Combining chocolate and hills in the Belgian capital of Brussels is a coup of city planning. Toss in the local frites or the famous Belgian waffles and you’ve got a situation that calls out for a little exercise to keep things in balance.
With a decadent nibble of dark Belgian chocolate clocking in at 200 calories, and 30 minutes of uphill walking burning up 250 calories . . . well, you do the math. It’s not the most encouraging situation but, luckily, the chocolate is worth it, as are the sights of one of the great capital cities of Europe.
In Brussels, chocolate is a religion. It’s impossible to walk the historic cobblestone streets of the city centre without bumping into two (or three or four . . .) chocolatiers on every block.
Stroll the stylish Rue des Sablons, in the historic Upper Town, for a little chocolate window shopping. When you stop for a little research, you can’t miss by tasting from these three, tried-and-true favourites.
Pierre Marcolini, www.marcolini.com
The Marcolini shop uses fair trade beans from around the world, like the criollo cocoa beans from a small mountain village in Venezuela – they’re dark, and very aromatic with a hint of floral qualities. Only 20 tons a year of these beans are harvested, making them high demand with prices to match. You can watch the Marcolini chocolatier make his magic in the open kitchen. If chocolate is not your thing, try the macarons (the light, almond-based cookies come in 25 different flavours, including pistachio, coffee, raspberry and caramel) or a scoop of ice cream from the stand out front.
The family-owned Wittamer - the official supplier to the Court of Belgium – has been making fine chocolates on Place du Sablon since 1910. Nibble on noisella, a dark chocolate and almond praline, or one of the dozens of other types of chocolates (there are 60 varieties in total). The tasty bites are true objets d’art.
One of the oldest Belgian chocolatiers, Neuhaus has been making only the best since 1857. They lay claim to inventing the “praline,” a bite-size filled chocolate that is now found in every Belgian chocolate shop, large and small. There are 60 varieties of Neuhaus pralines, including nougat, chocolate cream, California almonds and roasted Turkish hazelnuts (they even have their own master roaster to coax the best flavours from the nuts). The Neuhaus chocolate is a carefully guarded secret recipe.
No one claims they’re good for you, but the local frites (think: Belgian fries) are everywhere – alongside plates of beef stew braised in beer, as an accompaniment to mussels (the famous moules-frites dish), to servings in paper cones from street vendors. The frites are twice-fried to make them extra crispy. Go local: always eat with mayonnaise for dipping.
Heard of the Belgian waffle? In Brussels, piping hot waffles are a popular street food, cooked up at small stalls, corner waffle stands and even the bright yellow vans that park in all the locations that draw hungry strollers. You’ll find the locals standing on street corners, eating fresh waffles loaded with whipped cream, fruit and chocolate.
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Josephine Matyas is an award-winning freelance writer with a jonesing for travel, and a passion for the outdoors, food and photography. Her modus operandi is to quickly toss the map out the window once she hits the road.
Located: Kingston Canada
Likes: almost anything outdoors, ecotourism, food and music, history, heritage and culture