A Tale of Two Waffles

22 Comments 07 October 2010

The great waffle debate - Brussels vs. Liege

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.

Mobile Waffles

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.

Liege Waffle dough

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!

Calorie intake?


Not real sure about this...

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.

The winner!

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?

Your Comments

22 Comments so far

  1. John says:

    In Belgium, waffles are the food that ensures that ice cream vans are used all year round, instead of being parked up in winter. When it is cold the waffles sell themselves, as you the smell of waffle making entices prospective customers. In summer our minds are programmed to see out ice cream, although you can often choose a waffle if you wish.
    Me, I prefer the Liege waffle to eat on the street and the Brussels waffle with ice cream.

    • admin says:

      Ha – even in August I thought it was too cold in Belgium to have ice cream! I’m a whimp! However – you make a very good point in ice cream van efficiency!

  2. Mark H says:

    I, too had my waffle experiences with ice-cream. Thinking back, I have no idea if what I had was a Liege or Brussels waffle nor the subtle differences between the two. Maybe I should have done a little more on the job learning and sampled a few more.

  3. Donna Hull says:

    I had no idea that there were so many different types of waffles. I know what I’ll be doing when I finally visit Belgium.

  4. Jenny says:

    OMG that statue is hilarious. Sometimes when I travel I’m all “WTF?” is that!?! Thank god for cameras. The world is an interesting place.

    • admin says:

      I’m so glad someone gets my sense of humor. I literally stood there looking at it thinking…do people see what I see? Ewwwww!!!!

  5. Anil says:

    Learned 3 new things about waffles! I never took notice of the differences when I was there many years back, clearly more research is needed :)

  6. Claudia says:

    I really loved this post and laughed out loud on the waffle and the Mannekin Pis comment. You are really funny. I am heading to Brussels for New Years and am really happy about it. Keep up the good work.

  7. Boggy says:

    I had my first waffle (brussels) in 1964 at the fair and spent the next 40+ years trying to find one that even came close.

    I was lucky enough to be given a copy of the Vermersch recipe and tried it. It was spot-on. I then tried the Bel-Gem waffle mix from Williams_Sonoma. That too was spot-on. The climax came last year when I happened upon a “Waffels and Dinges” truck in NYC, operated by a member of the Vermersch family. I’m a happy waffle-eating sonofagun now!

  8. Janine says:

    I know this is an old site (2010) but I thought I would comment anyhow.
    Please…realize that most of the waffles offered in the chain (or other) restaurants in the US are nothing even close to true Belgian waffles ( Liége or Brussels). They are nothing more than a pancake batter baked in a waffle iron instead of cooked in a fry pan.
    Heavy dough, then of course covered witn syrup or other disguise.
    Please, just call them waffles, but don’t use the title “Belgian”

    • Sherry says:

      It’s an old post – but it’s a completely active site – so thanks for your comment. I absolutely realize that what we have in America is not normally the traditional Belgian waffle! Hopefully the article taught a few people that too. Waffles, frites, and beer is why I travel to Belgium!

    • Hi Janine,
      Maybe you don’t live in an area that has authentic Belgian waffle restaurants. Since the early 2000’s, Liege waffles started becoming popular in the US mostly due to the Waffle Cabin. They have 22+ locations mostly at ski resorts across the Northeast. Also in NYC, Wafels and Dinges has been operating since around 2007 selling very good authentic Liege and Brussels waffles. They have 7 food trucks/stands and 2 retail locations. In every major city, there is usually at least 1 authentic Belgian waffle stand or food truck. Caffebene is also making big inroads in LA and NYC selling coffee, Liege waffles, gelato, and sandwiches. Things are definitely changing.

      We started our Liege waffle dough manufacturing wholesale business this year and we’re supplying restaurants, cafes, skiresorts, ice cream shops, froyo shops, etc… with authentic Liege waffle dough. Hopefully we’ll get a customer near you so that you can enjoy the real thing. We’re serving mostly the Northeast market, but we’re starting to get customers in the midwest and west coast. We’re trying to elevate the quality of the Liege waffles in the US by selling a real butter all natural dough. As far as we know, all imported dough from Belgium is made from very low quality cheap margarine that has transfats. Eventually we’ll be selling retail as well with a truly artisan dough. Stay tuned!

      “Authentic Liege Waffle Dough Wholesale Manufacturer/Distributor”

  9. David says:

    Are they eaten hot and at room temp?

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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