While Brussels receives more attention as an EU capital than as a gastronomic destination, that’s no reason to ignore the culinary delights that abound in the small city. Brussels is sandwiched between the Dutch and French regions of Belgium, and its eclectic history blossoms around every corner. Its culinary prowess follows suit.
Gone is the restrained construction and technique of French cuisine. You can forget about finding purely Dutch treats; the dishes you’ll find in Brussels combine both regions with delicate notes in give-me-more style. What else would you expect in a city known for its chocolate, French fries, and beer?
Pomme frites from Frit Flagey (or any fritkot you find!)
We might call them “French fries” in the States, but these crispy potatoes are actually from Belgium. You’ll see and smell the bruxellois passion for them as soon as you leave your accommodation: A fritkot, a street stand that serves fries, is never far away. Frit’Flagey, in Ixelles, is a brief walk outside of the city center and is a favorite with locals. Use your best French to order a small cone of frites with some mayonnaise on top (a must in Belgium). As you pierce the fries with a small fork, marvel at how twice-frying the potatoes produces a fluffy inside and crispy outside. You’ll be happy a small order of fries in Brussels could pass for a large in another city!
Belgian Waffle (or speculoos biscuit) from Maison Dandoy
If the term “Belgian waffle” has you thinking of the bloated and soggy breakfast food served at diners across America, you’ll be delighted to discover that waffles in Brussels bear little resemblance to their Stateside incarnations. Head to Maison Dandoy just off the Grand Place to try a freshly made one. You won’t need a map; just follow the scent of gently burning sugar and butter. Waffles in Brussels fall into two categories: the crazy tourist variety topped with everything, and the comparatively restrained local version, eaten plain or topped with a dollop of chocolate sauce. Order the liege waffle, which is coated in pearl sugar and eaten by hand. If you’re still not enthused, try a speculoos biscuit.
While Godiva represents Belgian chocolate in the U.S., there are plenty of chocolatiers in Brussels to make you forget those golden boxes. Chocolate shops dot the area around the Grand Place, and you can create a mighty tasting tour by stopping and buying a few pieces at each. If you can’t decide where to start, head to Leonidas on the Rue au Beurre; Neuhaus on the Grand Place; or Mary’s Chocolate on Rue du Roi. The chocolates range from classic ganaches and rich pralines to speculoos-filled truffles and marzipan covered in chocolate.
La fin de siècle
Given the influence of well-heeled members of European parliament, dining well in Brussels can be expensive. Yet just because you don’t have an expense account doesn’t mean that the city’s classic cuisine is out of your reach. Head to La fin de siècle near Sainte Catherine, a bustling bistro with an authentic feel. The menu changes frequently and everything on offer is written on a chalkboard menu by the bar. Meat is abundant here, but there are a few vegetarian and lighter options as well. You can’t go wrong with the sausages and mashed potatoes (stoemp saucisses de campagne) or the lighter warm goat cheese salad (salade au chevre chaud). Whatever you choose, be sure to wash it down with a beer from their ample selection. After all, when in Belgium
Belgium is also famous for its beer, and you’d do yourself a disservice to not sample the local varieties when in the country. Whether you head to Delirium Café, which stocks upwards of two thousand beer varieties, or stop by the Belgian Brewer’s museum, you’ll discover a variety you never knew could exist in beer. There’s Geuze, a double fermented lambic that has a sour and sometimes musty flavor. Those who like something sweet can choose Kriek, a beer infused with sour cherries. For a more familiar, yet still unique flavor, try a Delirium Tremens beer, which comes in an opaque bottle and is brewed using three different yeasts. The resulting flavor is sweet, yeasty, and strongly carbonated. Just remember to pace yourself as you sample the range of Belgian beers; they’re stronger than normal beers with ABVs of around eight or nine percent.
Emilia Morano-Williams is a special contributor to The Daily Meal.