If you ask me, Brussels is synonymous with four things: Tintin, Manneken Pis, chocolates, waffles, and fries. Oh that's five things.
Now since this is a food blog, I'll leave the reporter and the peeing boy alone, and focus on food in Brussels! Wait, I'm going to leave the waffles out too, because I really couldn't say if one was better than the other - they're everywhere, and they all taste just as good, so go anywhere, and you'll be just fine.
Here are a few delicious recommendations for everything from moules frites to chocolate mousse.
Frites - Single, double, sometimes triple fried, with oh so much sauce squeezed on top, Brussels sure knows how to treat a potato right! We had the fries in this photo at Fritland, close to Grand Place, and chose the spicy Samurai sauce with them. Absolute killer where fat and calories are concerned, but a delight where the tastebuds are.
Frikandel - Now I'd never heard of a frikandel until I got to Brussels. It's essentially a deep fried (here we go again) spiced skinless sausage. This version we had at Fritland, had chopped onions and chilli sauce on it too. I preferred it to the fries I think!
Moules frites - Mussels doused in a white wine sauce, flavoured with garlic and shallots and herbs, all wonderfully aromatic and delicate. Dunk your fries in it, scoop up with your shells, do your thing, but do not forget to find somewhere nice to sit down with a lovely bottle of wine and candlelight to enjoy a bucket of these! We sampled them at La Boussole and loved them.
Waterzooi - A traditional Belgian seafood stew, this dish is so warm and comforting, it transports you to a giant armchair by a roaring fireplace, with a shaggy dog curled at your feet. I sampled some at La Boussole and savoured every mouthful.
Fresh, homemade pasta - I know you wouldn't usually think of eating pasta in Brussels, but Pasta Divina came so highly recommended that we had to go, and when I say I can still taste that pasta, one month on, and sometimes I dream of what it felt like to roll my fork in it and wrap my lips around all those fresh and wonderful flavours, I am not kidding. The food was divine, the tiramisu the BEST I have had to date. And we were welcomed and fed with so much love and care! This family run restaurant stole our hearts. You have the choice of numerous types of pasta, a variety of sauces, and you can mix and match as you please. The lady of the family cooks it all herself and her adoring husband bustles about in the dining area proudly. Loved it.
Bagels - OK quit giving me a hard time! Brussels is a multi-cultural city, you get great food from the rest of the world too, and there is no shame in enjoying some of it. So I never had bagels in New York when I was there, but I sure as hell did in Brussels. And am I glad we had them at Bocca Moka! This cute cafe is dedicated to the joys of bagels and you're spoiled for choice. I have a weakness for fried onions, and this one I had was all about grilled chicken, fried onions, salad and pepper sauce. I chose a sesame bagel because nothing else will do. C'mon you have to admit sesame is the best?!
All things sweet, flaky and chocolatey. Right, chocolate. Home to some of the best loved chocolatiers in the world, Belgium is a chocolate lover's paradise. Brussels is replete with chocolate shops, and the chocolate shops are packed with the most pretty chocolate I've laid eyes on. Each one a piece of art, and each piece treated with such reverence that you know it's going to taste sublime. Do visit Place du Sablon. Here you'll find Pierre Marcolini, Neuhaus and Godiva. And Roger Patrick is impossible to miss. Mr Patrick was unaffordable but I must have spent about 45 mins admiring his chocolates. Pierre Marcolini (photographed above) makes not just beautiful chocolates, but cakes and pastries too. That eclair, one of 9 different kinds, was excellent, and that cute financier was small but absolutely loaded with flavour. In short, delightful. We sampled the decadent Godiva truffles too another day, walking around in Brussels (do not miss! Took me an age to pick one, too much choice and everything looked divine) and on our last evening, we popped into Neuhaus in Galleries St Hubert (plenty of chocolatiers here too!) and sampled FANTASTIC chocolate mousse. Three different kinds! Hazelnut always a winner with me. Needless to say, I didn't want to look at chocolate or anything sweet for that matter, for a week after we got back!
Pain a la Greque and biscuits a plenty. As you may have already guessed, I was beginning to find it increasingly difficult to cope with all the sugar in my life suddenly. Which was a big shame because I did want to try every biscuit Maison Dandoy makes. I can't help it, I'm greedy and curious like that. I had to be content with just looking because I really did think I'd be sick if I attempted to eat any more sugar. I did, however, pick just one little traditional pastry, which was more bready than sugary, so ha! The pain a la greque. Won't say I loved it, but I didn't dislike it either. It was um, pleasant. Please go to Maison Dandoy and please buy beautiful biscuits and tell me what they're like!
Great coffee, hot chocolate and quiches. I don't have a photograph of this quirky cafe I'm going to tell you about, sorry! It's called Cafe du Sablon, it has an open plan kitchen and seating space, a great range of hand roasted coffee to choose from (you can even choose your preferred brewing method!), homemade sweet and savoury treats (loved the quiche!) and excellent hot chocolate (not overly sweet and rich, strong and ever so slightly bitter). One catch though - they only do their fancy coffee options on the weekend! We missed out :(
Travelling back in time. So at the other end of the cafe spectrum, this is the end where it's all about the ambience and history, not about the food and drink, is A la Mort Subite. Unchanged since the 1920s, visit this cafe for the mirror panels, arched doorways, lined wooden tables, and antique waiters. Go for the pleasure of travelling back in time, definitely not for the food!
Food-related shopping. So here's something I noticed about Brussels. If you're not eating or drinking, you're shopping for cooking/food/kitchen related things (or antiques!) The city has some wonderful stores and it was an absolute delight travelling down their many aisles. Two personal favourites - Dille & Kamille for lovely artisanal products (food as well as table, kitchen and general homeware), and Home of Cooking for everything that makes a dream kitchen (equipment, cookware, dinnerware, giant salt and pepper shakers, you name it)!
No, we're still not talking about waffles.
Do share your Brussels tips in the comment box below too!
P.S. Have you read my other food travel stories?