Key to the cuisine of Belgium is its beers, best discovered in the native setting of the estaminet, or cafe. At home, beer often is served at both lunch and dinner, with a witbier or lighter brew to accompany a lunch of bread, cheeses and charcuterie. The more robust beers, such as Abbey or Trappist ales, are reserved for heartier dinner meals of roast game, steaks, and the ever-present frites, or Belgian fried potatoes.

Beer is important to the food and cooking of Belgium for several reasons. First, the culinary heritage of Belgium is medieval and monastic: vinegar and dried fruits are still used to obtain delicate balances of sweet and sour notes in entrees and side dishes; while spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, bayleaf, ginger and saffron began to appear in Belgian cookery of the Middle Ages.

In a grain-growing region, Belgian monasteries and hostelries relied on beer, not wine, to serve with food. The tradition still stands today, with good culinary reason. Rich Belgian frites and steak are cut by the acidity of beer and the pungent ripened cheeses and peppery mustards won't erase the carbonated, quenching quality of a beer. Bitter greens, such as chicory and marinated red cabbage, give piquancy to roast fowl, and demand in turn an equally assertive beverage.

Today, the revival of artisanal breweries in Belgium is spurring modern chefs to experiment with beer cuisine. Since the average Belgian drinks over 150 liters of beer per year, suffice it to say that cuisine a la biere has found a welcoming audience.