What’s missing from this photo of delicious Belgian frites being made? Yes, that’s right: Belgian pickles to dip your frites into. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Regional Signal

The mystery of Belgian pickles


Belgian frites—known as fries outside of Belgium—are world famous.

The country is renowned for its version of these tasty potato-based treats (the “special” Belgian treatment involves frying the potatoes twice, and using oil made from a mix of horse and cow fat).

Almost all visitors to Belgium will try frites, dipped into one of the many unusual sauces on offer, such as andalouse, samurai and joppieaus.

But very few visitors are aware of Belgian pickles and their unique taste offering.

Belgian Pickles can be served with pretty much anything—including frites, of course—though they go particularly well with appetizers such as cheese or with warm dishes such as sausages or mashed potatoes, according to Devos-Lemmens, one of the best-known producers of Belgian pickles.

The basic ingredients in a jar of Belgian pickles consist of crunchy pieces of cauliflower, gherkin, pearl onion and cornichons.

These are pickled and preserved with mustard and vinegar, and seasoned and coloured with the likes of mustard, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper and turmeric to “create a unique taste sensation”, says Devos-Lemmens.

While the taste is undoubtedly uniquely striking, Belgian pickles are likely inspired by the English version of “piccalilli”, which was a 19th-century adaptation of an Indian recipe, notes the Belgian website streekproduct.be.

Versions of this piccalilli are found in English cookbooks from the 18th century, in which an Indian “pickle” recipe consists of finely chopped and salted vegetables prepared with mustard.

This piccalilli became hugely popular in England and was invariably served with the quintessentially English “ploughman’s lunch“.

Piccalilli was likely introduced to Belgium around the early 1900s by several mustard makers/vinegar companies who, streekproduct.be says, saw an opportunity in the English Piccalilli because Belgians have a thing for sour, bitter tastes (sour beers are popular in Belgium).

“Belgian pickles are therefore distinctly sour and less sweet than the English, Asian and American versions,” notes streekproduct.be.

Other producers of Belgian pickles include Camp’s, Bister, Tierenteyn and l’Etoile.

The head of the construction team who built the Brussels Signal offices swears by the Belgian pickles made by Bister.

You heard it here first.