In Belgium, Christmas is often celebrated at home with a delicious meal with friends and/or family, usually on Christmas Eve (24th December) rather than Christmas Day (25th December). Here are some of the treats you can expect to see on the table, as well as some others that are available over the festive season in Belgium.
Speculoos is a type of spiced shortcrust biscuit which is famous in Belgium and although you can buy it year round, it is traditionally baked just before Sint Niklaas day on 6th December. It is thin, sweet and crunchy and usually made in the image of Sint Niklaas by being stamped on before baking. The main ingredients are flour, sugar, butter, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg, a combination which makes for a deliciously spiced festive biscuit.
Famous year round, the renowned warm and fluffy batter treat gains even more popularity over the Christmas period in Belgium. Christmas markets, especially in Brussels, produce them at speed and the delicious smell lingers in the air. The topping choices are endless, but even nature or natuur (no topping) they are mouth-wateringly yummy.
Another famous Belgian specialty, chocolate is another food that takes the spotlight around Christmas. High-quality chocolate brands sell heavenly hot chocolate and you can often spot people waiting in queues to get their cup of the warm sweet beverage. A perfect warming drink for the winter season.
4. Mulled wine
Another hot drink to warm yourself as you stroll through the Christmas markets is mulled wine (also called vin chaud and glühwein). The delicious spiced winter wine is popular in many countries, but it is definitely worth drinking some in Belgium.
Seafood is a common starter for the Christmas feast and plenty of Belgians enjoy both fish and shellfish. Mussels (moules) are especially popular in the country and are considered a national dish. Belgian ports supply a wide variety of fish species such as cod, sole, herring, turbot and monkfish, along with freshwater fish like trout and eel, and seafood is always fresh and plentiful.
Potatoes are a staple of Belgium, from the famous Belgian fries which are eaten with sauce or with moules, to every other possible way of cooking them. The Christmas meal usually features a large piece of meat (for the meat eaters) which of course needs vegetables and potatoes to accompany it. Potatoes are often served in the form of mashed potatoes or pommes duchesse, which are elegant little swirls of potatoes brushed with egg yolk then cooked in the oven to attain a crispy golden colour.
A few particular vegetables come to mind when you think of Belgium, and these unsurprisingly feature in the the Christmas meal. The first is of course Brussels sprouts, but these are often accompanied by others such as white asparagus, mushrooms and chicory (endive or witloof). The latter is special to Belgium and is typically a winter vegetable, featuring on seasonal dishes.
8. Cougnou or cougnolle
As a Christmas breakfast, Belgians often eat the usual common Sunday breakfast of baked crusty rolls with butter and jam and/or coffee cake. In the south of Belgium, on December 25th many eat a special sweet bread called cougnou or cougnolle. The bread is baked in a baby-like shape as a symbol of the Baby Jesus.
9. Accompanying condiments
Pickles, mayonnaise and mustards are very popular in Belgium and are of course present at the table of any Christmas meal. They serve to enhance the meal, adding flavour whether its a spicy kick from mustard or just a tasty dipping sauce like mayonnaise.
10. Yule log
A popular dessert at Christmas is a kersstronk or Bûche de Noël, known as a Yule log in English. This is a traditional cake, usually chocolate (of course!) but it is the decoration that makes this such a treat. It can be a true work of art, as bakers use chocolate frosting with grooves and textures carved into it to ensure the cake resembles a real tree log with bark. Yule logs can be made at home, or bought in a bakery or shop, and vary in extravagance.