Belgium is the place to indulge in terms of culinary delights – home to the famous Belgian waffle as well as fries served in paper cones. Last April, I took a four-day trip exploring Brussels, Brugge, and Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium. Although these three are all Belgian cities, each had its own distinct character.
I found Brussels to be quite quite charming and a little quirky, as suggested by its famous peeing statutes, Mannekin Pis and Jeanneke Pis. Also, the city hall building in the Grand Place (Grote Markt) is unintentionally asymmetrical. The tower, its front archway, and the main building itself are off-centre relative to one another. According to legend, the architect leapt to his death from the tower when he realized this. Signs around Brussels are also in both Dutch and French, although the name in these two languages often carry completely different translations/meanings.
If you’re into comics, I would recommend checking out the Comics Museum, as famous comics like Tintin and the Smurfs were created in Belgium. The gallery was really fun to walk through; although some comics were in Dutch, the pictures helped to make it somewhat understandable.
Another activity I would recommend is checking out the Belgian pubs or doing a beer tour. We went to both Scott’s bar and the Delirium café – a pub that serves over 3000 kinds of beer. Fun fact: if you want to take home the menu, it costs five euros.
There’s also this really quirky market open everyday rain or shine in Brussels called the Marolles Flea Market at the Place du Jeu de Balle. There is such a large assortment of stuff here; a living testament that one man’s junk really is another man’s treasure.
From Brussels, it’s easy and convenient to take the train to nearby cities like Brugge – the largest city of the province of West Flanders. Brugge is famous for Markt, as well as its chocolate. If you go, I recommend looking for this chocolate shop near the main canal that has a giant chocolate fountain right in the center surrounded by marshmallows for you to freely dip. I got a dark hot chocolate from there as well, and it was insanely good.
I also took the train to Louvain-la-Neuve from Brussels to visit my friend on exchange. The town itself is small and feels like a warm university community; everything is within a five-minute walking distance from each other (the supermarket, the pharmacy etc.)
In Belgium, waffle trucks are virtually everywhere and the heavenly smell of fresh waffles cooking will be too much to resist. My favourite kind is the Liège waffle, the most popular contemporary Belgian waffle variety. Always look for the vendors who make them fresh to order!
The Belgians are also known for their fries, and serve it with mayonnaise. We got fries with cocktail sauce (a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup) from Fritland – a popular spot for fries since they get their potatoes shipped fresh daily.
In Brussels, we also tried Belgian foods at a local diner by the local Marolles flea market. We tried Stoemp, which is mashed potato on a large piece of toast with lard (bacon) and meat, and macaroni au gratin. We also tried a pistolet, a typical Brussels variety of bread stuffed with meat. We got the one filled with mett, which is minced raw pork that is actually popular in Germany. It was definitely interesting and worth a try!
One of my favourite activities in Belgium that I would strongly recommend is doing a chocolate workshop at the Grand Place. We made pralines (stuffed chocolates) and chocolate crisps topped with dried fruits and nuts. During the workshop, our instructor also made us a delicious hot chocolate using the leftover chocolate, ganache, milk, and cream.
Making pralines is a lot harder than I thought and I now have a much greater appreciation for handmade chocolates. The first step of the process after tempering the chocolate is to make the shell. You first fill the mold with a lot of chocolate, then you have to shake it to make sure that there aren’t any air bubbles. Afterwards, you have to scrape the sides as well as the top to prevent the molds from joining together.
Afterwards, we slanted the mold on an angle so that the chocolate would drip from the corner. The shell has to be thick enough to hold its structure, but still thin enough to make room for the ganache filling. The ganache was made from chocolate solids, cream, milk, and honey. The taste was so delightful and it melted on my tongue like butter.
We then put our molded shells into the fridge to cool while we made the ganache. After that cooled as well, we piped them into our smells and put on the final closing layer of chocolate. That step was really tricky, because you only get one chance at scraping the top (requires a lot of technique and strength) to prevent ruining the entire praline’s shape. Everyone in the class managed to successfully pop out all 21 of their pralines, and they tasted great.
And of course, you can’t walk down the street in Brussels without seeing at least one chocolate shop. I loved going in them just to marvel at all the delicious treats (these stores are literally eye candy). My favourite was La Belgique Gourmande, which sold truffles by weight rather than in fancy tins (which tends to cost more). I bought a few here and they were really delicious.
The perfect way to end off this amazing trip in Belgium.