Flemish regional products

Belgian endives

There can be no fine dining without good products and ingredients. Thanks to distinct seasons and climate, Flanders’ culinary landscape has grown to become one of the world’s most varied and interesting. Many of our chefs prepare their dishes based on what’s available locally, bringing you the freshest food at the best time.

Flanders reputation for providing exceptional produce is due to the experience and craftsmanship of our farmers, fishermen, hunters and cheese makers. These artisans deliver incredible regional products that are hard to find anywhere else in the world.

Grey shrimp

A remarkable spectacle in the North Sea: sturdy Brabant draught horses wading through the waves, a rider on their back dressed in bright yellow knee-high boots and a raincoat to match, dragging a large net behind them. A chain drags over the sand and makes the shrimps jump up and land in the net. These days, Oostduinkerke, some 20 km from Ostend, is the only place in the world where they fish for grey shrimps in this traditional manner. In 2013, shrimp fishing on horseback was recognised as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

This ‘queen of seafood’ is less than a centimetre long once peeled and has a grey-pink colour. Its flavour is an irresistible combination of subtly sweet and mildly salty. The crangon – to use the official Latin name – is always caught in the wild. There are no cultivated North Sea shrimps. Unpeeled shrimps are cooked on board the boat immediately after capture and transported directly to the fish shop. They couldn’t be fresher!

The coastal inhabitants have been eating North Sea shrimps since time immemorial. Only once it became easier to transport them using refrigeration did they become not merely a delicacy for the rich; the North Sea shrimp was then also found more on the menu elsewhere in Flanders. Our fishing fleet does not play a major role in North Sea shrimp fishing, yet Belgium is the epicentre of shrimp consumption. We eat no less than 54% of the total North Sea catch. This equates to a spectacular 500 grams of shrimps per person per year!

We eat them in typical Flemish dishes such as a shrimp croquette, a bread roll with shrimp salad and shrimp-filled tomato. On the coast, you will get them as a snack with a local beer. In Brussels, they bake a delicious ‘omelette baveuse’ with a mountain of shrimps in the middle. A handful of shrimps is also delicious with a soft avocado or fresh grapefruit. North Sea shrimps are also quite healthy: they contain a lot of protein and relatively few calories and (saturated) fats.


Belgian endive

Witloof Endives
Witloof Endives

Belgian endive is a versatile and popular winter vegetable in Flanders and much further afield: crisp when you chop it up raw and buttery soft when you give the heads time to stew slowly. Taste is key, as is its high nutritional value, heap of minerals and low sodium content. Each leaf has only one calorie and zero carbohydrates.

Flemish people love Belgian endive not only in a bitter, fresh salad with steak and fries but also as a sweet, caramelised side to accompany winter dishes. The light-sensitive heads are wrapped in blue paper to protect them from the light: this way they stay nice and white. After all, this vegetable gets its white appearance by growing in the dark with its roots in rich, fertile soil (if grown in the ground) or in water (if grown in water). Light would make the heads turn green, and that simply wouldn’t do!

How did the Belgian endive come about? There are a lot of stories out there. One story goes that a Brussels farmer hid his chicory roots in a mountain of earth during the Belgian revolution in 1830. When the unrest began to settle down and the farmer went to dig up the roots again, they had developed beautiful white leaves. The former gardener of the Botanical Garden of Brussels is also linked to the discovery of Belgian endive. Franciscus Bressiers is said to have buried a number of roots under the ground in the cellars of the botanical garden as an experiment. The Belgian endive he harvested from the roots of the Cichorium intybus did not yet have the beautiful defined structure that we see today. It was propagators who made sure that the collection of loose white leaves were exchanged for a nice, defined head.

You can see from the names given to this vegetable in two more of our languages that Belgian endive is a vegetable typical of our region: in French it is referred to as ‘chicorée de Bruxelles’ and in German ‘Brüsseler Endivien’.


Our snow-white asparagus, often nicknamed ‘white gold’, is known around the world for its delicious flavour. It is a top-of-the-season product that we enjoy from April to the end of June. The asparagus season is a highlight on the foodie calendar.

White asparagus should be eaten as fresh as possible. A good test to find out if you’re dealing with fresh asparagus is to rub two asparagus together: if they make a squeaking sound, you can be sure they’re juicy and fresh. Asparagus comes in different sizes. They are categorised from very thick (AAA) to very skinny (C). The thinner the asparagus, the cheaper it is. The most slender asparagus are often used to make soup. The thickest ones tend to be served in restaurants. As far as we are concerned, from thick to thin, they taste just as delicious!

In Flanders, Limburg and the north of Antwerp are known as the number one region for cultivating asparagus: here the asparagus grows in typically sandy soil. This is the ideal soil because the asparagus can shoot up without much resistance from the light sandy soil and therefore grows perfectly straight. The sandy soil also warms up quickly with the first rays of spring sun, ensuring an early harvest. Asparagus is often still harvested by hand so as not to damage the vegetable. It’s a tough task that calls for a special knife to cut off the asparagus deep underground.

Malines Asparagus (Mechelse asperges) ©Koen Broos

Did you know?
Did you know that white and green asparagus are one and the same vegetable? The only difference is that the white asparagus is shielded from sunlight, so there is no photosynthesis and therefore no chlorophyll: hence the creamy white colour. The white asparagus grows under a mound of earth and therefore has an extremely delicate flavour with a hint of bitterness. Green asparagus, on the other hand, sticks its head out above the ground and grows in sunlight. Its taste is more akin to broccoli.

Culinary treats and Belgian Beer

Love of food and flavour is in a Fleming’s blood, and good taste is rooted in our DNA. In Flanders, food lovers taste flavors and dishes they can't find anywhere else, thanks to the variety in local products. We are living the good life.

Belgian endives