The Pursuit of Waffles

Originally published on

One thing excited me when we decided to go to Belgium for our first weekend trip. The waffles.

Whatever your preferred breakfast place in Oxford—  Patterson’s, First Stop, the Starbuck’s in Kroger’s — I’m sure you’ve had a good waffle or two (or 12) over the past years. I used to think a brunch at Patterson’s that included a Belgian waffle was the best there was. I was wrong.

When I say the only thing I was excited for in Belgium was the waffles, I’m being completely serious. We were staying in Brussels, where, as far as I’m concerned, the only claim to fame is waffles, chocolate, beer and a disappointingly small statue of a peeing boy. The architecture is beautiful, seeing the Grand Place at night made my jaw drop, and there really are chocolate shops on every block. But upon waking up on Friday morning, before I even got out of bed, I knew it was going to be a good day because one English class and train ride later, there was a waffle waiting for me.

I am in no way a food connoisseur. Not only am I one of the pickiest eaters you will ever meet, but I’m also the least daring eater on the face of the planet. I was raised on microwavable vegetables, chicken in dozens of sauces, Bagel Bites and Easy Mac, and I couldn’t have been happier. 

After our group ditched our backpacks at the hostel, we set out in search of waffles for dinner. In America, there are fast food restaurants on every corner. In Brussels, everywhere you look there’s a small cafe or restaurant selling waffles. American waffles come dripping with syrup and, as one website put it, are more like pancakes made on a waffle iron than real waffles.  True Belgian waffles are street food, meant to be eaten with your hands, not with a fork.

They’re made with more yeast than flour, a difference that I could only explain in cooking lingo if I were Julia Child or Rachel Ray. All I know is that it makes them fluffier, richer and better.  Syrup isn’t needed because they’re sweet enough completely plain.

In less than 48 hours in Belgium, I ate four waffles. The first had pools of warm Nutella in its perfect squares. When my friend Luke asked me how it was, the only thing I could muster was, “Like heaven.” The second and third were topped with whipped cream and had strawberries and kiwi, respectively. And, right before we caught our train back to Luxembourg, my friend Leah and I grabbed our fourth and final waffles — plain with powdered sugar. Of the five meals I ate that weekend, only one wasn’t a waffle.

Food is such an important part of so many cultures — dim sum in China, pasta in Italy, haggis in Scotland, burgers in the U.S. In this global society, the cuisine of the entire world is available just down the block. But it never occurred to me that my go-to food for brunch was subpar, an impostor, nowhere near as delectable as the real deal. Just because it looks like a Belgian waffle doesn’t mean it is a Belgian waffle. The real thing was better than I could have imagined.