I’ve passed a travel milestone, you guys. Although, I’m not really sure that what it says about me is a good thing –
Travel Somewhere Just For The Food.
That’s right. I showed up in a new country with no plan, no schedule, just a list of foods I wanted to try. And my stretchy pants on, of course.
Belgium is truly the perfect place to enact such a plan because there are so many foods that they’re famous for, and most of them are fairly cheap! (At least by European standards, anyway.) For the three days we were in Belgium, we sought refuge from the stormy weather inside cafes and bakeries and chocolate shops, eating the hours away. While I certainly would have wished for better weather, there is still something to be said for lazy afternoons spent sipping on hot cocoa and watching the rain fall from the comfort of a cozy cafe. We made the best of our circumstances and I came home a good deal more sizable for it. But honestly, who could turn down food like this?
Grab a snack, because trust me, you’ll need one after this, and join me as we eat our way through the five best foods to eat in Belgium!
Frites – or French fries, or chips, whatever you choose to call them – are thought to have originated here in Belgium, and after having eaten them in at least a dozen other countries, I’d have to say Belgium does them best! Traditionally, Belgian frites are double-fried, then served in a paper cone with a healthy splash of your choice of mayonnaise-based sauce on top. To be honest, even just thinking about mayo can sometimes make me gag, so I almost passed on this little culinary delight, but I’m glad I didn’t. Most frites stands offer a wide variety of sauces, and given my distaste for mayo, my local friend, Jo, recommended I choose the andalouse – a slightly spicy sauce with tomato paste and peppers. It was delicious, and almost no hint of mayo flavor to be found! At around €3 a pop, frites are a super budget-friendly lunch, and they’re incredibly filling.
Frites stands, or frietkots, are located practically every few meters in downtown Brussels, but I didn’t want frites from just any old frites stand – I wanted them from the same place the Rolling Stones like their frites from, Maison Antoine in Brussels’ European Quarter. This frietkot came highly recommended online, and now it’s got my stamp of approval, too. (If it’s good enough for Mick Jagger, then it’s definitely good enough for me!)
I really surprised you with that one, didn’t I? Belgium is known the world over for its high quality chocolate, and chocolatiers seem to fill all the spaces in the tourist areas of Brussels and Bruges that haven’t already been inhabited by frites stands and souvenir shops. While it may seem like a touristy thing to do to peruse the rows upon rows of various chocolates in an endless line of shops, there is a reason that it’s so popular – scientifically speaking, chocolate in Belgium is really freakin’ good.
In most of the shops, you can grab a bag and fill it with loose chocolates to your heart’s content, or at least until you run out of money. The loose chocolates are fun because you can mix and match and try a lot more flavors than you can when you buy a pre-made bag, but you have to be careful – they’re sold by weight, and trust me, it adds up quickly!
When it comes to choosing a shop, I don’t really think you can make a bad decision. Although, I’d try to stick with the independent shops since chocolates from the big guys like Neuhaus and Godiva can be bought in any number of places outside of Belgium. Just make sure you stop in at least 2-3 shops before making any decisions on where to buy from. Nobody likes chocolate buyer’s remorse.
I suppose that, technically, hot cocoa could fit under the umbrella of ‘chocolate’, but in Belgium, it really deserves its own category. Here, hot chocolate is not just a steaming cup of goodness in a cardboard to-go cup – it’s practically its own meal. It would probably be a good idea to check before you order, but in most cafes and restaurants when you order a hot chocolate, this is what arrives – a perfectly heated mug of frothy, sweetened milk that you might possibly need two hands to hold, a separate bowl of chocolate for pouring into your milk, and a whipped cream topping. If you’re lucky, it’ll also come with a selection of additional chocolates on the side. See what I mean? That’s a meal. Or at least a bangin’ snack.
Lexie was the first one to discover the benefits of ordering a hot cocoa in Brussels, and later we all did in Bruges at this lovely little tea room, De Proeverie, that I feel deserves mentioning specifically. The staff there were some of the kindest that we met in Belgium, and their tea room is super cozy and comfortable. We sat in their back room for quite a while one morning and no one ever made us feel that we were overstaying our welcome. For only €5, we received a platter bearing everything pictured in the photo above – a great deal, in my opinion. The chocolates they serve with the hot cocoa are even hand-made by the chocolate shop across the street.
Meat & Seafood
At dinnertime, meat and seafood dishes take center stage on the menu. Our first night, Jo and her husband took us out for an authentic Belgian dinner at Le Clan Des Belges in downtown Brussels. Besides the fact that the menu was in French, I was a little intimidated. I don’t eat things like steak, sausage, or beef at home and was at a complete loss for what to order. Ultimately, I chose the sausage, which I ended up giving to Cory, and two sides of stoemp. The stoemp was amazing – sort of like mashed potatoes mixed with different vegetables. One of mine came mixed with leeks and the other, carrots. I loved them both!
But you know what surprised me the most about Belgian cuisine? Discovering that I actually like mussels. Rubbery, slippery mussels. Who’d have thought? I never ordered them for myself – I’m not that brave yet – but I did try them when Cory would order them. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll order them myself next time. The mussels make two new seafood dishes I’ve tried this year – the other was calamari in London!
While you might be able to get breakfast and lunch cheaply in Belgium (even in the highly saturated tourist areas!), dinner is another story. The restaurants are pricey and if you order multiple courses, as is the usual custom in Belgium, it can really eat into your trip budget. As always, the further you get away from the tourist sights, the better prices you’re likely to find. Also, keep in mind that some things you’d usually assume to be free, may not be, especially if you’re clearly not a local. One evening we had to pay €2.50 for a squirt of ketchup. A squirt! The good news is, portion sizes are large, so you’ll feel like you’re getting your money’s worth!
And last, but not least (actually, this is a case of saving the best for last) – Belgian waffles. Just saying those words makes my mouth water! Doused in chocolate, smothered in Speculoos cookie butter, topped with whipped cream and fresh berries – you can find the infamous, fluffy Belgian waffles in all these forms and more from street vendors, cafes, and even specialized waffle shops. All these delicious choices and you want to know which one was my favorite? The little, old, plain ones. Except that there’s nothing little, old, or plain about them. €1 will get you a fresh, decent-sized waffle sprinkled in sugar crystals. They are positively one of my newest favorite foods.
All of the other varieties are good as well, and we never paid more than €4 for any of them, but even though I have a wicked sweet tooth, sometimes I actually found them to be too sweet, especially for a breakfast meal. And in the case of the Speculoos, the flavor was amazing, but halfway through I felt like I had eaten an entire jar of peanut butter. I had to be rolled to the train station after that. But to each his own – I recommend you try them all and decide for yourself!
Lots of nutritious recommendations here, obviously. :) With as many sweets as we were stuffing our faces with, I often found myself needing a little something healthier to balance out my gut. When that would happen, I’d make a quick stop into Exki and grab a pasta salad or a wrap. These natural, fast food joints are everywhere and they’re cheap. Just something to keep in mind if all of the sugar you’re sure to be taking in starts getting to you!
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