7 Things to Eat in Brussels
What to Eat in Brussels + Where to Find Them
Belgium is perhaps one of the most underrated gastronomic destinations in Europe. I say this because I've never heard people rave about Belgian cuisine. I didn't know much about local food or things to eat in Brussels other than the fact that Belgium is known for its chocolate and beer. I loved to eat Belgian mussels, but it wasn't enough for me to connect the dots. When I was in Brussels, I learned that Belgians take their food seriously and that they created a unique Belgian culinary culture being influenced by neighboring France, Germany, and the Netherlands. It truly blew me away. If you appreciate exquisite food (and drinks) prepared with thoughts and cares, and enjoy discovering local flavors while traveling, Brussels should be on your foodie's bucket list.
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1. Belgian Pralines
Praline is Belgium’s signature chocolate you must try in Brussels. Not to be confused with American Pralines, it is a chocolate bonbon with a softer filling inside a hard chocolate shell. In 1912, the son of a pharmacist, Jean Neuhaus, developed praline in Brussels with the new technique to fill the chocolate with a variety of flavors. While it was initially invented as a way to cover up the bitterness of medicine, this development has changed the way people enjoy chocolate forever.
Why Belgian Chocolate?
How did Belgium make its name for the best quality chocolate in the world? Belgium was one of the first European countries to get their hands on cocoa beans through its colony, the Congo. With the easy access to the source, Belgians have mastered the chocolate making process over the hundreds of years.
With the fame, it’s not odd to come across many chocolates marketed as “Belgian-style” chocolates. The truth is that only the ones with a minimum of 35% cocoa can be certified as Belgian chocolate. Don’t buy the cheap chocolates you find in the tourist areas as they only contain a small quantity of cocoa and a large quantity of sugar. If you want the quality Belgian chocolates, visit artisan chocolatiers in Brussels.
Where to Find the Best Belgian Pralines in Brussels
You can find many artisan chocolatiers all over Brussels and in Belgium. Some even have flagship stores outside of the country as well. In Brussels, I recommend going "chocolaterie hopping" at the Galeries Royales St. Hubert. You can find four most-recognized chocolate shops in one place here. Better yet, the beauty and glamor of this passage shopping arcade make it worthwhile to visit.
Check out the following artisan chocolatiers in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert:
- Pierre Marcolini is one of the most famous Belgian chocolate makers. The chocolatier takes pride in sourcing cocoa beans directly from growers and roasting them himself. Everything in this shop scream luxury. Just look at the assorted pralines and chocolate truffles beautifully wrapped in its signature "drawer" gift box! This gourmet gift will make anyone happy.
- Mary Chocolaterie is a unique artisan chocolate shop established in 1919 by Mary Delluc, the first woman chocolatier to pioneer Belgian chocolates. It’s one of a few chocolatiers awarded with the Belgian Royal Warrant. Mary's top-quality chocolates come in its shabby chic gift box.
- Neuhaus Belgian Chocolate’s first store was opened in the Galeries Royales St. Hubert and remained in business until today. It’s Neuhaus, the inventor of the original Belgian pralines. Need to say more?
- Leonidas Belgian Chocolate is known for its use of 100% pure cocoa butter for the shell and natural ingredients. It is one of the most affordable authentic Belgian chocolates. For those looking for sharing happiness from Belgium with the loved ones back home, this could make a great gift without breaking the bank.
Brussels has so many other chocolatiers I didn’t mention here. If you’d like to explore more and taste-test without feeling pressured to buy at every single location, consider joining a Belgian Chocolate Tasting Tour.
2. Belgian Trappist Beer
I’m not a beer connoisseur or expert in any way. So I won’t go into too many details here. But here are some interesting tidbits about Belgian beer I learned.
In the 12th century when clean drinking water was not readily available, a low-alcohol beer was a sanitary alternative. Monks in abbeys used to brew and distribute beer as a way to fundraise. These days, only ten monasteries brew Trappist beer in the world, six of which are in Belgium: Westmalle, Rochefort, Chimay, Orval, Westvleteren and Achel. Other similar beers brewed in non-Trappist monastery brewhouses are labeled as abbey beer such as Affligem and Leffe.
Interestingly, these terms refer to the beer origin rather than a beer type. If you are wondering, Tripel and Dubbel are two classic examples of beer type Trappist/abbey brewhouses make. However, there are much more varieties of Trappist beer, from blond to dark with varying alcohol volume, for all you beer lovers and beginners to try.
Why Should You Try Belgian Beer?
Drinking Belgian beer every day for an entire month in Europe was a life-changing experience. Let me begin by saying I never considered myself a beer person. And for a lightweight like me, drinking that much of anything in such a short period is a milestone, especially considering Belgian beer contains much higher alcohol content than American beers. Strangely, it didn't even make me tipsy!
For a full disclosure, I did have Belgian beer on multiple occasions in the U.S. No doubt it is tasty and refreshing despite the comparatively high alcohol content. But I never felt that it was an extraordinary experience. What made my experience more special in Belgium was drinking locally brewed beers (i.e. fresher!) while fully soaking up the local beer culture. Additionally, I was excited about the vast variety of beers I could find at local bars. So why not explore the world of amazing Belgian beer in Brussels? Who knows, you will surprise yourself like I did.
Best Bars for Beer Tasting in Brussels
- Delirium Cafe is probably the most famous bar in Brussels. This bar holds the Guinness World Record for offering more than 2,000 beers. The place is always crowded and happening. You will also see many people just hanging out in the alleyway with a beer in their hands. (Yes, there is no silly law here to prevent outdoor drinking.) If Delirium Cafe is too busy, you can check out its little sister, Little Delirium.
- Moeder Lambic is a chic beer bar with a great selection of craft beers. For Belgian beer beginners, the servers here are friendly and knowledgeable to help navigate their menu.
- Au Brasseur is known for its “15 meters,” a beer flight menu with nine different varieties. It’s a perfect way to sample taste beer to share or for yourself.
- A la Mort Subite is an excellent choice to satiate your hunger and thirst. This bar and restaurant features classic Art Nouveau interior design, taking you back in the old time.
Belgian beer culture is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. If you’re interested in learning more about the beer history and culture in Belgium, consider joining a Beer Tasting Tour in Brussels.
3. Belgian Waffle
The Belgian waffle is one of the must-try delicacies in Brussels. Some of you might think, 'what a cliche!' But don't skip it just because you had it a million time in your home country. Your experience here might change the way you think of "Belgian waffle" forever.
In Belgium, I quickly learned that ordering a waffle is more than just selecting toppings. Belgian Waffles come in two different varieties. Liege waffles are thicker and crispier. The dough contains sugar, which caramelizes when baked to give sweeter taste and crunchier texture. Its shape is round with uneven edges. On the other hand, Brussels waffles are fluffier and lighter. It has a definite rectangular shape.
Belgians do not eat a waffle for breakfast. In fact, it is considered a treat that can be picked up on the go from food stalls on the streets. True Belgians eat their waffle "plain," with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. That means no syrup, whip cream, fruits, or chocolate fudge. That's because a well-made Belgian waffle should be a tasty treat by itself. Now, is that a good reason to try Belgian waffle or not?
Where to Find the Best Waffles in Brussels
- Maison Dandoy has multiple locations in Brussels, but only their tearoom offers waffles. You can order to-go on the ground level or go upstairs for a sit-down meal with tea. They have both Liege and Brussels waffles for you to choose. If you want to eat like a local, go for a waffle with powdered sugar. But the shop offers many topping choices from chocolate fudge to ice cream to fruits if you prefer.
4. Belgian Mussels & Fries (Moules Frites)
When asked to name one classic Belgian food, what comes to your mind? For me, without any hesitation, it would be moules-frites. Indeed, many people will agree that it is a national dish in Belgium. You will find it everywhere and almost year around.
My favorite recipe is a white wine sauce with butter, onion, shallot, and parsley. I also like the Moules a la creme with a tasty garlic and butter cream sauce. There are many other varieties to satisfy a different palate. But whatever you choose, it all comes with Belgian fries. That’s win-win in my book!
Where to find Moules Frites in Bruxelles
Explore on your own to find the best Moules Frites in Brussels. I can't imagine any established bistro would mess up as it is a staple dish in Belgium. But if you are not sure, you can't go wrong with Le Cirio (map) or Chez Leon (map).
5. Belgian Fries
One thing I vividly remember from my French class is that “french” fries are not actually from France. My French-language teacher from Belgium proudly claimed pomme frites as Belgian in his very first class. It had stuck in my head ever since. Now I understand where his pride came from.
The quality of Belgian frites comes from a high standard. The potatoes are cut in thick slices and prepared fresh. In order to make the fries crispy and tasty, these potato sticks are fried twice in animal fats, instead of vegetable oil. Generally speaking, Belgians prefer to eat their fries with mayonnaise rather than ketchup; however, local shops usually offer a variety of sauce.
I’ve tried Belgian-style fries in many cities. I have to tell you that Belgians make the best Belgian fries (duh!). So get one while you are in Brussels.
Where to Find the Best Frites in Brussels
- Fritland Brussels: I have not been to this fast food joint because I already ate too much fries with mussels everywhere in Brussels. However, locals have recommended this place. So I will trust their claim for offering the best Belgian fries.
6. Belgian Waterzooi
Waterzooi is a classic Flemish stew, originated from Ghent of Belgium. It is often made of fish or chicken, accompanied by chunks of vegetables. Nowadays chicken waterzooi is more common. This Belgian comfort food looks and tastes similar to the American equivalent, chicken noodle soup.
Where to find Belgian Chicken Waterzooi
- Le Cirio is a charming brasserie with classic interiors and outdoor tables, served by friendly gentlemen. While located in the touristy area, we dined next to locals who have been a regular for 20 years, which assured us that this restaurant is not a tourist trap. Try their chicken waterzooi with “half and half” (a mixed drink with white wine and champagne).
7. Belgian Meatballs (Boulets à la Liégeoise)
Liege meatballs - also called “Le Boulet” - are classic Belgian meatballs served in a brown gravy. The meatball is made with a mix of beef and pork. To make the gravy sauce, Sirop de Liège - an apple-butter like spread made out of evaporated apple and pear juices - is cooked with onions and vinegar.
Where to find Le Boulet in Brussels
- This is a hearty dish that might be suitable for winter. I ordered it entirely by accident, out of curiosity. It was pretty tasty. As the name suggests, this Belgium meatball is originally from Liege. If you are visiting Liege, definitely try it there. In Brussels, you can find it at Brasserie de la Presse.
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What is your favorite Belgian food? Any other place you would add to this list?
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