The Cuisine of Lille
Lille offers an eclectic mis of Flemish, French and international cuisine
You can find almost all types of national and international cooking in French Flaners and especially in the very cosmopolitan city of Lille. Not that France itself does not contribute heftily to the well-being of the taste bud. Indeed, French culinary diversity is very much inspired by France’s variety of landscape and locally farmed produce and Lille is no exception.
What a shame it would be to miss out on typically Flemish dishes that make the cuisine of French Flanders so unique. If you see dishes on the menu with names that are almost impossible to pronounce, such as Pot’je vleesch or Flamich aux Zermezeelois, you can be sure that these are of Flemish origin.
Ingredients such as prunes, raisins, brown sugar, chicory and beer (especially Bière des Trois Monts) find their way into much of the Flemish cooking.
The cuisine actually includes soup a bière – beer soup, pâte à la bière – beer pate and even beer flavoured ice-cream. Unsurprisingly, Flemish beer is also one of the region’s most popular liquid refreshment. When the meal is over, traditionally, it will be completed with a glass of genever or coffee spiced with a little chicory.
The cheeses served tend to be local cheeses, such as the highly pungent Maroilles, with powerful flavours. Flamiche au Maroilles, a creamy, very flavoursome quiche, is probably the most famous cheese dish of Northern France. Many a cheese tart is made with it, served both hot and cold. One example is the flamkuche. This has a crusty base topped with melted cheese, as well as oinions and lardons (small pieces of ham). When it has been served, roll it up and eat it with your fingers. Ideally it should be washed down with a glass of Belgian of French beer.
Most restaurants will offer Flemish dishes, distinguishable by their tongue twisting names. Some still have chitterling sausages, beef or chicken bouillon, rabbit with raisins, prunes or mustard, pigeon, black pudding, pig trotters, sorrel soup, pumpkin soup and even fat-bacon soup included on their menus.
For authenticity though, it is worth seeking out an estaminet, the Walloon word for a rustic style café. When you enter an estaminet and you eye the old world décor, simple dark wood furniture, ceilings and walls enlivened with dried hops, antique pots, pans and old musical instruments you know you are witnessing a snapshot of a bygone Flemish age.
At an estaminet you can enjoy typically Flemish food serviced in a typically Flemish décor and in a very relaxed atmosphere where there are no expectations. Enjoy a beer or two, perhaps an entire meal and if you run out of conversation, feel free to pick up one of the old traditional Flemish board games lying around, such as ‘billard Nicolas’ and ‘grenouilles’ to help pass and agreeably leisurely time.