What’s your country’s cuisine like in a nutshell?
Belgians love to eat. They enjoy the food, of course, but also the opportunity to sit around a table with friends and family. Therefore, Belgian cuisine is often hearty and convivial. Most traditional dishes wouldn’t qualify for a fine cuisine contest but would definitely win the “comfort food” trophy. In the Northern part of the country, most dishes are fish-based: eels in green sauce, waterzooi (fish stew) and of course mussels. Some restaurants serve as many as 30 different sauces for them! Belgium being the country of beer, we also like to use beer a lot when cooking. Think of carbonnades (Belgian beer stew), Kriek (cherry-flavoured beer) rabbit, Leffe chicken… And fries, of course. Frites (or frieten) are not only our favorite food but also a Belgian institution. At every corner, you’ll find a “fritkot”, a small stall where you can grab a bag of fries to eat on-the-go. Perfect for the 2 am munchies!
What’s the current food trend in your city?
Fusion food is everywhere! Chefs love mixing food trends and playing with Belgians’ tastebuds. Wasabi, cilantro and sweet potaoes are served along endives and Brussels sprouts. Healthy and organic cantines are also popping up everywhere. They’re not necessarily vegetarian but they serve fresh and unprocessed dishes to the hungry health-conscious.
Which local food is not to be missed?
Three words: fries, beer, chocolate.
Have a Hoegaarden or a Duvel in the sun. Stop for a bag of thick fries with a huge dollop of mayo and end up with a handful fine “pralines”…
What are the food oddities in your country?
If, while walking in the center of Brussels, you see what looks like a hotdog stand, think twice before stopping. They’re probably selling “caricoles”, sea snails in a spicy bouillon. This is a typical Brussels snack, though not every Belgian will dig into that! If you’re adventurous enough, give it a try. If you’ve already tried the garlic and parsley kind, you shouldn’t be too grossed out. Another oddity is probably the “mitraillette” (machine gun). French baguette stuffed with fries, sauce and your choice of deep-fried meat. It’s called machine gun because, if you try to put one end into your mouth, the fries shoot out the other end like bullets…
What food/gadget to bring home from my trip?
Chocolate. But please stay away from
Leonidas and Godiva, they’re probably the worst in town. Don’t settle for anything less than Marcolini or Wittamer.
Beer too. Just push the door of any grocery store and you’ll have enough choice to spoil Uncle Ted and your best friend Sylvia. Fruit-flavoured beers like Kriek, Gueuze or Framboise are always a great and unusual gift. If you’re looking for something stronger, go for Orval, Westmalle or Chimay.
Which cuisine features most strongly in your city?
Deep-fried snacks have always been very popular in Belgium. For a few years, however, this tradition seems to have merged with the numerous North-African delis that have opened in Brussels. The new “pitta-shops” mix oriental-style snacks like gyros meat and durum (flat bread that resembles tortilla) with fries, fricandelles and mexicanos… If you’re watching your weight, you might want to stay away from those places! If you’re not, try the pitta street (rue du Marché au Fromage). They say Yasmina serves the best pitta in town!
Which are your favourite gourmet addresses?
For breakfast, I love Le Pain Quotidien (It’s a bit pricey but I think it’s worth it. I love the communal table, so different from the individualistic approach of most restaurants. For an affordable lunch, try Arcadi. Their quiches and desserts (especially the lemon pie) are to die for. The place is always crowded so reservation is recommended. Le Pré Salé or La Taverne du Passage are good addresses if you want to try traditional Belgian cuisine. Always crowded (be prepared to queue as they don’t take reservations) Tapas Locas is a great place to taste Brussels’ lively ambiance. They don’t limit themselves to Spanish tapas and you can have miniature versions of Endives au Gratin or even frogs’legs if that’s your thing.
Where to shop for food?
If you’re in Brussels during the week-end, take the subway to Gare de l’Ouest and try the Slaughterhouse’s Market in Anderlecht. Don’t be freaked out by the name, the actual slaughterhouse has moved long ago. Now it’s just a huge and colorful market. If you’re looking for something hipper and trendier, there’s the nocturnal market of Chatelain Square in Uccle. There, on Wednesdays, you can find exotic, gourmet and, of course, expensive foods. It’s a very “see and be seen” kind of place…
Which area is best for food – where to browse for restaurants while on the go?
A great place to have a drink on a terrace is the St-Géry Square. Just pick one of the trendy café: Zebra Bar, Mappa Mundo, Coaster… All the cool kids meet there in the summer so arrive early! In the street that goes from the St-Géry Square to La Bourse (Stock Exchange), there are several good Vietnamese and Thai restaurants so that you don’t have to go very far to have a good meal as well! Another gourmet spot is the St-Boniface Square (Metro: Porte de Namur). Check L’Ultime Atome and Le IIème element.
What’s the biggest flop in terms of food?
I know all the seafood seems tempting but stay away from “La rue des Bouchers”. Many tourists and locals have been fooled by the appetizing stands and solicitating waiters. All you’ll get there is a low quality meal and an outrageous bill!
What are the most reliable restaurant guides for your area?
Definitely resto. The site exists in French, Dutch and English but most of the reviews are in French, unfortunately… But you’ll be able to select a restaurant according to various criteria: cuisine, budget, location…
What to be aware of when dining out?
Tipping is not needed but always appreciated. People often leave the change. Booking isn’t necessary but if you’re going to a hyped place, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, it’s always better to give them a call. Smoking is forbidden in restaurants and most public places since January of this year. In most pubs and clubs, however, it is still allowed.