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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Belgium a country fashioned in its present form in 1839, is made up of a Flemish part in the north and a Walloon (French-speaking) part in the south, plus the bilingual capital Brussels in the centre. The division is not just between languages. The scenery differs (flat in the north, mountainous in the south) and so do the pattern of employment, indices of wealth, birth rates, and—perhaps most important—personality profiles.

The factors that have determined much of Belgium’s gastronomy lie in its geography. It is more than just a metaphoric crossroads, for its place as the outward conduit of all the wealth and activity of Germany and inland Europe, as well as being the point of entry for importations and new discoveries as they found their way to the continent from the world beyond, gave rise to those two great entrepots, Bruges and Antwerp—and were the foundation of great wealth and prosperity. It was its geography, too, that dictated its political trajectory: a centre of Frankish power and expansion, part of the richest commercial region of medieval northern Europe, ruled by the dukes of Burgundy and then the kings of Spain, conquest by post-revolutionary France, all before a slightly unlikely and sometimes fragile independence.