When I found out about a month ago that I needed to take a trip to my company’s office in Brussels, Belgium to work on documenting a new product, all I could think about was the awesome food and drink I’d get to experience. They didn’t even have to finish the sentence or tell me much about the project in order to get me to say yes! So I took a trip “across the pond” last week, and am back (likely heavier) to talk about the deliciousness.
Whenever I’m planning a trip, I do as much research as I can, and really appreciate when people take the time to review things. I rely heavily on Yelp and FourSquare when it comes to food and drink, and I feel as though it’s only appropriate to pay it back by doing the same. So in addition to the reviews there, I wanted to blog about it too. I’m going to break it into two parts: first the food, then the drink. You can experience most of Brussels and the “sights” in a matter of three days (if you hit up the big attractions and are diligent with your time), but obviously staying longer means you’ll have more of an opportunity to try different restaurants and bars. I was in Brussels for six days; three days of work and three days of sight seeing and being a tourist.
I must admit I was a little nervous for my first dining experience in Brussels, as each country seems to have their own social and cultural norms when it comes to dining. I tried to do some research beforehand to see what was common, etc., but didn’t get much information. My timidness only stems from my first night in Berlin two years ago, when we walked into a restaurant and didn’t realize that they go by the “seat yourself” rule, and stood in the doorway for awhile until a surly man ushered us to a table. It seems as though in Brussels, you are acknowledged and directed by waitstaff when you walk in, but you’re able to pick your own seat. And when it comes to the check, they don’t rush you – so you either have to ask for it when they’re clearing your place, or flag them down to request it. Or, in some cases, just go up to the register and they’ll ring you up right there. It’s also worth noting that a lot of places are cash only – so make sure you have plenty of Euros with you! Now onto the food…
My ahead of time research led me to my first meal at Houtsiplou. There seem to be a lot of burger joints in Brussels, but this particular restaurant had the best reviews, and they their food is served up in a kitschy environment (all of their walls are painted with fun scenes and their food is delivered up from the kitchen via dumbwaiter). After perusing the menu for awhile, I ordered a beer (of course – review to come in a separate post) and their veggie burger, “Lola.” The burger had some grilled eggplant, tomato sauce, lettuce, and cheddar cheese served with frites in a cute little flower pot. I absolutely loved everything about the restaurant, and planned to take a trip back (which I did on my last night) before leaving. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a good burger and delicious frites just outside of the central tourist area of Brussels.
Since my sense of time was out of whack (Left at 6pm EST and arrived at 8am CET, took a little nap before and after lunch), I wasn’t really hungry for dinner that first night. After a trip to Delirium Café (full review on that awesomeness to come in my beer post) for beer, I headed to one of many Friteries just two blocks from my hotel for fries (yes, this was after having them with my burger at lunch). This particular location, Friterie Tabora, offered two different sizes (small or large) and a plethora of sauce options. I decided on the curry sauce, and watched the guy behind the counter smother my piping hot cone of fries thinking to myself, “Um, how am I going to eat this?!” Thankfully they offer those cute little forks for frites consumption, so I had no problem strolling back to my hotel while devouring them.
On Sunday morning I woke up with two goals in mind: breakfast that included a giant cup of coffee, and a visit to a museum and Mannekin Pis (and more beer, of course). Despite Brussels being a bustling city, there weren’t a lot of coffee shops around. And I quickly learned while trying to find one nearby that a lot of stores, restaurants, and even coffee shops are closed on Sundays. Eventually I settled on The Coffee Company, and ordered myself a blueberry muffin and a cappuccino. It was nice to sit back, relax, and enjoy my breakfast in a familiar environment (well, except for the fact that everyone around me was speaking French). Eventually I made my way to the Magritte Museum to enjoy a little culture. The museum actually made me really tired (it was quiet and dark), so I knew I’d need to walk around outside a bit to wake up.
After wandering around for a bit, I decided on my early dinner haphazardly. The hotel I was staying at offered wifi, so I was able to look up the location of things and read reviews, etc., anytime I was in my hotel, but I kept my phone in airplane mode the entire trip so I wouldn’t incur any international data charges. This worked out well, until I was out somewhere without internet and needed it. I had bookmarked one restaurant, Rachel, based on it’s reviews and location, and just as my stomach started to grumble, I walked past the restaurant. This is also a bit of a burger joint, but they offer more than just burgers (apparently their brunch is very good). Even though I had a burger for lunch the day before, I went with their Frankenstein burger (with a veggie patty substituted) which was served on a bagel. That’s right – a burger on a bagel. It was as amazing as it sounds! I also had my first tasted of Kriek, which I really enjoyed (and was shocked I did). The service was quick and friendly, and I didn’t feel out of place at all. After my second burger of the trip, I walked down to the famed Mannekin Pis for a picture. I must admit it’s pretty weird, but funny, and picture worthy.
Monday meant it was time for work, so I took a trip to the office, which was about 20 minutes outside of Brussels in an office park. I must admit I have no idea where we went for lunch which isn’t very helpful, but again, it was outside of Brussels so I’m assuming the average tourist wouldn’t be out that way anyway. By the time I got back to my hotel I couldn’t wait for dinner. And again, I decided to go a few blocks away from the touristy section of the city. I should note that anyone who wants to have a good, non-tourist centered meal should avoid any restaurant near Grand Place, especially Beenhouwersstraat / Rue des Bouchers streets. You have to walk down them to get to the Delirium Café, but you really shouldn’t go down them for any other reason; unless you like having people jump out at you from the restaurant trying to get you to come in and eat. I nearly punched someone in the face after telling him no and saying excuse me (in French) multiple times without him moving. More on that later, though!
Dinner on Monday night was at Publico – a small and intimate Mediterranean restaurant. I was thrown for a loop when I first opened the door, since you need to completely close it before being able to stand inside. When you do, it’s pitch black as there is a big heavy curtain separating the doorway from the actual restaurant (which I’m assuming is to help keep out the cold). Once you realize what’s going on and you open the curtain, you’re faced with a warm and inviting restaurant. I ordered the bruschetta to start followed by one of their specials (orecchiette) and it was phenomenal. They have an extensive wine list, and in addition to serving you bread (as all restaurants in Brussels do) they also had herbed olives that were delicious. My main dish was so big that I couldn’t finish it, and the server asked me if I didn’t like it and that’s why I didn’t finish it (and he seemed insulted). I had to assure him that I was just too full to finish, as they take finishing their food in Brussels seriously. I must admit that was the only meal I didn’t devour!
At the risk of getting too long and too wordy, I’m going to split this post into two parts – I still have three more days worth of food to talk about! And don’t worry, things like Belgian waffles, moules frites, Belgian chocolate, and speculoos are up next.
So in the meantime, tell me…
Have you ever traveled somewhere that had different dining customs? Did you know about them beforehand, or discover them once you were there?