Brussels is the small capital city of Belgium, just about two hours away from Paris by train. Upon arrival, we only had a few things on our mind – Belgian beer, mussels, waffles and chocolate (we also wanted to eat brussel sprouts but alas could not find any). We lived just a few minutes walk away from the city centre of Grand Place, where the streets were filled with Christmas markets selling a variety of sweets and there were lines of restaurants all beckoning to us. My conclusion is that the food is definitely better in Brussels than Paris; the quality is much higher and although we did not review any particular restaurant, here is a rough overview of their famous signature foods.
Mussels – ranging from €19.50 – €23 a pot, served with a side of fries
The real Belgian mussels from Brussels makes the Belgian Bier Cafe and Bungalow 8 in Sydney pale in comparison. A pot ranges from €19.50 – €23 (AUD$26 – 33) and is served with a side of either chunky or shoestring fries. Flavours include beer, curry, garlic, natural, poulette, white wine and some others which I quite don’t remember. The quality of mussels compared to Sydney is far superior; they are larger in size and are soft and tender. The mussels are also filled with flavour with none of that sea water/fishy taste – though one place we tried hadn’t properly cleaned out their mussels and we could taste a bit of sand. The mussels themselves are easily removed from their shells and when you finish a pot, the flavours of the broth can be savoured by dipping some bread in to soak it up. My standout memory of Brussels.
Beer – ranging from €3 – €8
Neither of us are big beer drinkers so we might not have the best opinions when it comes to beer, but we made sure to try some of the local Belgian beers which are actually cheaper than ordering water in a restaurant (tap water is undrinkable here). Since beer tastes the same to us usually, we opted for the fruity options here. This included raspberry, peach, ‘original fruit’ (the waiter couldn’t translate it properly to us) along with rose flavoured Hoegaarden. The rose flavoured Hoegaarden was our favourite because it tasted like raspberries, followed by the peach. You can barely taste the bitter beer undertones and it just tastes like a fizzy fruit drink with interesting flavours. Wish we could bring some rose Hoegaarden home!
Surprisingly, there was no mango beer on the menu here so I’m not sure if that’s something that has been invented for the Australian market. In the local supermarket, we also found Duff beer, yes the beer popularised by The Simpsons! Regrettably, we did not purchase it as we would not have been able to finish it all, but now we know it exists we shall be on the hunt for an individual bottle rather than a whole pack. Final conclusion – for the non-beer people, there is a bigger selection of fruity beers here which suits me much more than Sydney’s selection of beers.
Waffles – from €1 (AUD $1.40) upwards based on toppings
Who needs crepes and macarons when you can have freshly made Belgian waffles with a selection of toppings including fruit, syrups/sauces and ice cream! Just down the road from our apartment were two small stores with large signs sayings ‘€1 WAFFLES’, yes please! We later discovered that this is for just a plain waffle, but I added banana for €0.75 and Yvn got chocolate sauce for €0.50. The waffles here are crunchy on the outside with a coat of sugar syrup/glaze and warm and soft inside, delicious for the winter weather. On my second round of waffles, this time at Haagen-Dazs, a waffle costs €1.80 with a combo (waffle, topping and scoop of ice cream) for €4.00 – €4.50. Here, we discovered that when they make waffles they don’t pour the mixture onto the machine’s hot surface, but instead they have a piece of waffle dough which they stretch out over the machine. This probably explains why the waffles have a different flavour to what I have had elsewhere.
Chocolate, from cheap (€1 for a block) to expensive
I haven’t indulged in much chocolate other than the free samples which have been given to me at the many chocolate stores trying to entice a purchase from us, but there are many stores to choose from. And by many I mean streets full of chocolate stores including Godiva and Leonidas which are at every corner and train station. Chocolates can be bought individually with custom selection boxes made, along with prepacked boxes which make ideal gifts. At Leonidas, the boxes are not marked with an expiry date and I am told that all their chocolates are freshly made to be consumed within a month, which scraps my gift purchase from them as I will be away for more than a month. Other stores have chocolates which last 6-12 months, but otherwise there is a great selection of chocolates for both chocolate lovers and tourists looking for souvenirs.
There are some interesting flavours – especially at Godiva which has Milk Covered Strawberry in a block as a flavour and the Belgian pralines we tried were melt in your mouth delicious. Don’t bother buying Guylian here because it’s not anything different from getting it from a supermarket in Australia – in fact Guylian didn’t have much of a presence in Belgium in comparison to the other chocolate brands we mentioned above, so save your luggage space for ones you can’t get in Sydney!
From a tourist perspective, since Belgium is quite small it is quite easy to finish the city in two days, however the food is absolutely fantastic and beats Paris by a landslide when it comes to savoury food. It is worthwhile taking a day trip here (if you’re in Paris) or even a few days to try the mussels and waffles. Belgium is a food memory I will never forget and eating these things in Sydney will never be the same again.