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These days, “getting off the beaten path” and “traveling like a local” are all the rage. But every city has classics that tourists can’t afford to miss: it would be a shame to visit Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower, or to go to Mexico City and not try a taco.
So what’s a serious traveler to do? Do the classics right.
In Brussels, there are a few classic Belgian dishes that are a must. The Belgians are credited with inventing the French fry. They’re world famous for their beers. And Belgian chocolate is a source of national pride. Here’s how to avoid the tourist traps, get authentic products from the same places the locals do, and eat like a professional tourist!
Brussels, and Belgium as a whole, is obviously influenced by its immediate neighbors, France, Germany and the Netherlands. However, its cuisine is absolutely unique. Don’t be fooled by the tourist traps. If you get off the beaten track, you’ll find some real gems!
Although we’re used to putting the words “waffles” and “Belgian” next to each other, there’s no such thing in Belgium. Two cities, Brussels and Liege, have their own versions that are sold side by side. A Brussels waffle is quite thick. On the inside, the batter is extremely light and fluffy, and on the outside it forms a thin, crispy crust. A Liège waffle, on the other hand, is thicker, denser and crispier.
In Brussels, the old town is the place to be for tourists. You’ll find a waffle kiosk on almost every street corner, usually selling waffles for 1 euro. Don’t be fooled, they are terrible! Some vendors even prepare their waffles in advance so that they’re soft and rubbery.
Near Manneken Pis, a French waffle chain called Waffle Factory makes the best and most expensive waffles in the old city. It’s a bit like a “McDonald’s for waffles” and the atmosphere in the restaurant leaves something to be desired, but the waffles are among the best. The Belgian waffle topped with melted Belgian chocolate is simple and delicious.
Where to get Belgian waffles in Brussels:
- Waffle Factory
- 30 Rue du Lombard, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
Mussels and fries are available everywhere in the old town. They are truly one of the most emblematic dishes of Brussels and Belgium. Be aware, however, that mussels are a seasonal product. They are in season from July to March and at their best in September and October.
The technique for eating this dish is very simple: take one shell, eat the meat and then use the shell to squeeze the meat from the other shell. Finally, separate the two sides of the shell and use one half to enjoy the delicious broth. Or… just eat with your fingers…
Whatever you do, don’t eat unopened mussels!
Where to get mussels in Brussels:
- Le Zinneke
- Place de la Patrie 26, 1030 Schaerbeek, Belgium
Probably the most famous Belgian dish in the world. Frites are not French, despite their English name “French fries”. In that part of the world, they are served in paper cones and dipped in one of the many sauces offered at frites stands.
In Brussels, however, fries are something of a tourist trap. Ten years ago, it was very difficult to find a kiosque de frites (in Belgium we’d say a baraque à frites) in the old town. Today, there are several options, but none of them are really worth it. Let’s just say none of them are exceptional.
To enjoy authentic French fries, you have to leave the city center. South of the old city, in the Ixelles district, you’ll find Frit Flagey, a true Belgian frites baraque. The fries are crispy and crunchy and served freshly made with a choice of classic sauces, from mayonnaise to tartar sauce, piri-piri sauce and even rich sauce! Warning: there’s always a long line out the door.
Where to get fries in Brussels:
- Frit Flagey
- Place Eugène Flagey, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium
It’s a bit unfair to talk about Belgian beer in a short article, as books and books have been written on the subject. But what we can’t say here will be revealed to you at Delirium Café, which holds the Guinness record for the most beers sold on site, with a selection of 2004 beers.
At Delirium Café, the bartenders are like beer sommeliers. It’s busy in the evenings, but if you’re a beer connoisseur and want to discover new beers while chatting with people who know how they’re made, you know where to go!
Delerium Café is located in a cul-de-sac where you’ll find several other bars, all owned by the same group. There’s an absinthe bar, a rum bar, a vodka bar and a tequila bar…
Where to get Belgian beer in Brussels:
- Delirium Café
- Impasse de la Fidélité 4A, 1000 Ville de Bruxelles, Belgium
Simply put, a Flemish carbonnade is a beer stew. Are you familiar with “boeuf bourguignon”? Well, carbonnade is a similar dish in which the meat is cooked in Belgian beer instead of Burgundy wine. It’s a hearty, gourmet dish, perfect for rainy days in Brussels.
Au Vieux Bruxelles is a great place to enjoy carbonnade flamande and all the other classic Belgian dishes. Opened in 1882, this restaurant is an institution and has changed very little since it opened. It’s like stepping back in time!
Where to get Carbonnade Flamande in Brussels:
- Restaurant Au Vieux Bruxelles
- 35 Rue Saint-Boniface, 1050 Ville de Bruxelles, Belgium
This is perhaps the least known dish on this list of Belgian classics. Eel au vert is a stew of eel cooked on the bone in a sauce made from a variety of herbs, including thyme, sage, parsley, and so on. Traditionally, this dish was prepared by peasants.
But in Brussels, you won’t just find ordinary restaurants serving good Belgian dishes with fries on the side. You’ll also find several upscale restaurants that are well worth your while, and Bistro Margaux, with its Michelin star, is certainly one not to be missed.
Their version of eel au vert features boneless eel with crispy skin, a delicious green herb espuma, sliced radishes, a few refreshing bits of butter lettuce and a kohlrabi sauce.
Where to get eel in Brussels:
- Bistro Margaux
- Dorpsplein 3, 1700, Belgium
Because of Belgium’s tumultuous colonial past, the Belgians have long had an unlimited supply of cocoa beans from the Congo, their colony in Africa. As a result, Brussels chocolatiers have become some of the most renowned in the world. To this day, tourists flock to the European capital to sample Belgian chocolate. In the tourist area near Manneken Pis, famous chocolate companies such as Godiva, Leonidas and Neuhaus have set up shop to satisfy passing tourists.
But Belgian chocolate has much more to offer than the multinationals. Smaller, artisanal confectioners offer a variety of sweets and sell their products throughout the city. Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier is one of them. Candied ginger on dark chocolate? Sure, why not!
Where to get Belgian chocolate in Brussels:
- Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier
- 2D Rue Ravenstein, 1000 Brussels, Belgium