Even though your local supermarket will have a wide range of products it would be a pity not to be more adventurous and sample the fine foods that Belgium has to offer.
Breads and pastry
Bread and pastries can be found at a bakery (Boulangerie/Bakkerijen) or a pastry shop (Pastisserie/Grondstoffen). A baker specializes in breads but offers some pastries, while a pastry shop excels in fine deserts, but will also provide a variety of breads.
The butcher (boucherie/blagers) can provide a variety of meats, including mutton and lamb shop (Moutonnerie/Lam-en Schapenvlees), or cold cuts and prepared meats (Chacuterie/Vleeswaren). There are also poultry shops (Volailler/Wild en Gevolgelte). Wild game is readily available in season. Horsemeat, a rich beef tasting meat, is considered a delicacy here and available at most meat counters. The rare horsemeat store can be recognized by a horse’s head hanging over the door.
Most areas have at least one cheese shop (Fromagerie/Kaaswinkel) stocking hundreds of varieties. If you are buying a boxed cheese of a Camembert-type and want to check it for ripeness, it is quite accepted, particularly in supermarkets (in a specialist shop ask the person serving), to open up the box and feel it through the protective paper. Belgian cheeses are varied and stringently controlled by government quality and labelling regulations. Regional cheeses are worth a try; and do not feel guilty asking for quantities as small as 100 grams. In recent years there has been an explosion of Belgian cheeses on the market. They range from goat’s milk chevre in pyramids or bells to deep yellow rounds shaped like curling stones. There is Maredsous from the Abbey in the Ardennes, mild with a slight cheddar taste and the stronger Vieux Chimay. A favourite snack is fresh white cheese fromage frais spread on fresh country brown bread – and eaten with sliced spring onions and radishes, while variations of cream cheese with garlic and herbs (Boursin, Tatar) are highly popular spreads. Mixed with a tiny bit of cream or yoghurt make wonderful dips.
Fish, whether bought in a fish shop (Poissonerie/Vis en Schaaldieren) or eaten in a restaurant, are fresh and full of flavour. As you will quickly notice, mussels and the small grey shrimp are special delicacies and Belgian favourites. Most fish shops are closed at the beginning of the week. In some areas, a fish van will call weekly at your door.
Cold cuts and pâtés
Perhaps a bit more upscale than a typical American deli, charcuterie/traiteurs offer a first-rate variety of cold Cuts and Pâtés, for which Belgium are known for. They also offer a variety of cold dishes and sometimes take-away meals. These shops invariably provide a home-catering service for anything from cocktail parties to full-scale dinners, for which they can supply tables, chairs, table settings, etc. as required. The immense variety of prepared meats – smoked, baked, cured, in gelatine, as pâtés – are designed to be eaten cold. Many are considered extremely fine delicacies and are often served in small individual portions with toast as an entrée or together as a platter with a cut fruit or a salad for a light meal. The most famous of all Belgian cold meats is the Ardennes ham, which comes both smoked and cooked. Even then according to connoisseurs, they vary by town and by butcher. Other regions have their own variations. In smoked and dried meats there is a filet d’Anvers (smoked beef from Antwerp), in gelatine form their is Tete de Veau Gantoise, Gent’s offering of bits of veal from the head of a calf boiled in herbs and flavoured gelatine to be served in slices.
Chocolates and candy
Belgian chocolate shops (Chocolateries and Confiseries/Chocoladeartikelen en Suikergoed) are magical worlds, where you can select your own favourites or choose a pre-packed assortment. The packaging is half the joy and varies according to season. Gift packs can often be sent by post abroad. Chocolate making is big business and manufacturers still use manual labour for certain fillings and decorations. Local bakers may make their own chocolates. Some contain fresh cream, so it is wise to check the shelf date of your purchase with the assistant. Equally presentable are liqueur chocolates and truffles (round balls of cream chocolate and vanilla dusted with cocoa powder). At Christmas, New Year, Easter and so on, the novelties of moulded hollow chocolate and colourful marzipan shapes offered are often so creative that it is almost a sin to sink one’s teeth in them.