Belgium Unlocked

Stoofvlees: Belgium's favourite dish?

Stoofvlees: Belgium's favourite dish?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If it looks like goulash but doesn't quite smell or taste like goulash, then if you're in Belgium there's a fair chance that what you're eating isn't actually goulash but, rather, its distant Flemish cousin: stoofvlees, otherwise known as stoverij or, in French, carbonade flamande.

Stoofvlees, which literally translates to 'stew meat', is as quintessentially Belgian as its ingredients, which include sirop de Liège (Luikse stroop in Flemish, a fruity jelly-like spread) and dark Belgian beer (Sint Bernardus Abt 12, Maredsous Rochefort 10, Chimay Bleue, and Westmalle Dubbel all do very nicely).

Further enhancing its overall Belgian-ness, stoofvlees is traditionally served with the country's favourite side dish (frietjes, or chips) and sauce (mayonnaise, obviously), as well as dark Belgian beer.

No place like home

Stoofvlees may not just be Belgium's most Belgian dish; it might also be its most popular one. In a 2015 poll conducted by Belgian celebrity chef Jeroen Meus, stoofvlees was named Belgians' favourite food, far ahead of other culinary classics such as witloof (Belgian endives), vol-au-vent (puff pastry with a chicken and mushroom filling), and steak frites with Béarnaise sauce.

Although it is popular throughout the country, stoofvlees is especially beloved by Dutch-speaking Belgians. A 2021 survey found that it was the most well-known dish in Flanders, with 93% of Flemings having previously heard of it – far ahead of second-place vol-au-vent (88%) and third-place witloof (85%). The survey revealed that more than half (54%) of all Flemish households eat stoofvlees at least once a month.

The same survey found that the overwhelming majority of people in Flanders (86%) learn how to cook stoofvlees either from their parents or grandparents. Consequently, they tend to strongly associate it with home and especially family, a fact which has been anecdotally corroborated by many in the region.

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"Proper stoofvlees is when your grandmum makes it for you," said Sander Villers, a sound engineer originally from Aalst. "The stuff you get at your local frietkot is mediocre in comparison."

In addition to being deceptively tasty, the dish is very easy to make with an initial prep time of around 15 minutes. As with most stews, however, it is highly recommended that you allow the flavours to blend for several hours. If possible, leave the prepared meal to 'stand' overnight.

Three other crucial tips. First, don't be tempted to use any vegetables other than onions (if you are desperate to eat something healthy, make a separate salad). Second, you should stick to using only one kind of beer for the sauce. Third, the beer you cook with should also be the beer you serve it with.

Here is a recipe that we strongly recommend. Smakelijk and bon appétit!

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