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Apr 1, 2008 11:29 AM

Brussels, Belgium


I'm a Canadian from the Toronto area and I will be going to Brussels for the annual International Seafood Exhibition April 22-24. I'll be setting up a bit earlier, so I'll be in town for about 10 days.

I'll stay near the expo centre for 3 days and then near Sint-Gins (just south of Brussels) for 6 days. I may have a day or two entirely free to tour the city, take pictures, meet people, and EAT! However, I'll be working usual hours, so a quick bite for lunch is likely and some decent time for dinner!

I'm looking to spend about 100 euros a day on food and transport, so i'm looking for good, cheap lunches and mid-range restaurants for dinner! In fact, I'd like to try as much food as possible that I can't find in America/Canada.

From what I've read in on other threads, Belgium is known for their beers, frites, seafood, chocolate, and ... waffles? (is that true?) ... i'm excited! any recommendations are entirely welcome!


also, any places to see and things to do in the immediate Brussels vicinity would be much appreciated!

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  1. Brussels is an interesting place as it is, generally, a French speaking city in the middle of Dutch speaking Flanders.

    For a generally different experience, try to get properly into Flanders - Antwerp, Gent or Ieper (Ypres) - would be good bets. I cannot find Sint-Gins on Google but the name is Dutch, so you may be in the area already. You get to try entirely different stuff - they have different ways with mussels from the French areas; Flemish beef stew is good. And I particularly like Potje Vleesch. It's sort of like a coarse pate - but only sort of. In the UK, we'd probably call it "brawn". Always comes with chips (frites) and salad.

    And buy some chips/frites from a takeaway - comes with a choice of mayo, ketchup or satay/peanut sauce. Or all three!

    You might find this recent articlel useful:

    9 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      You'll generally only find satesaus/pindasaus (peanut sauce) in the Netherlands, or occasionally in fry shops near the Dutch border. As a general rule, the Belgians strongly dislike peanut butter and see pindasaus on fries as something that is 'just not done'.

      I would personally recommend you order a 'friet speciaal' - that's fries with mayonnaise, chopped raw onions, and curry ketchup. I don't eat meat, but my husband is quite fond of fries with stoofvlees (a beef stew) and mayonnaise - I guess that and the speciaal are the Belgian equivalents of poutine (in terms of sounding/looking odd to outsiders). There are also a (large) number of different mayonnaise based sauces to try, my favourites are Samourai (spicy!) and Andalouse.

      What they say about the waffles is true! You'll find two styles here - the Brussels style, which is the light, fluffy kind you'll find as a 'Belgian waffle' in Canada, and the Liège style, which is quite different and definitely worth trying.

      I don't know of a Sint-Gins near Brussels - do you perhaps mean Sint-Gillis?

      1. re: devoir

        Satesaus seems quite common in takeaways in Ieper - perhaps catering to tourists, like me.

        1. re: Harters

          That might be the case - I live in the province of Limburg, and never see satesaus around here (which is a shame, because I do find it tasty). I know one fry shop in Arendonk (Antwerp province, very close to the Dutch boarder) that has satesaus for their Dutch clients, but the owner admitted to me once that he thinks it's foul stuff.

        2. re: devoir

          my mistake, yes .... Sint-Gillis ....

          sooo, these "fries stands" are like american/canadian equivalent of the hot dog stand? ..... that's soo exciting!! .... i can imagine myself trying new sauces and fries at every street corner already! ... haha, the stoofvlees indeed sounds like a poutine!! ... but will these be located in the Brussels city centre? ... how close is brussels from the dutch border?

          are the Liège style waffles more dense and inherently sweet? how do you eat them? fruits, ice cream, plain?

          1. re: msprnt

            The fry places might well be shops as well as cart operations. Like a British fish & chip shop (if that means anything to you). But they usually have an open serving window to the street

            1. re: msprnt

              Think more along the lines of a chip truck up north (I'm originally from the GTA), or a small take-out shop. You shouldn't have any trouble finding one.

              Belgium is rather tiny - you could make it to the Netherlands by train in under 1h30.

              The Liège waffles are indeed more dense and sweet - I eat them plain.

              1. re: devoir

                if i did have time to go to the netherlands .... the border crossing is quick and easy right? (i've never been to europe before) ... would it be like going from canada to the us by car?..... like a quick stop and conversation with the border guard? (i.e. like at buffalo? or niagara?)

                1. re: msprnt

                  Even easier! There is no stop at the border, just a sign telling you that you've entered the Netherlands.

                  In theory, there are occasional passport checks, but I've never once run into one and I cross the border quite frequently.

                  1. re: devoir

                    wow, really!! ..... nice, that's awesome!! ... how much do the trains cost to leave belgium?.... that's definitely something worth looking into especially if i have a whole day to use!! ...

        3. Try the Waterzooi if you see it on a menu. It's a chicken or fish stew.

          1. The original comment has been removed
            1. Also look out for the tiny grey North Sea shrimps - often in croquettes, some times just as they are. Again, a delicacy mainly from the Dutch speaking areas. Bearing in mind, the reason you're going you're bound to find some.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                Ditto on the small grey shrimps. Delicious. If you're wandering about Brussels, there's a known sandwich shop called 'Au Swisse' where you can get a sandwich with them. Just nearby there (all around the Bourse) is a large frite operation with a number of sauces. I think Piri Piri is quite nice.

                1. re: Lizard

                  Sandwich would be great with them. They're the same shrimp that we have iin the UK for potted shrimps. Same idea - shrimp, bread, butter - squeeze of lemon. Northern Europe in a mouthful!

                  1. re: Harters

                    Really, the tiny grey shrimps are available in the UK? I've never seen it, but it's nice to know. I was wondering why export had not taken place (note that it is a tiny part the North Sea whence these shrimps come-- not on the UK side) and here it is. Certainly haven't made it up North (strange given the back & forth up in these parts with the lowlands).

                    However, need to point out that the shrimps in Belgium are traditionally served cold with mayonnaise (and a mayo with flavour-- I must say this because I find a lot of mayo elsewhere to pale). They are also used in stuffed tomatoes in similar way.

                    Just plain with lemon is a dream though. Oh goodness... how I want these. In the UK, Harters? For real? I've not seen these at any shops round here and had to go back home for my proper food each time. (No offence to UK, but Belgium is simply glorious in terms of food at all levels-- in UK, I find I have to go very high level for delicious; it's there-- just very dear-- and I've not seen grey shrimps yet! Even at the Seafood restaurant.).

                    1. re: Lizard

                      grey shrimp eh?..... sound interesting and i'll be sure to try them!... especially if they're such a rarity, even in europe! ....

                      1. re: Lizard

                        Apologies - shrimp for "potted shrimp" are brown shrimps not grey shrimps. They are the same size and taste - taken from Morecambe Bay (England's North West coast). And, in fact, a quick Google seems to suggest they are the same thing (in Latin, Cragon Cragon).

                        It is possible to buy the vacuum packs of imported Dutch/Belgian shrimp in good fishmongers. As I said earlier, most British caught shrimp goes into "potted shrimps" :

                2. A couple of more specific recommendations:

                  As you're in St-Gilles (which isn't really "south" of Brussels, it's one of the 19 communes that make up the city of Brussels -- so you'll still be within 30 minutes' walk of the Grand Place), stop by Chez Moeder Lambic, just behind the St Gilles town hall on Rue de Savoie. Not much to look at, but an *amazing* selection of beers. They specialise in lambics, which are beers made only in the Brussels region, fermented by naturally occurring airborne yeasts. I don't know if they have Verhaeghe's Echt Kriek, but if they do, try it -- the best of Belgium's many beers flavoured with fruit (in this case, sour cherries).

                  You can't come to Brussels and not make a pilgrimage to the mother (or father) of all friteries -- Maison Antoine, on the Place du Jourdan, near Rondpoint Schuman and the European Commission. Lovely crispy frites in a paper cornet, a variety of sauces to choose from, and you can take them into one of the bars on the square to enjoy them with a beer.

                  I've lived here for 9 years, and am still not impressed with the caliber of restaurants here, compared to Paris, but I'm making a concerted effort to dive back into the scene and see what's around. The area around Sainte-Catherine is known for its cheek-by-jowl fish restaurants; you'll probably have decent luck at Bij den Boer and Francois.

                  If you're by the Grand Place and want a traditional brasserie experience, try Chez Vincent on rue des Dominicains -- close to, but in no way resembling, the tourist traps on rue des Bouchers. Excellent meat and decent fish.

                  If you're interested in cuisine a la biere, you can do worse than In 't Spinnekopke on the Place du Pardin aux Fleurs, about a five minute walk from the buzzy bar and cafe scene on Place St Gery. It's my go-to place for bringing out of towners -- a cosy little building from the 17th century, and decent renditions of all manner of Belgian classics.


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Kelly

                    wow, thanks! .... i've read quite a bit of belgian beer threads.... but will sure take your recommendations into consideration .... esp the ones flavoured with fruits!

                    regarding the frites.... u can buy the frites and bring them into a pub??... is that generally accepted?..... with all foods?

                    how much would i typically be looking to spend on a main course at a typical (tourist/non-tourist) restaurant in brussels?

                    also, what temperature is it in brussels right now? it's about 10C (maybe 15C) highs right now ... and i was wearing sandals over the weekenkd!!! .... i'm hoping for the same over there!!

                    1. re: msprnt

                      I wouldn't say it's generally accepted to do the frites-importation thing in a pub -- particularly because many little bars do serve some kind of food. Antoine's is an exception -- and not all bars on Place Jourdan will let you bring the frites in. You need to check on the door to see if there's a sign saying "Frites acceptees" (or something like that). Two that do are the bar on the corner of the place just across from Antoine's, and one a few doors down called Chez Bernard.

                      Main courses can run anywhere from 12 to 30 EUR, depending on the type of cuisine and the tone of the restaurant.

                      You won't be wearing sandals... sorry! Spring weather in Brussels is insanely capricious. It's been p*ssing rain for ages, although yesterday was sunny and clear and everyone rejoiced. But we were still wearing coats and scarves while said rejoicing took place.

                      1. re: Kelly

                        for the record, i'd vote for at least a day trip to brugge. just got back from honeymooning, which included a couple of nights in brugge and a say trip to brussels. if you hit the markt in brugge, there are the 2 green frites trucks in front of the big Belfry, and they're very good. some great food to be had, as well as beer ('t brugs beertje is THE pub that you need to get to if you go). in brussels, i'd recommend le bier circus as a good example of a place with great beer and great food-especially beer cuisine. in brugge, too, great beer cuisine, such as stew. enjoyed a place called taverne curiosa very much in brugge, but there are LOTS of great places in both brugge and brussels.

                        enjoy it! more than paris or amsterdam, i definitely feel the need to return to brugge--and other parts of belgium--as soon as possible!