Summary: Food for the aristocratic and working man alike
We can carve up the Mosan Valley in a variety of different shapes. The region spans four different cultural spheres, encompassing most of Wallonia, parts of France, the Netherlands, and Germany. The rugged landscape of the Ardennes Forest covers much of the valley and defines its way of life. My delineation of the region focuses more on the political realities of previous centuries, namely the territories of the Prince-Bishops of Liege. At its heart, we have a multi-cultural environment prospering in a remote corner of Europe. We have all characteristics of a regional cuisine that is hearty and rich for the working masses but also elevated enough for the aristocracy.
A common theme for this region is that of fruit. Not any fruit, though, the orchards of the Ardennes and Eifel did not traditionally sustain the tasty apples and pears we buy at the market today. Instead, the rough landscape produced small and sour fruits that the modern palette would find unpalatable. To make the fruits edible, they were either boiled or distilled. In the Eifel and Mosel Valley, they turned these fruits into wine. In the Mosan Valley, they were turned into syrup.
Sirop de Liège (Syrup of Liege)
Though it claims to be a product of the city of Liege, it is more broadly a regional product that can be found in the Dutch (Appelstroop) and German (Apfelkraut) speaking parts of the region as well. The version from Liege incorporates pears into the syrup instead of just apple. Unlike American varieties, traditional syrups have no added sugar and may pride themselves on the many kilograms of fruit required to produce even a tiny portion of syrup.
The syrup is made by boiling the fruit until it begins to fall apart. The fruit paste is then passed through a mesh, and the remaining liquid is then reduced until it reaches the desired thickness. It typically requires about 8kg of fruit to produce 1 kg of syrup. See the simple recipe below:
The sweet, fruity syrup goes with anything and everything. You can use it on toast, waffles, or even in unexpected places like Belgium’s national dish, the meatball.
Boulets à la Liégeoise (Belgian Meatball)
The most widely known use of the apple syrup is probably in one of Belgium’s national dishes: Boulets à la Liégeoise. The apple syrup does not go into the meatball but rather into the sauce, known as Sauce Lapin, after its presumed inventor Madame Géraldine Lapin. The sauce uses the sweetness of the syrup with vinegar and onion to create a rich base for what is an otherwise simple meal for the average man. The meatballs are differentiated by their size, which are traditionally quite large, and served by themselves or with french fries.
For my recipe, though by no means the official one, see the link below:
Gaufre de Liège (Liege Waffle)
Another one of Belgium’s specialties is the waffle, and much like sausages in Germany, these take on a regional flair. The Liege waffle is a version that was, according to legend, created by the princely court in Liege, presumably to accompany his delicious fruit syrup. The waffle features a brioche dough combined with sugar crystals, which do not dissolve into the dough. When eaten, these give the waffles a rich texture and a light sugary crunch. These are objectively the superior waffle.
For the official recipe, as declared by the city of Liege:
It is hard to mention the food and drink of Belgium without talking about beer. Beer has its origins in the region’s monasteries, which is essential to note, as the Mosan Valley had a lot of monasteries. The Prince-Archbishop of Liege was a theocratic state and actively supported the monastic estates in the region. Though every monastery in the area was put to the torch by French Revolutionary armies, the tradition of beer brewing lived on.
There are a lot of beers in the region, though nothing quite as famous or particular as the Trappist ales found in the north of Belgium. The most typical beer you will encounter will be a Blonde Ale, a style of beer imported from the United States. A more traditional beer would have likely resembled the standard German Pilsner.
There are a lot of amazing foods and dishes to try in Belgium. Less well known are the many regional specialties of Wallonia. The Mosan Valley merges the well-known traditions of Belgium with the realities of the landscape and the traditions of its aristocratic court. There are many other unique favors to try here, and this is only just a taste of what the region has to offer.