This Saturday 9th May, Europe’s day was commemorated. More than ever in an unprecedented crisis derived from the COVID-19 pandemic we are facing, we should remember the pillars of the European Union, laid down on Robert Schuman’s Declaration signed on 9th May 1950 – principles of peace, solidarity, union and cohesion. The European Union is a success story and it is thanks to the European Union we can be grateful for the privileges we are entitled to – from Bologna educational system, under which our qualifications are easily recognised in any other EU country to marrying someone from another EU country.
Obviously Schengen has been one of the major achievements, under which thousands of Europeans can travel, work or live in another EU country without having to request any visa or seek any complicated bureaucratic procedure. I myself am a “product” of the EU, in fact it was thanks to trade deals with other EU countries that my parents – one from Portugal and the other one from Austria met and later on got married.
Perhaps I never told you that, but I have lived in Brussels. In fact I started my professional career at the Blue Book Traineeship at the European Commission in Brussels.
The main EU institutions avenue in Brussels – Rue de la Loi in the EU quarter. Left side: Council of the European Union, Europa building and LEX building, where some European Commission meetings take place.
European Commission in Brussels
2 weeks after my internship started, I survived a terrorrist attack. I worked 300m from Maalbeek metro station. I can still remember very vividly this date and the fear I felt the next days. On that day I did not open any news on my cell phone and went on foot to the office without realising what has happening – only when I entered the building I figure out there had been an attack at the airport and some minutes later on the 7th floor of my DG’s buiding I saw it all happening in Maalbeek.
Even though I do not travel so often with the Portuguese airline TAP, I will always be thankful that one day after the attack, they managed to organise a flight from Liège to Lisbon, allowing me to spend Easter with my family.
If there is one thing that has captivated me in Brussels was its multiculturalism and consequently its enourmous gastronomic diversity.
In this post I want to show you the very best gastronomic diversity Brussels has to offer you. I will talk about the Brussels food scene, including my top Brussels restaurants and Brussels fries choices, best chocolate stores in Brussels and of course the best fancy street food markets in Brussels. Let’s start the foodie journey?
Brussels Food Scene: the best restaurants in Brussels and the best street food markets
Brussels International Food Scene
In different parts of Brussels, you have completely authentic Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, African, Arabic neighbourboods so that you really do not miss home.
Let’s see some iconic examples:
European Quarter – Avenue de la Couronne
Best Portuguese egg custard (Pastéis de nata) abroad at Patisserie Garcia
It is owned by Mr. Garcia, a very talented Portuguese baker who made incredible efforts to pursue his dream of opening his own bakery back in the early 90s when he and his family migrated to Belgium.
It is actually divided into 2 stores: one is the real café, where you can seat surrounded by Portuguese azulejos and drink real Delta coffee while eating an authentic warm Pastel de Nata with cinnamon. On weekends it is always crowded and do not feel intimated if while sitting on your own, someone asks to join you. This kind of “living-room” restaurants or cafés is very popular in Belgium and in the Netherlands.
The other one is a bakery, no sits available, where you just go and buy bread or any other pastry to take home.
Schaerbeek – Avenue Clays
Coming from Porto, you immediately feel at home as in the main room you have a great picture of Porto’s panorama.
I had the chance to talk to the owner, Vítor if I remember well, who is a very kind talented manager who did his professional traineeship at one of the very best Portuguese and even European restaurants (awarded with one Michelin star) in the picturesque city of Amarante – Casa da Calçada
The codfish and octopus are just incredible, I immediated travelled into my grandmother’s or mother’s kitchen.
But the most incredible thing they have which I have not yet seen at any other Portuguese restaurant abroad (I have even been to the Portuguese quarter in Hamburg, one of the largest Portuguese communities in Europe and the largest one in Germany) is the authentic and incredible veal meat of our city of Arouca, which is a PDO (Protected designation of origin) product – it is a certification granted to products from a particular region which is known for having the best assets for a particular product and that you can only find there. For example, Rioja region for Rioja wine in Spain, Champagne region for Champagne in France or Parma region for the Prosciutto di Parma in Italy. You can read more about this type of meat here
A simple dish of this pure meat only seasoned with garlic and olive oil is incredible! They do also have very tasty and reasonable priced lunch menus for Brussels standards.
I had dinner many times on my own here and always took my family members for dinner at this amazing restaurant. I never actually managed to say goodbye to you when I left Brussels, because it cannot be a goodbye. You have been a great dinner company for me and you can bet whenever I come back to Brussels, you are always on my Dinner list.
Wood oven pizzas, authentic and genuine Italian ingredients, such as mozzarella di Buffala Campana or San Marzano tomatoes and always crowded with the Italian community in Brussels.
It is a very pleasant stop when you miss a real Italian pizza. The atmosphere, the decoration and even the fact that all staff is Italian makes you travel to the real pizzerias in Naples.
Best tropical fruits and exotic ingredients
I do not have a particular recommendation, but Matonge is the district where the majority of the African community lives. Some groceries stores or street markets make you travel to Kenia or Tanzania. If you are looking for the best tropical fruits or some exotic ingredients, this is the quarter to look for. By the way, if you like some African tresses or musical instruments, there are plenty of hairdressers or music stores to stop by.
Being such a multicultural capital city, you can basically try any kind of cuisine you wish (from typical Italian one to more interesting and exotic flavours, such as Lebanese and Ethiopian food). Moreover, Brussels is also home to many 3-starred Michelin restaurants and very exquisite types of cuisine. Foodie and fancy style you can imagine that the Fancy Explorer felt in heaven 🙂
For your self-management consider spending on average €20 on set lunch menus and around €50 for dinner (including entrée, main dish and dessert).
Brussels, as headquarters of the European institutions and some international organizations, such as Eurocontrol or NATO as we could see it has a very diverse population from all corners of the world. Let’s now move to the Belgian food scene:
Belgian food scene in Brussels
Beyond the fantastic restaurants you can find from any type of cuisine you wish to try, there is one typical dish Belgium is well-known for: moules frites (mussels with fries). If you honestly ask me if it works well, I would say no but I admit Brussels fries are the best I have ever eaten. I actually like them without any sauce (Belgian food uses plenty of sauces – even on a fries stand you have about 50 to choose from!!), especially if you eat the crispy ones from Place Flagey in Ixelles district (for me the best ones) – Frit Flagey
Another famous fries stand is located on the heart of the European quarter. If you ever imagined Chanceler Merkel or any MEP waiting on a queue to eat fries, this is the spot to go. Personally I find these fries very greasy and heavy, but the unique European bubble atmosphere should also be part of your plan. So why not combine a visit to any European institution with fries for lunch at Maison Antoine
In both these places, please bear in mind they are a food stand. On Place Jourdan where Maison Antoine is located, some restaurants with sits outside will allow you to eat your fries, but always look for the symbol: Frites allowed.
On Place Flagey you will always find a nice bank to stop and enjoy your fries. You should not come in a hurry, since these 2 fries stand are very popular and hence long queues are to be expected. You just have to pick the sauce you wish to eat your fries with and while waiting, you can see (at least at Frit Flagey) that after the fries are ready, the remaining oil is taken out and only afterwards will the sauce be added. This is perhaps the reason why they are so incredibly crispy.
Let me now introduce you to my favourite Belgian cuisine restaurant in Brussels:
This restaurant was an incredible surprise. First of all, it is located in the Schaerbeek residential district and is very calm. Both a younger and elder clientèle stop by. However for a restaurant listed in the Michelin guide, it so incredibly reasonably-priced and has very interesting and tasteful combinations: for entrée, I recommend sautéed shrimps with garlic; for the main dish sole meunière cannot be missed; for desserts pick anything with chocolate, since we are in chocolate’s homeland.
We cannot talk about Brussels without mentioning its incredible chocolate variety (from bread spread to pralines, you can find the most unusual and fancy combinations). Whenever you enter a chocolate store, you will always be tempted by their incredible chocolate tasting. One product I do truly love and recommend taking home is Orangette (only if you like orange and chocolate, of course. It is dried orange scraps filled with dark chocolate – heaven!) If you really wish to go to the chocolate’s world capital, the medieval Unesco-heritage site of Bruges should be a must stop (just 1h30 away from Brussels).
Chocolate temptation in Brussels
Medieval beauty of Bruges
So with such a wide variety of options, you may feel lost about the best place to buy your chocolate souvenirs right? Godiva, Neuhaus, Leonidas, etc these names all come to our minds, but maybe you look for something more genuine? I have the solution for your problems, take a look at my chocolate fancy options:
Pierre Marcolini – For me one of the very best chocolatiers who strives for the fanciest chocolate. Pierre Marcolini travels the world to look for the rarest cocoa bean to make the finest chocolate bar or pralines and this incredible taste is felt when his chocolate melts in your mouth. The window decoration on special occasions, such as Easter or Christmas is just beautiful. I like the store on Sablon district.
Elizabeth Chocolatier– It is a very sweet and very fancy shop, with exquisite combinations and artisan-made chocolate. Buy some pralines, they are heaven! One of their stores is located on the fancy Galeries Hubert.
Inside Galeries Hubert in Brussels
Best fancy food street markets
Just in case you did not have yet enough of Brussels food scene, one other aspect I do truly miss from Brussels is its food street markets, where you can buy anything from organic farmer cheeses to imported Brazilian papaya or Moroccan food. For me there are 2 which should be on your To do List: Chatelain Market on Wednesdays afternoon in Ixelles district and on Fridays afternoon in Schaerbeek district the market at Place des Chasseurs Ardennais
Since the latter was closer to my home and I went there more often, I will focus on this one.
What is so special about the market at Place des Chasseurs Ardennais? What can I find there?
- International atmosphere – since it is quite close to the EU quarter, all diplomatic, EU-staff families gather here and buy their groceries.
- Beyond traditional farmers stands, you can also try Moroccan food (tangine is a must) and there is a seafood/cocktail stand, which is very popular.
- Tropical fruits stand – it is pricey, but the quality is amazing and you can even find fruits you had perhaps only seen in Brazil and other tropical countries. I always bought mango and papaya.
- Crepes are amazing – even the most simple one just with cinnamon or honey.
- Farmers cheese from local producers – there was one Goat cheese from Corsica (produced in very small quantities), which was amazing. I could eat it all in a couple of minutes.
- Organic fruits and vegetables – you will have 2 or 3 stands from organic fruits and vegetables to choose from. When red fruits season arrives, do not miss them as Belgian strawberries are incredible!
- Excellent fish quality – I normally never buy fish at a street market (except from fishermen market at beaches, of course), but the fish stand is of utmost quality. For dinner I usually bought salmon, octopus, sole or even seabass and it was always amazing and with an incredible freshness.
- It closes at 9 pm – You may laugh, but since supermarkets close early in Belgium (for South European standards), having the possibility to buy groceries until 9 pm, especially in the Summer months with long days of sunlight is great!
Brussels like any other city where I had the pleasure to live is part of me and has shaped the person I am. I feel grateful I had the opportunity to experience the EU bubble on first hand, even though it was in a very particular period – terrorist attacks 2016 and the UK referendum.
It was a great work experience, however very soon I realised it was not for me, which sometimes made me feel disappointed because I had always studied and worked very hard to work at the EU or international organization. If I never had this opportunity, I would perhaps have never figured it out. However, I still work in an EU-related field and definitely the experience I had acquired was an asset.
I do still have good friends and acquaintances, whom I try to visit as often as I can. One thing though I take from Brussels is my enhanced fancy taste when it comes to food and its incredible multicultural and gastronomical variety. I really felt in heaven. And precisely because of that or as a consequence of my Brussels experience, I do know today more than ever travelling and food moves me and has been/will always be my biggest passion.
Take note of all these fancy recommendations and let me know what you think or even show me your pictures from souvenir shops or chocolate tasting.
I am open for any questions you might have!
See you around and stay safe, fancy travellers!