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Read all about it: our pick of books about Belgium

18:46 13/01/2015
A round-up of recent English-language books celebrating the quirky, the tasty and the not-to-be missed about this country that’s full of surprises

Barak Friture
Barak Friture offers a loving tribute to what used to be a linchpin of small-town Belgium – the frietkoten or roadside chip stands that are fast disappearing from local streets. For this bite-size photo book, Jesse Willems, a self-taught Antwerp photographer, visited 80 frietkoten across the country over a year. In his muted, melancholy pictures, these vans and shacks stand solemnly, sometimes decidedly uninvitingly on often abandoned roads. The result is that with every rundown, uninspiring chip stand that Willems rescues from oblivion, it becomes clearer and clearer that, heritage or not, these shops have become something of a quaint, anachronistic quirk in the modern Belgian landscape. LAT

Belgique Excentrique
A perfect arty coffee table book, Belgique Excentrique invites you on a colourful, fun and, at times, flamboyant journey into 16 Belgian homes, each one capturing the contributors’ personalities and style in every room. Exquisite full-length photographs fill the pages, with a new visual treat at each turn. The fact that the text is all in English, Dutch and French helps create an inclusive vibe and lets you learn about the home dwellers and their collections in detail. After reading, we guarantee you will feel inspired to try some interior designing of your own. RB

The 500 Hidden Secrets of Flanders Fields and the Belgian Coast
If you’re looking to explore hidden Belgium, this is the book for you. Former Bulletin editor Derek Blyth follows up his guide to secret Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent with a whole host of lesser-known spots to visit in West Flanders, ranging from lonely World War One trenches and graveyards to seaside museums and romantic coffee shops. With recommended accommodation, bars, chic cafes and places to indulge in Belgian beer and cuisine, you will be in no doubt about the places to head to on your trip. The inclusion of sections such as “The Five most famous Ypres survivors” and “The five most significant women” add a personal touch and are an interesting addition to the book. RB

The Bright Side of Belgium
The result of a collaboration between a handful of editors, photographers and graphic designers, The Bright Side of Belgium is evidence of a growing but still subdued sentiment that it’s time for locals to drop the act, and their innate modesty, and just say it – Belgium is worth it. This 500-page coffee-table book zooms in on 10 of the country’s most interesting and vibrant cities and regions. Each chapter covers the same themes – architecture, parks and squares, art, culture, shopping, food, accommodation and noteworthy spots just a bit further down the road. The stunning photos are complemented by colourful and cheeky illustrations that help readers make sense of the wealth of information. LAT

What’s Cooking in Belgium
When it comes to food, the Belgians tend to take certain things for granted: fresh bread is always just around the corner, the meats and cheeses are good enough to eat raw and for €3 or less you can sample the world’s finest beer in any given cafe. This modesty often results in Belgian cuisine being reduced to chocolate, beer and Brussels sprouts. Until now, that is. What’s Cooking in Belgium: Recipes and Stories from a Food-Loving Nation, devoted to local cuisine, was written by Brussels-based British expats Anna Jenkinson and Neil Evans, who attempt to remedy this situation by painting a portrait of the history and culture of Belgium through its food. It’s not an exhaustive anthology but a carefully assembled collection of Belgian delights, from stoofvlees to speculoos. Accompanying the recipes are vignettes that place the dishes in context. Whether it’s a description of the annual Golden Throwing of the Chicken Leg from the windows of Londerzeel’s town hall or the fact that the average Belgian consumes 6.5kg of witloof each year, the book is filled with fascinating facts that round out the story of local food. And while Belgium is by no means a vegetarian’s paradise, Evans, the chef of the duo, has given a few useful tips on how to change some classic dishes into veggie-friendly meals. KD

Beautiful Belgium
In Beautiful Belgium, Canadian travel writer and photographer Alison Cornford-Matheson shares a glimpse of the country she has called home since 2005. Through her vivid photographs and digital art, she captures everything that’s bright and beautiful about the country. She explains: “After being asked repeatedly if I sold the photos I share on my website, CheeseWeb, I decided to collect my favourites in a book, creating a souvenir for those living temporarily in Belgium that is both beautiful and portable.” It’s available through her website, and Amazon UK

All books except Beautiful Belgium are published by Luster

Written by Linda A Thompson, Rachida Brocklehurst & Katy Desmond