When it comes to crafting great food, Belgians do a number of things exceptionally well. They make excellent french fries (frites), with an interesting assortment of dipping sauces. They brew some great beer -- many beer lovers say the world's best. But their culinary talent is best displayed in their passion for chocolate. Belgian chocolate is considered to be the gold standard by which other chocolate is measured, even that of the Swiss.
Belgium has over two thousand commercial chocolatiers, a remarkably large cottage industry. Chocolate is mostly produced in small batches and by hand, this process lending itself to many small, independent chocolate outlets. More than 170,000 tonnes of chocolate are produced each year, a lot of it consumed domestically but much of it for export. Belgians, rather than cutting costs, have stuck with traditional chocolate manufacturing techniques using time tested ingredients. Not only is it carefully cooked but it's also crafted to be visually appealing, often beautiful. It's not cheap but always delicious! Some of the popular local chains include Neuhaus and Leonidas.
What type of chocolate can you get in Belgium? Simple -- only the best chocolate. But it comes in so many flavors you can't possible begin to list them. Among my favorites are raspberry chocolate blends -- a combination has appealed to me since I was a boy.
So make it a point of doing a chocolate "crawl" the next time you're in Brussels or elsewhere in Belgium. Stop at one of the many of the chocolate shops and buy a piece, enjoy it, and move on to the next. And be sure to buy some chocolate as gifts. Much of it is so beautifully crafted and packaged and it makes wonderful presents (An obvious note of warning; do not buy as a gift if you plan on traveling to a hot climate)
My favorite of the chocolate shops we visited was Neuhaus. Anyone else have a favorite?
(Display of nuts? Nope -- it's all chocolate. Every bite wonderful!)
(Perhaps a few small packets to take home with you??)
(Don't forget to buy some macaroons)