Substantial Flemish Specialties.
The Flemish influence prevails in the region. Hence the very French pot-au-feu (boiled dinner) becomes carbonnade à la flamande, in which beef (or poultry), onions and beer are main ingredients. The marrow from beef bones is used in many recipes in the restaurants of Lille, or sometimes just served on rye bread toasts as an appetizer (cholesterol-watchers, please abstain!). Local farms raise rabbits, served with local mushrooms, and pigs for andouillettes de Cambrai (chitterling sausage). Endives and leeks are staples of northern cuisine: to make flamiche, leeks or onions are braised in cream and enclosed in puff pastry to form a robust dish. The yield from the potato fields around Dunkirk is turned into Europe’s best French fries.
The Gifts from the Sea and a Golden Brew.
The coast is a fish-lover's paradise and every village boasts a fish market with the freshest catch of turbot, scrod, sea bass, eel (often smoked), herring, mackerel, scallops and mussels. A standard item on local menus is a stew of mussels and leeks as well as waterzoï, a tasty fish soup that also derives from Flemish cuisine.
The farmers of Nord and Pas de Calais cultivate hops, the crucial ingredient in beer. Not surprisingly, this is the region's the favorite drink (its “gold”), which comes in many variations, some flavored with juniper berries.
Northern cheese trays all include maroilles, created by local monks and appreciated by kings in both France and Spain. Other specialties are Boulette de Cambrai and Gris de Lille. Deserts include a wide variety of crèpes, fruit-filled pies, waffles and chocolate hearts in Arras, and the famous bétises (blunders) de Cambrai, a hard mint confection created by mistake in 1800 by a local baker’s apprentice.