3 Facts about Brussels' Unique European Cuisine

A traditional European-style cafe terrace in Brussels, Belgium.
A traditional European-style cafe terrace in Brussels, Belgium.

Nestled between France, the Netherlands, and Germany, Belgium exemplifies the tremendous cultural narrative of the region. Its capital city, Brussels, serves as the de facto capital for the European Union, making it a center for business and governance. While renowned for its historical, artistic, and architectural contributions, Brussels is also known for its hallmark European cuisine. Here are three interesting facts about Belgian food:

1. More Than 4,000 Frites Vendors Line the Streets of Belgium

Belgian frites (a close cousin to the ubiquitous French fry) is a staple food in Belgium's culinary history, dating back to the 17th century. At its heart, the basic recipe followed by most of Brussels' frites vendors is simple. First, they cut Bintje potatoes into thin strips that they then deep-fry in beef tallow — twice for good measure — and then they finally top them off with any number of zesty sauces. The result is a marvelous golden-brown delicacy that puts any fast food joint to shame. Take a walk down the streets of Brussels, and you'll likely pass several frites vendors, known as frietkots. There is much debate as to who makes the best frites in Brussels, so taste them from several vendors to make your decision!

2. There Are Over 450 Varieties of Belgian Beer

There is no better way to wash down a serving of frites than with a refreshing, not to mention world-class, Belgian beer. With perhaps the most celebrated beer tradition in the world, there is no shortage of brews for any palate. Styles range from the full-bodied trappist ales that have been brewed by monks for centuries to non-malted wheat lambic beers that are unique to Brussels.

True beer aficionados should try to hunt down a bottle of the elusive Westvleteren 12. Considered by many in the beer community to be the world's finest ale, rich, malty Westvleteren 12 is brewed in incredibly limited quantities at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Western Belgium and rarely leaves the country. Those fortunate folks who manage to get a bottle will have more than one reason to savor this extraordinary brew.

3. Belgium Produces More Than 172,000 Tons of Chocolate Annually

No trip to Brussels is complete without sampling the world-class chocolate for which Belgium is known. In a country with more than 2,000 chocolate shops, this is an easy mission to accomplish. Brussels is brimming with shops filled with mouthwatering morsels, especially in the chic Grand Sablon neighborhood, which is home to many noteworthy chocolatiers. Some, like Godiva and Wittamer, have a well-deserved worldwide presence, while newcomers — including the visionary Pierre Marcolini — are quickly building a devoted following.

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