Why is the food in the low countries (Belgium, Netherlands) so bad compared to that of France, which is nearby?
This answer deals with the food culture in the Netherlands. *It wasn’t always like this. If you check medieval Dutch cookbooks, you’ll find that the Dutch were mostly a sweet porridge and pie country. As the Netherlands were/are mostly marshlands (not everything was polder yet), food would spoil quite quick. Drying foods as was common in other places worked for some things (like smoked fish), but not for everything. The solution was to either salt stuff for long storage, or to lace it with honey and sugar. Now if you factor in that salt was expensive‡ you get a country with a decidedly sweet tooth. Common things that survive from this age are “gevulde koek” (filled cookie) and “fries suikerbrood” (Frisian sugarbread)Through the centuries this changed a few times.During the golden age we started bringing in “specerijen”, herbs and spices from all over the world. It became fashionable to show of your wealth by putting a lot of them in the food. Some dishes would completely spill over with them. A good example of this is “Speculaas” which contains pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg, and sometimes anise.Over time this changed though. Once the golden age was over, the situation for common people was literally back to basics. Potatoes were brought in from the new world, and beans  became popular as they grew well in the Dutch soil. The country became poorer and malnutritioned, which resulted in the Dutch being known as some of the shortest people in Europe the late 17th century and the 18th century. This started with the rampjaar of 1672 when most of the Netherlands was conquered by the combined armies of Great Britain, France, and several large German states. We kicked them out again, but it broke the bank. From there till Napoléon the Netherlands stagnated. This is the time when Limburgse Vlaai started standardising in Limburg. It started as a poor man’s bread, where you take old bread, pound it flat, and fill it in with soft fruit. But by now, the bottom was purpose-baked, and the way how to treat the fruit had standardised.After the French occupation (1795 - 1813), the Netherlands was broke again, and seriously this time. This is the time where we lost a lot of castles because the state needed money, and could sell the bricks. While there certainly were still rich people in The Netherlands, these tended to focus on French cuisine, the poor on the other hand, were more and more pushed to more basic foods. Farmers doubled down on the crops that could feed the most people, while early industrialisation meant that a lot of people could not afford much. Combine that with early nutritionists deciding that we only needed to feed the body, not enjoy it, and we really get into the beans and the potatoes mentioned earlier. This is the time where the Dutch forgot how to cook. Oddly education made this worse. When kids started going to school in 1874 , girls would be taught cooking and other domestic skills as well. Of course the teaching has to reflect good Protestant values, and none of that debauched Catholic cooking from down south. Cookbooks were written which explained how to make different dishes with potatoes. Food was meant to fill you, not to treat your palate. Dishes like Stamppot, and “hete bliksem” were already known, but were now part of every woman’s repertoire. The defeat of the Dutch kitchen was complete.The Dutch Food Renaissance came in the early 20th century. As Indonesian and Chinese people from our colonies started to settle in the Netherlands, they brought their food with them. This resulted in the typically Dutch dish of “Babi panggang speciaal”, and nowadays there are literally Chinese restaurants to be found in even the smallest Dutch village. With other immigrants came other foods. In the 50’s Italians came to work here, and their pizzerias remained. The Spanish brought us tapas, the Greeks gyros, and the Turkish brought us doner.Nowadays, the food is very diverse again in the Netherlands, and it’s a fusion culture. Plenty of good food available.*) Edited to add: note that my answer above is about the Netherlands. Belgium, though also one of the Low Countries, has a very different history, and they only shared ours for a short time, with the result that their Bourgondian recipes managed to get through relatively unscathed. Something for which I’m glad, as Belgian food is awesome, and really shouldn’t be included in the question.Some people have brought up Michelin stars to compare the countries, which brings up the following:In either case, when counting Michelin stars per capita Belgium and France are quite close , while the Netherlands is falling behind (though not as bad as Germany, Spain, and Italy, which relevant to the question, are neighbours of France), which is the reason I focused on the Netherlands (whose culinary history I’m more familiar with as well)Also note that if we include Luxembourg , then the premise of the question is completely blown out of the water when counted on Michelin stars, as they wipe the floor with everyone except Japan.Footnotes Gevulde koek - Wikipedia Suikerbrood - Wikipedia Kaapse raasdonders - Wikipedia Rampjaar - Wikipedia Vlaai - Wikipedia The Potato Eaters - Wikipedia Kinderwetje van Van Houten - Wikipedia Stamppot - Wikipedia History of Michelin guide Low Countries - Wikipedia