Taste Guide

Brussels

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.

Belgian chocolate has a worldwide reputation for quality. Chocolate makers of almost any land might boast that they are using ‘Belgian chocolate’, by which they mean raw chocolate slabs produced in Belgium. This quality comes from a tradition of carefully sourcing the beans,...

Brussels is about 100 km from the sea. And Belgium does not produce any mussels – they all come from the Netherlands or France. So how did moules-frites (mussels and chips) come to be considered a classic Brussels dish? The answer lies in the historic canals that brought seafood daily to...

Brussels is an unusual city in that its centre has long been – and largely still is – the preserve of artisans, traders and the working class. Beyond the Grand Place the streets quickly peter out into nondescript residential quarters comprised of mini-markets, laundrettes and corner...

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