Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More than just a shape

Too long has my heart been broken by hotels with their false promises of Belgian waffles as a part of their complimentary breakfast.  Food is an art to me; labeling pancake batter cooked in a large waffle iron as a Belgian Waffle is no different labeling grape juice as cabernet sauvignon.

So what is a Belgian Waffle you may ask?  Going to Belgium and asking for said waffle will only get you blank stares as they await further specification.  The two primary waffles are the Liege Waffle and Brussels Waffle.  The latter is what we are accustomed to in the United States and have dubbed “Belgian Waffle,” the former a rarity to the American palate.

Liege Waffles are designated so due to the city of their origin, Liege, Belgium, a rather drab city in the French section of Belgium, full of gray stone buildings, enchanting street cafes, and strange homeless people who follow you around attempting to hold a conversation with you in a language you have made apparent you don’t speak, while occasionally riding in a shopping cart and drinking a 40oz beer at 8am……..I digress
Liege Waffles are denser, sweeter, and chewier than their more recognizable (to Americans)counterpart.  Invented in the 18th Century by the personal chef of the prince-bishop of Liege, Liege Waffles feature chunks of pearl sugar which caramelize during cooking, and have a distinct 'I didn’t use enough batter' shape.  These waffles are by far the most popular in Belgium and are sometimes flavored with cinnamon or vanilla, but seldom covered in toppings because they are sweet and delectable enough.  Certain friends of mine do enjoy Liege waffles from the Häagen-Dazs in Brussels, covered in everything that merits the designation of sweet.  If you are in Brussels and plan to buy one from a stand, be sure that they are freshly pressed.  Let me repeat—Make sure you see them cook your waffle with your own eyes because Liege waffles do not sit well.  They become overly chewy and stale-like very quickly.  Packaged Liege Waffles in stores are surprisingly good once toasted and this is the only exception to the fresh made rule. 

Liege Waffles

What most hotels in the United States destroy the concept of is known in Belgium as the Brussels Waffle.  The invention is often erroneously credited to Maurice Vermersch during the 1964 New York World’s Fair, however contemporary Brussels Waffles were first noted in Ghent, Belgium in 1839.  Yes, Brussels Waffles weren’t even invented in Brussels.  9 times out of 10 when I tell an American I have been to Brussels I get the face-palm-inducing reaction of utter confusion as to the whereabouts of this far-off city.  It's the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union.

Geography Lesson

The now famous Brusselaar Maurice Vermersch must have been met this same reaction, hence at the New York World's Fair of 1964 he introduced the Brussels Waffle to America as the Bel-Gem Waffle which has evolved into Belgian Waffle.  As with most HIStory, all the credit goes to Maurice Vermersch when it was actually his wife’s recipe.
So why is pancake batter in a funny shape not a Brussels Waffle?  A distinct feature of Brussels Waffles is the use of yeast, as opposed to baking powder, as a leavening agent which gives a distinct flavor and texture.  The large rectangular or circular shape is necessary to allow the batter to expand, thus creating the distinct fluffy texture.  The rectangular shape is by far the most common in Belgium.  Without these TWO distinct qualities you are consuming the metaphorical grape juice.  A good Brussels Waffle is characterized by a perfectly crispy outside with a heaven-inspired fluffy interior and is traditionally eaten with a light coat of confectioner’s sugar.  Whip cream, chocolate, and fruit toppings are designated by locals as merely for tourists and good luck finding maple syrup!

Brussels Waffle

Liege waffles are fairly consistent so I don’t have to recommend specific locations.  The Brussels waffle is more finicky, however.  After much research involving taste-testing and the questioning of locals I have pinpointed the best Brussels Waffle in Brussels.  100% of locals recommended this place and it is a must stop for me on any trip to Brussels; a city which is a must stop on any trip to Europe.  A wise Brusselaar told me that you can tell a place has good waffles if there are a lot of old people there and behold, upon my arrival at Mokafé Taverne I felt like a bingo game would break out at any moment.

Located in the famous Konigsgalerij, Mokafé Taverne offers by far the best waffle I have had in my life.  The texture of the Waffle is the epitome of what a Brussels Waffle should be, the service does justice to Belgium’s French influence, and the prices are amazingly low.  While the other food may be typical tourist prices, the waffles and beer are among the cheapest you will find in all of Grote Markt, if not the entire city.
Below are links for recipes that I found to be successful recreations of these culinary marvels.

I am in no way advertising any establishment of any kind, a concept I will continue as long as I write.


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