Archive for the ‘Belgium’ Category

There is chocolate and then there is chocolate.

With over 2000 chocolate shops throughout the country, Belgium takes her chocolates seriously. As with Brussels, chocolate shops are everywhere in Brugge, but given the number of shops, it is very difficult to choose. Luckily, I did my research and already knew where to head for to indulge my chocolate cravings!

First on my list: Dumon

Eiermarkt 6

Dumon is a well-known family owned shop and crowds are always present in the cute tiny shop. Madam Dumon and her two sons make handmade chocolates daily. There are no English labels but no worries! The friendly Madam Dumon described her fresh chocolates so well that I bought 500g of truffles and pralines without hesitation, hee.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy them as much as I thought I would have cuz being a dark-and-bitter-choc kind of girl, these are too creamy and buttery to me =(

After Dumon, I went over to the The Chocolate Line near Market Square for one-of-a-kind concoctions.

Simon Stevinplein 19

Specialising in making gastronomic chocolates, Dominique Persoone dubbed himself a “shock-a-latier” cuz his chocolates are anything but traditional (the exact opposite of Dumon). Think shiso leaf, saffron curry, wasabi, sakura etc. He’s also the man who brainstorms a couple of times a year with Heston Blumenthal, the molecular chef behind The Fat Duck (I wanna go!!) in the UK.

Another 500g of chocolates to go and this time, I wasn’t disappointed! I love his chocolates, especially interesting creations like the potent Havana cigar, refreshing lemongrass and a Buddha-shaped gingery ginger chocolate~ Gorgeous stuff. And it’s a wonder that the unexpected flavours didn’t result in a taste bud rebellion.

That’s the magic of a shock-a-latier. 

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You cannot go to Belgium and not eat waffles. That’s like committing an unforgivable sin in the eyes of any foodie. And a much commendable act of self-control cuz I guess I can never understand how one can resist the luring smell of hot waffles in the air~

It doesn’t matter where you get the waffles (they are everywhere!), but a general rule of thumb for me is that I don’t buy them from boutique cafes as the ones from street-side vendors or Christmas market stalls are just as good and about 3 times cheaper. Save your euros for more waffles! =)

Waffle #1: Strawberry waffle!

Waffle #2: Chocolate Waffle!

Waffle #3: Banana Waffle!

Waffle #4: With an overdose of icing sugar!

Waffle #5: Cherry Waffle!

And.. Waffle #6, my favourite! No whipped cream, no icing sugar, no toppings. Plain, simple, light, crispy and ridiculously delicious, as it should be =)

After all that a-waffle-ing, I’m finally ready for a proper meal! Nope, I didn’t go to a Chinese restaurant, haha. That dim sum basket contains my lunch at Den Amand, a small and cozy bistro that’s highly recommended by other foodies online.

Sint-Amandsstraat 4

I had their specialty: a trio of fresh fish steamed and served with seasonal vegetables. This was so.. healthy! Haha, and a welcome change after days of eating junk food overseas~

I’m missing you, Brugge.

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Belgium: Beautiful Brugge

Brugge is so so beautiful, not in a heart-stopping kind of way but gorgeous in a tranquil, soothing manner. With an old inner harbor transformed into a scenic Minnewater (literally the ‘Lake of Love’), it’s exactly the type of place where romantics go for a perfect getaway.

Walking into town from the train station, it’s easy to understand why Bruges is often called ‘The Venice of Northern Europe’.

Picturesque canals seem to be everywhere!

Pretty, isn’t it? Brugge is not nicknamed a “postcard city” for nothing =)

In the heart of town, motor vehicles are mostly prohibited and the winding cobbled streets are shared by pedestrians and the occasional horse-drawn carriages.

The historic centre of Brugge has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. It’s so well-preserved that it’s almost like a movie set, the sort you would expect to see in a Disney flick, haha.

Dating from the 13th to 15th centuries, the imposing Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) contains the famous sculpture of Madonna and Child (top right) by Michelangelo.

At Brugge’s heart are two magnificent squares: Markt, the medieval marketplace; and Burg, the ancient seat of government, dominated by the City Hall.

I love visiting European cities in winter, definitely not for the cold but for the Christmas markets. Like many other cities, there’s a temporary ice rink in the Markt, surrounded by gabled stands selling hot chocolate, beignets, bratwurst etc etc.

It’s becoming a tradition for me to have a cup of glühwein (hot, spiced wine) when visiting winter markets. It does a great job at keeping my insides warm in the freezing cold weather!

Walking around made me (you guess it!) hungry. Updates on my makan finds in Brugge coming up next!

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Belgium: Pierre Marcolini

Chocolates everywhere, that’s Belgium for you. After weeks days of research, I’ve set my heart on a box of chocolates from the revered chocolatier, Pierre Marcolini (Sablon Rue des Minimes, 1). It’s not far from Grand Place in Brussels, just a short walk away from the throngs of tourists.

Behold the rows and rows of beautifully displayed eye candy~!

My elegantly packed box of little gems is so lovely that I can’t bear to discard it even after all the chocolates are gone. It’s still sitting prettily in my drawer now haha.

These don’t come cheap. A box of 30 comes with a hefty price tag of €22.50—which I gladly parted with. And I rationed them very carefully for the remaining days in Europe: 5 per day, a few pieces more on days when I can’t resist the temptation! Alas, they lasted me less than a week =(

I’ll just list down some of the flavours that I’m most impressed with:

Brésil grand cru: pure ganache made with cocoa beans from the Bahia region.

Pavé de tours: Marriage of hazelnut, almond praline and Quimper flaky wafer.

Quatre épices: soft chocolate caramel with a blend of 4 spices.

Violette: violet ganache with bursts of raspberry.

Thym et orange: ganache flavoured with thyme and zest of orange.

Thé au citron: bergamot infusion combined with lemon and lime zest.

Thé earl grey: pure ganache infused with earl grey tea.

The pralines and ganaches are nothing short of exquisite! Flavours are deep and complex but not confusing, texture is smooth and rich, i.e. they are simply out of this world~

Though there are so many different creative flavours, my personal favourite is all the pure ganaches from different regions (e.g. Trinidad, Los Rios, Sambirano, Sur del Lago), with no flavouring and minimum sugar to bring out the pure taste of chocolate.

The simplest things in life give the greatest pleasure, aye? =)

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We joined a day tour to Belgium and woah, it’s the smallest group tour ever! 3 Singaporeans (that’s us), 2 Italians, 1 driver and 1 guide, and off we went to Antwerp, our first stop and the second largest city in Belgium. Honestly, being a tourist, Antwerp was not on my radar. And that’s precisely why I’m pleasantly surprised to find that it’s such a colourful charming little city.

At the heart of the old city is the Grote Markt with its Town Hall, guild houses and a statue of Brabo (above). Legend has it that those who refused to pay a toll to the nasty giant controlling the river traffic would have a hand cut off. One day, Silvus Brabo, a brave young man, killed the giant, cut off his hand, and threw it into the Scheldt River.

A short distance away is the gothic Cathedral of Our Lady, an immediate eye-catcher even from afar. We didn’t enter the cathedral cuz it was much more fun to wander around outside. Notice the bottom left pic below? There was a group of people taking shots of the ivy-covered building so monkey see, monkey do, I did too. I’ve tried googling to find out if it’s a special place but till now, no such luck~ Oh well, it may be a completely random building, who knows.

Before long, our (slightly more than) one hour in Antwerp was up and we settled back for the ride to Brussels, the official capital of Belgium and the unofficial capital of the European Union.

En route, we stopped for a snap shot of the Atomium, a lasting monument built for the 1958 World Fair of Brussels. Personally, I didn’t think much of the structure and was glad we didn’t linger long. Oh, the joy of being in a small tour group!

We parked, and we walked along quaint narrow cobbled streets to…

Grand Place, the medieval square and main tourist attraction of Brussels. I like it slightly more than Antwerp’s Grote Markt cuz it’s so much more dramatic, noisy, and colourful.

There are lots of pavement cafes/restaurants surrounding the square and we picked a random one for lunch since I didn’t do my homework beforehand on where to eat -_- All I know is what I want: beer, mussels and fries, in that order, please.

We checked out a few restaurants (some are obviously tourist traps) and decided on La Rose Blanche (Grand-Place 11) since the view, price and setting were all good.

They say Belgium is the place for beers and I’m convinced after taking a sip of Blanche de Bruges (Belgian white beer recommended by the friendly waiter since I’m a noob when it comes to alcohol). It’s slightly tart and citrusy, and has a nice finish that’s not too dry.

Like beers, mussels are a must in Belgium! Apparently they are served everywhere and a bucket (€22.50) here is big enough for 2 to share (or in our case, it’s even too much for 3 of us). We chose to have the mussels cooked in Grimbergen Triple (a type of beer, what else) and I find them just alright, nothing fantastic since I’m not a fan of these shellfish in the first place. For the greatest authenticity, remember to use an empty shell to pry out the meat!

When there’s mussels, there’s frites (fries). Afterall, they are the Belgian national dish. A pile was served a la Belgique, with mayonnaise. Like mussels, fries are not my favourite food on earth.

After lunch, we made an obligatory stop at the minute statue of Manneken-Pis (bottom left), Brussels’ mascot. He’s found 3 blocks off the Grand Place along Rue de l’Etuve and traditionally, costumes are sent to Brussels from all over the world for him to wear. And there’s even a published schedule on his wardrobe for the week, which I thought was pretty hilarious, haha.

Besides a mural of Tintin (Brussels is the home of his creator, Hergé), there’s also many little waffle shops lining the same street. With so many choices, I think there’s no better place to savour a Belgian waffle! My thumb of rule is to buy freshly made ones instead of those that’s been sitting out too long.

Look at the mouth-watering display! Have it plain with powdered sugar or get a fancy one topped with strawberries, bananas, kiwi, whipped cream, Nutella etc etc.

How can anyone resist a waffle smothered with whipped creamstrawberries and wickedly sinful chocolate sauce! I have to admit, I’ve never liked waffles but gosh, I’m a convert when it comes to Belgian waffles. It’s unlike any so-called waffles I’ve tried in Singapore. This is thick but light, crisp on the outside with a crunchy layer of caramelized sugar on top and soft on the inside. Bliss~

Striking waffles off my list, I tackled chocolates next. There’s Neuhaus, Galler, Wittamer, Valrhona etc etc.

Godiva’s first shop was on the Grand Place 22 and it’s still standing there today!

Although I can get Godiva’s pralines and drinks in Singapore, there’s just something different when one is standing in the original shop and being tempted by all that lovely goodies.

The Chocolixir was somewhat disappointing. I was expecting a really thick and rich chocolate blended drink laced with raspberry but this was rather thin… Didn’t give that ‘shiok!’ feeling at all =(

Leonidas (Rue au Beurre 34) didn’t excite me much since the confections are machine-made instead of handmade ones like Godiva.

But that’s before I saw this gorgeous chocolate fountain beckoning me…

… and skewers of bright red strawberries!

Alas, my impromptu treat: incredibly sweet and juicy strawberries coated with a smooth and lush dark chocolate sauce~

If I ever have the chance to go back to Belgium, I’m going to buy a tub of this mean chocolate sauce, dozens of plain waffles, and stuff myself silly!

That’s not the end of my chocolate adventure! I’ve found my favourite chocolatier in Belgium, and love his chocolates so much that they deserve to be featured in a post solely for them =) Stay tune for that.

To Belgium, cheers.

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