I will forever associate the taste of coffee, ice cream, and whipped cream with one of life’s small perfect moments—sipping a café liegeois at an outdoor café overlooking Liège’s Place du Marché, the November sun shining on my face, my legs satisfyingly tired after a long day of walking and eating.
I had always kind of assumed it was a drink that had always been part of Belgian’s food heritage. A little research revealed a much more interesting story.
In August, 1914, the Belgian government was presented with an ultimatum—to either let the German troops march through Belgium to attack France or, well, to not. Liège was among the first cities in the Germans’ path and valiantly fought for twelve days against a much stronger army, allowing the French time to prepare their defense. France honored the Liégeois’ brave efforts by presenting the city of Liège with the Legion of Honor, the first time this had been bestowed on a foreign city.
Following the attack, Anti-German sentiment was so strong in France that they renamed several Parisian sites with Germanic names, including Rue de Berlin and the Berlin Station, which became Rue de Liège and Station de Liège. German shepherds (bergers allemands) were to be called Liège shepherds (bergers liégeois).
They eschewed other Germanic-sounding words, including a popular drink in Paris at the time, café viennois (or Viennese coffee). It became, you guessed it, café liégeois.
There were exhibits all over Belgium commemorating one hundred years since the outbreak of World War I while I was there, including an excellent one at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels (an excellent outing with kids, btw). Liège even had a pop-up exhibit on a bus in a local square.
From now on, not only will this drink make me sigh with the memory of that perfect moment on the Place du Marché, I’ll think of the WWI heroes who fought to defend their beautiful city and the country of my birth.
Here is the simple recipe. While some add a touch of alcohol to their café liégeois, I prefer it without.
Café Liégeois Recipe
- Coffee ice cream
- ½ cup cooled sweetened strong coffee or 2 shots cooled sweetened espresso
- Fresh whipped cream, slightly sweetened with sugar and a drop of vanilla essence
- Topping: Powdered cocoa, shaved chocolate, or crumbled speculoos (I used the incredible Marcolini hot chocolate)
- Put two scoops of coffee ice cream in a glass.
- Pour sweetened espresso or coffee over the ice cream.
- Top with fresh whipped cream.
- Sprinkle with powdered cocoa, shaved chocolate, or crumbled speculoos (or all three!)