Eating in Brussels: Pommes Frites, Chocolate and Beer
This contribution comes from author Louise Vinciguerra.
We may call them “french fries” in the United States, but Belgians will contest that the delicious fried potato snacks are truly Belgian creations. Add to these hot morsels the obligation to try Belgian chocolate (extra points if you eat it drizzled on waffles), wash it all down with a flavorful beer — and you’ve got the best introduction to Brussels possible. But, how did these three staples of Brussels’ tables become so popular? Neither potatoes nor cocoa are native to Belgium, and what makes Belgian beer so special anyway? Read on to find out and to learn the best places in Brussels to sample these delicacies.
First, the chocolate; many visitors look on Venere.com for hotels near the best places to eat. Others pick their hotels in proximity to the best places to sample Belgian chocolates. Chocolate is not even a European invention, let alone a Belgian one. The Mesoamericans were the first to create delicacies from the fermented, roasted seed of the cacao tree and Europeans only got their first taste of chocolate after the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes brought it back home in the 1500s. Soon after, the slightly bitter treat made its way to Belgium, which was under Spanish rule in the 1600s.
Here, it metamorphosed. Whereas the Americans and the Spanish had chosen to primarily drink chocolate, in Belgium and other places in northern Europe, chocolate was transformed by adding milk and sugar. Belgian chocolatiers experimented with different recipes, shapes and textures. Nowadays, Belgian seashell pralines are some of the most widely recognized high-quality chocolates in the world. Visitors to Brussels should sample some of the handcrafted morsels available at branded chocolate shops throughout the city. The Place du Grand Sablon is a good starting place.
Next, the potatoes. Walk down any busy avenue in Brussels and you are likely to get a whiff of enticing street-side snacks. For many, the favorite of these is pommes frites, or fried potatoes. In the United States, we call these “french fries.” Though it was a French Army agronomist who enthusiastically promoted potatoes’ health benefits for soldiers to luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin and King Louis XVI, the Belgians have made a good thing even better. Served up piping hot in a paper cone for easy transport and slathered with mayonnaise or other sauces, proper pommes frites are crunchy on the outside with a soft interior as comforting as a pillow.
Visitors to Brussels may get a smile from Frietmuseum, a museum entirely dedicated to preserving the history of fried potatoes. The café in the bottom has some excellent examples of this edible treat, but then, so do the numerous stalls. Try ones near Place Jourdan or near the Bourse.
Are you thirsty yet? Let’s discuss beer. There’s plenty of it in this pint-sized country: With more than 170 breweries to choose from, Belgium has a lot of variety for beer-drinking travelers. During the crusades, monks brewed the beer to help raise revenue and some of Belgium’s most famous beers are still made by Trappist and other monks. There are six Belgian monasteries producing Trappist beers, including the three most widely known: Chimay, Achel and Orval.
While Trappist beers must actually be made by Trappist monks, other monastery-style beers are called “Abbey” beers. While “Trappist” and “Abbey” mainly describe how and where the beers are made, most of them are brown ales, strong pale ales or blonde ales. Belgian pale ales are similar to the ones you’ll find in England, but are usually less bitter and less hoppy. A type of brown ale, dubbel, is usually bottle-conditioned and features about six to eight percent ABV.
For less strength, try a normal brown ale, which is darker than an amber ale and not very sour. There are many other types of beer produced in Belgium, of course, and there are also seasonal brews. To try the best beers in Brussels, visit the variety of pubs in the historic city center. You can also plan your trip around the Belgian Beer Weekend, usually held in Brussels in September.
About the Author: Louise Vinciguerra is a fantastic joke teller, has a million and one hobbies, and enjoys matching her fonts with her moods. This Brooklyn native dirties her hands in content on weekdays and as a devout nature lover, dirties them in soil on the weekends. When she’s not on Facebook, WordPress or Twitter, she’s traveling in search of fun food, dabbling in urban farming or planning nature trips from her resident city of Rome. When she’s not doing any of the above, she sleeps.