The first Friday of August is International Beer Day, so what better time to celebrate Leuven? While Germany may have the quality, Holland the diversity, and the UK the beer-drinking tradition, this Belgian city lays claim to the ultimate title: worldwide, Leuven is known as the ‘Beer Capital of the World’!

Over the centuries, it has been home to more than 40 breweries, thanks to its relative prosperity. Here, where residents could afford to be generous with their grain, a tradition of rich, softly-flavoured beers put the local brewers head and shoulders above their competition…

In the mid-18th century, there were no less than 42 breweries in the city; by the early 2000s, 30 were still active. Though not all have survived to the present day, Leuven is nevertheless still home to both domestic favourite Domus, and the multinational AB Inbev –the originator of the world-famous Stella Artois.

Of course there are other drinks – and dishes – on the local menu; both coffee and chocolate are also big business in this riverside city. But though the beer may take centre stage, there’s plenty of great food to enjoy alongside your ale…

whats eaten2A favourite with the roughly 100,000 students in the city, the traditional local pistolet is cheap, cheerful, and served everywhere. The name itself refers both to the crunchy roll base and also to the snack – a sort of sandwich filled with cheese and ham or, if you’ve a little more to spend, raw beef spread or home-made boulettes (meatballs).

For the more traditional gourmets, there are classics such as shrimp croquettes, beef tartare, or Flemish stew (made from beef or pork and roasted onions). You’ll also find endives rolled in ham and topped with cheese sauce, along with Flemish-style asparagus (white asparagus served with diced boiled eggs, warm butter and parsley), and paling in ’t groen (eel in green sauce).

Of course Belgian waffles are always going to make the menu: thicker than their American counterparts, the local version includes yeasted batter, crunchy pearl sugar, and egg whites, and are made with extra deep holes – perfect for absorbing mounds of home-made jam or cream!

However, try as you might, you’ll never fully escape the beer; many of the dishes make liberal use of the city’s best-loved beverage! Beer conch chowder is a local favourite, a thick soup of fresh conch and vegetables, heavy cream, and a floral Belgian beer that’s simmered on the stove for hours. Beer stew (usually made with beef cooked in local ale) is another hoppy dish. And Leuven’s chicken fricassée usually involves some sort of ale marinade. Even the sweets in this, the Beer Capital of the World, aren’t entirely hop-free: they’re known as bierbollen candy, a name that speaks for itself!