Belgium: the land of waffles, chocolate, and beer… and apparently smoutebollen. If you’re thinking “WTF are smoutebollen?” don’t worry, I was in the same boat up until about 3 weeks ago when I was feverishly researching where to eat before my trip to Belgium.
Smoutebollen are fried dough balls, sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. Plain and simple. However, the secret touch is that beer is infused into the dough. Those sneaky Belgians.
I read online that Desiré de Lille – a café and tearoom in Antwerp – featured smoutebollen on their menu, so after some wandering through the city, I decided that I was ready to gain some calories. Smoutebollen translates to “lard balls” in Flemish, they are known as oliebollen (oil balls) in the Netherlands, and croustillons (crunchies) in France. GOOD BYE WAIST LINE!
I took a seat in the tearoom’s outdoor area and resolutely ordered a cappuccino and a portion of smoutebollen. The coffee was below average, but it did come with a tiny waffle bite, which I appreciated. I ordered the smoutebollen thinking that I would get a bowl of 4 small dough balls, but damn was I wrong. The waitress brought out a bowl of 7 – I repeat SEVEN – golf-ball sized spheres of fried goodness. Maybe this is meant to be shared…
When the waitress saw the look on my face, she smirked a little. I couldn’t tell if she was thinking, “You total fatty!” or “I bet you can’t handle this!” or a combination of the two judgemental thoughts. But guess what my dear, I ate them ALL!
The smoutebollen weren’t sickly sweet nor were they too heavy. They were delightfully light and airy with a soft, moist (yeah, I said it), and slightly chewy texture. Coupled with the powdered sugar, they made for an indulgent afternoon snack. Fantastic stuff! I made my way through the bowl, slowly savouring each doughy ball and ensuring that before every new bite, a little more powdered sugar was wiped away.
When the waitress came to clear the table, I asked her about smoutebollen and she said that they are typically found at fairs and Christmas markets across the country, but otherwise you need to know where to find them. And let me tell you, I’m so glad that I did! Smoutebollen are definitely a once-in-a-while YOLO kind of treat, but when on holiday in Belgium it would be silly not to!
Note: At the corner of Schoenmarkt and Schrijnwerkersstraat in Antwerp, there is a little take away version of Desiré de Lille where you can get smoutebollen for the road. This disoriented me at first because I was expecting a sit-in venue, but if you walk midway down Schrijnwerkersstraat, you’ll find the full-sized tearoom.