Brussels has earned its nickname as the Capital of Europe. It has always been at the crossroads; a pivotal point between east and west, between the North Sea and the rest of Europe, linked by roads, rivers and canals. It is also the capital of a land that has been ruled successively by the Burgundians, Spanish, Austrians, French and Dutch, before finally achieving independence in 1830. These successive rulers have left their mark – in the architecture, art, place names, language and culinary traditions, while today influences pour in from all over the world: the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, the Americas.
Yet at its heart Brussels remains true to itself: it is a historic, walkable city, laid out in a Medieval web of streets, bounded by the egg-shaped ring of roads that trace the path of its old city walls, and focused on its glorious centrepiece, the Grand Place. This gives the city a human scale, which is reflected even in the modern European Quarter, which has been wisely exiled to a suburb to the southeast of the centre.
The same goes for Brussels’s food culture. There is a congeniality still oiled largely by the pleasures of the table. The Belgians are brought up to recognise and appreciate good food from an early age. They demand quality and value-for-money – from their chocolate-makers, restaurants and shops, even from the humble pavement fritkot stand serving chips with mayonnaise. And they ruthlessly vote with their feet. This approach has been the foundation of Brussels’s outstanding restaurant scene, which ultimately owes its shining and deserved reputation to the habits of family life and the domestic kitchen.