Back when I had a kitchen, I owned a waffle maker. Waffles have made it into American kitchen culture, but do you know where they originated? The tiny country of Belgium; hence the beloved Belgian waffle. When I traveled to Belgium this summer I was excited to do my share of tastings of Belgian waffles, but I quickly learned when it came to Belgian waffles – it’s complicated.
On my 2nd day in Brussels, I went to the Sunday market and while there I stopped at a little van which sold waffles and tried my first delectable taste of square Belgian baked goods. It was good, I was happy – so happy I got back to my home and put my little video of my waffle tasting on Facebook.
That’s when I learned I was ill informed when it came to Belgian waffles.
Immediately I had one of my friends ask me if the waffle I had was a Liege or Brussels waffle. Huh? There are different types? Soon other well-traveled friends started chiming in; and there was a waffle debate going on inside my Facebook wall! I quickly googled these types and found a myriad of info about the dueling waffles.
Plus – I also quickly learned that much like the fortune cookie, the Belgian waffle was something contrived in America…not Belgium. It was introduced at New York’s 1964 World’s Fair by restaurateur, Maurice Vermersch, where waffles were sold as “Bel-Gem Waffles”. However the Americanized Belgian waffle was mainly contrived from the Brussels waffle with a few substitutions.
I studied the internet on Brussels and Liege waffles and quickly learned how to tell the subtle differences. Brussels waffles were made with a thin, yeast-leavened batter which makes them lighter and their appearance is more rectangular with deeper holes and smooth edges. Liege waffles (named after a town in Eastern Belgium) are made with a batter that is more like bread dough; thick and sticky. The dough contains chunks of sugar, which caramelize and form a crispy, crunchy, golden coating. The dough is spread/pushed into the waffle maker and the end result is uneven edges and a more dense, sweeter, and chewier waffle.
I was now armed with waffle knowledge and was ready to do my own taste test. Based on my research I realized the waffle I had at the market was a Liege waffle; so next I wanted to try a Brussels waffle. I went down into the tourist hive, near Grand Place, and found oodles of waffles places near the famous Manneken Pis statue. In fact there were even lifesize replica’s of Manneken Pis holding a waffle while holding his ‘dingle’ in his other hand; which didn’t seem very hygienic to me!
I ordered a light Brussels waffle and simply had it with powdered sugar as opposed to the high calorie tourist temptations they had displayed in the glass cases. (Seriously – how can you even taste the waffle with all of that additional stuff on top…ridiculous!) I loved the light Brussels waffle; it reminded me of what my mother used to make on Sunday mornings. I had declared it the official ‘winner’. Research done.
A few days later I found myself in the college town of Leuven and walked by a little snack shop in a non-touristy area; I was hungry so decided to treat myself to a waffle snack. I didn’t have any choice of waffle types – they only served the Liege waffles. So I took my waffle sandwiched in its little waxy paper and ate it while walking around the city.
Whoa….wait a minute. I stopped, took another bite and let the caramelized goodness melt in my mouth with a slightly sweet aftertaste. This Liege waffle originated from a regular ‘brick and mortar’ store as opposed to a truck/mobile waffle store and it completely won me over.
I clearly needed to do MORE research.
For my remaining 2 weeks in Belgium, I took my journalism seriously; I researched waffles every chance I got. I videoed them, photographed them, tasted them, and took notes. I poured through my data and studied my findings and came up with this result.
In this tale of two waffles I decided I prefer the Liege waffle.
Specifically, I prefer the Liege waffle from Vitalgaufre – a chain of shops found in Brussels and internationally. Instead of piling fruit and needless whipped cream on top, they simply bake some of the fruit/vanilla into the batter so that you can still taste the flavor of the Liege waffle – YUM.
Oh yeah and one more thing to blow your mind and remind you that you know very little about the origin of waffles. In Belgium, they don’t eat waffles for breakfast nor do they use syrup. See…travel is education!
Which waffle do you prefer?
Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of Briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice.
Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at Ottsworld.com.com.