BELGIANS love to eat. They always did, long before the modern nation was born. Look at the realistic paintings of Flemish masters like Breughel; note those hearty burghers and beefy peasants facing enormous platters of sustaining dishes. That heritage of fine food remains a feature of Belgian life. Just as street vendors in Hong Kong tempt pedestrians with snacks, so do the hawkers of Ostend, Antwerp, Mons, Liege and Namur. It is truly a moveable feast: a packet of sizzling fried chips, which anyone will insist is a Belgian invention; a tub of snails, dripping butter; a quick stop for a waffle eaten on the sidewalk; sausages, of all persuasions. The towns are studded with restaurants. Just as Flemings differ from the Dutch and Walloons from the French, so their cuisines are separated from neighbouring countries, although culinary legacies plainly exist. Flemings enjoy a hotpot of herb-flavoured stock with meat and vegetables cooked in the saucepan. Every province and city used to have its regional specialties but, as motor cars took over from slow barges and horse-drawn wagons, the fare became more homogenised. Delicious in all its guises, the food still offers a variety of dishes with close links to the land, harbours and the low beaches of the North Sea. Notable are mussels, a pillar of the Flemish kitchen. Mussels and chips are a source of pride and an appetising meal. The herring that swarm in the cold waters come to the table steamed, marinated, grilled, smoked, cured or with onion, red wine or mustard sauce. Soup is a feature of any meal. Every locality has its pride, with carrots, cauliflower, watercress and other vegetables featuring as main ingredients.