Most of us, when we hear Belgium. waffles, think of a thick waffle made out of the same mix you use for pancakes. Often, the thick waffle is covered with syrup, fruit, and whipped cream. We assume that because they are called Belgium waffles, they originate in the country of Belgium. That is not quite true.
Belgium waffles came to America at the 1962 Seattle World's fair. The Belgian proprietor, Walter Cleyman and his family, had sold them at the 1958 World's fair in Belgium and secured a spot here. During the run, they sold over 500,000 during the run of the fair and when it was done, he licensed the waffle to a local pancake house. Apparently, Cleyman visited a local Waffle House to try an American waffle. He pronounced it good but he preferred his own version better.
Then at the 1964-65 World's Fair in Queens, New York another Belgian, Maurice Vermersch, offered the Brussels waffle for sale. This version used yeast to create a light and fluffy product served plain or with fresh sliced strawberries and whipped cream. The waffle was so popular, they sold up to 2500 per day. Since most people had no idea that Brussels was the capital of Belgium, let alone its location, the family renamed them Bel-gem waffles.
The waffles made their jump to American diners where they were soon made out of pancake mix. Unfortunately, the product is not as good as the originals and is covered in butter and fruit to make it what we eat today.
In Belgium, waffles are more of a street food eaten with their hands so the Vermersch's refused to pass out forks and knives because that is not how these waffles are eaten. In fact, you'll find two different types of waffles in Belgium, both are eaten widely there.
First is the square Brussels waffle made from a yeast leavened batter, cooked in a cast iron waffle maker. This creates a light, fluffy, crispy waffle easily eaten by hand. The other type of waffle referred to as the Leige waffle, from the city of Leige in Belgium. This oval waffle is made from a sweet Brioche type dough with thick pearl sugar spheres folded in and the dough is cooked in a waffle iron. It is much denser, chewier, and sweeter than the Brussels waffle.
What is interesting is the word waffle is first mentioned in Belgium literature back in the 1600's but Belgium waffle does not appear until the 1830's or 1840's. According to UNESCO, waffles were first made in the medieval times by people who sold them outside the churches in Belgium. During the 19th century, many families opened small shops or booths to sell these marvelous waffles to the public. Some even opened a tea room or gauferies on the coast. Over the years, the types of waffles spread across the European continent until it jumped across the ocean in the early 1960's and the rest is history.
Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear. Have a great day.