What to eat and drink in Brussels and Bruges part 1.
We stepped of the Eurostar into the heart of one of Europe’s quirkier cities for foodies. Think of a foodie break in Europe and where do you think of? Rome, Paris, Lyon even Berlin. Brussels and Bruges often don’t come too highly on that list. But I think that’s a huge mistake. With a chocolatiers, chip shop or fantastic bar on every corner, Brussels and Bruges are both foodie heavens.
I love Brussels for its randomness. The seriousness with which they take their beer and irreverence they take their statues. Case in point? The Manneken Pis. A small statue of a child urinating. It’s a big tourist attraction. Why is is on a food and drink list? Well once in awhile the statue is hooked up to some beer kegs and, you guessed it, you can drink from the statue.
Brussels might not be the biggest city, in fact the city centre is quite small. However there is more than enough to fill a week, let alone a weekend. Even if you skip the very touristy things such as Little Europe and the Atomiom.
Any city or country you visit will give you a ‘must eat’ list of foods and Belgium is no exception. The first things which come to mind are sausages and fries. Waffles and ice cream. Cheese, cheese and more cheese. There are dishes such as beef stew and of course no trip to Belgium would be complete without a big dish of mussels. Then finally there is the beer. Sweet, sour, strong or fruity. There is a beer for everyone in Belgium.
Let’s explore some of the things I ate and drank in Brussels.
The Foodies Guide to Belgium: Eat like a Belgian in Brussels
I had some much beautiful food, so many classic and delicious Belgian dishes that I will just share my favourites here with you. The culinary highlights of Belgium are always going to be mussels, beer and chocolate. And for me these were the highlights of my time in Bruges and Brussels.
My first taste of those classic Belgian cuisine was out first evening in Brussels. On the edge of the Grand Place there are several streets between it and the Royal Galleries which are choca-block with restaurants offering tourists typical Belgian dishes, often in a set three course menu. You might think that this is the type of area I would avoid or eshowe. However, we did eat a couple of meals here. You could get well put together dishes and three course menus for a reasonable price.
Our first foray to one of these restaurants was to a one specialising in seafood and fish. From where we sat outside you could see back into the kitchen and see them preparing everything from scratch. So whilst you might think this is an area to avoid, you can get great food. I had some of the best mussels I have had sitting outside there. The sauce was a little spiced, a little creamy and quite silky.
At the Grand Cafe, next to Brussels imposing stock exchange we had another fantastic bit of Belgian cuisine. The endive is a chicory which is native to and grown in Belgium. It’s used in a variety of dishes but the classic way is to have it gratinated.
This was a super heavy, creamy and unbelievably filling dish. I really had to push myself to get through it. Not because it wasn’t gorgeous (it certainly was delish) but because the portion size was so big! At the same restaurant Adam had a fantastic omelet. Of all the places we ate in Brussels I’d really recommend the Grand Cafe.
The food is reasonably priced, it’s cooked to order, classically Belgian and more importantly the Grand Cafe is full of local Brussels folks having their lunch.
Le Grand Cafe
Here’s an example of one of those beautiful three course lunches we had in Brussels
No wonder we ended up walking around 10 miles a day whilst here!
If you are looking for a really authentic Belgian cafe-bar, complete with brown-bar styling, a good selection of beers and cakes then you could do a lot worse then popping down to Arcade at Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen, Arenbergstraat 1B. This is on the other side of the Royal Galleries to the Grand Place.
Check out the gorgeous cake I had there! Adam had a gateaux but I didn’t even have time to get a picture before that disappeared! You can pair your cake with a coffee or a beer. At this point I should say that Brussels coffee is… it’s not very good. I hate to say this and maybe my tastes have been honed too much by coffee in London but the coffee in Brussels and Bruges wasn’t really that good.
The French influence
The first thing to note is that Belgium, as a country is a relatively new invention – like many European nations. As such Belgian cuisine is heavily influenced by that history of various parts of what we today call Belgium being parts of France or Germany or Benelux etc. You’ll see very and taste a lot of French, German and Dutch influenced foods. As a confluence of Europe, Belgium really has forged a quite unique culinary identity.
Our first meal there was at a small local cafe in a square close to our Hostel (hostel name here…) and was very French. We started out with a classic lunch of omelet, a light salad and some dauphinoise potatoes. Delish.
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate
In either Brussels or Bruges it is pretty hard to go even a few steps without passing a chocolatiers or chocolate shop of some description, even away from the main tourist areas. It would certainly seem like the Belgians have a sweet tooth which they indulge on a very regular basis!
I loved the displays in the chocolate shop windows and I had to take photos of their windows as we went past. I’ve included a couple of my favourites here, but there were so many that I had lost count on the first day!
Going to Belgium and not bringing some chocolate back with you would (almost) be criminal. So when I was thinking of a gift for Hana my mind wandered straight to Belgium’s most famous export. Buying chocolate in Belgium is not as easy as it sounds. Chiefly because there are just some many styles, flavours and tastes that it could take a lifetime to try them all. Then chocolate in Belgium comes in every shape and size. You could buy a chocolate tool box complete with bolts and cogs and pliers and a spanner or two! How bizzare. There were also racier chocolates such as chocolate breasts…
In the end I went for chocolate letters spelling out HANA. I thought it was a nice funny gift and yes I did bring something else back for her too!
I only had chocolate a few times in Belgium, I didn’t really fancy having a box of chocolates for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Okay I did fancy that but I would have been far too naughty to do. Instead I had my chocolate fix on Bruges and Brussels from chocolate mousse. Simply, it was divine. If you are in Belgium try their chocolate mousse. Whether in a touristic cafe or a more Belgian brasserie it won’t disappoint you wherever you have it!
Stay tuned for upcoming Belgium travel posts on
- Part 2 with what we ate in Bruges.
- Belgium in beer
- Two days in Brussels
- What to see in Bruges