the World’s Fair that really catapulted them to popularity in America.
One notable difference between the American style Belgian waffle and the Brussels waffle is the use of baking powder versus yeast, giving it a different texture and taste. When comparing, I find American waffles to be heavy and doughy whereas the Brussels waffle is lighter and more crispy.
Liege Style Waffles (Gaufres de Liege)
Liege style waffles are the most commonly seen waffle in Belgium and they are definitely my personal favorite. They are quickly identifiable by their uneven edges with the heavenly bits of caramelized pearl sugar.
While traditionally served from street vendors and eaten by hand, you will find a number of shops and bakeries selling them with oodles of toppings – my first one was whipped cream, bananas, and strawberries, with drizzles of chocolate on top.
When compared with the Brussels style waffle, Liege waffles tend to denser, a bit chewier, and certainly sweeter. The dough is much different than Brussels style – almost like a brioche style bread. Liege waffles are believed to have been developed by Liege’s Prince-Bishop’s chef back in the 18th century.
The signature element on a Liege waffle is the pearl sugar, which surprisingly comes from sugar beets, that caramelizes and sweetens when baked. When you get a Liege waffle fresh from a street vendor, the sugar is still hot and the crispy edges literally melt in your mouth.
Seeing as how I am a thorough researcher when it comes to anything food related while traveling, I’ve tried waffles in Antwerp, Brussels, Brugge, Liege and even supposed “authentic” versions in neighboring countries, like the Netherlands. While many of these locales offer great waffles, my personal favorite stops were Liege and Brussels, however, they were both for Liege style waffles ironically.
If you are on the hunt for the best offerings, stick with the street vendors, small specialty shops, and if you happen to be traveling during the upcoming holiday season, the Christmas Markets are full of awesome waffle vendors, usually selling lots of gluhwein too, which make the sometimes bitter winter temperatures a bit more bearable after hours of sightseeing.