I was lucky enough to get to go to Brussels, Belgium this past weekend. It did not disappoint.
To me, Belgium is a country that has it figured out. They pride themselves on their great waffles, french fries, beer, and chocolate. What else could a human being need in life really?
My main goal for the weekend trip was to consume as many of these things as I possibly could on a weekend trip. Since this blog is about candy, I will focus on what I learned about Belgian chocolate in my short time there. Do realize that some of my opinions could have been influenced by the strong beer though!
Oh my gosh – where do I begin? Perhaps it makes the most sense to start with the praline and its history.
For those who are unaware, a praline is a hard-candy almost similar to a brittle. It’s typically made from a mix of nuts and toffee, and has been around since 17th century France as a candy for the elite.
The rumor goes that a candy-maker by the name of Jean Neuhaus incorrectly made a batch of praline in 1912 Belgium. This beautiful mistake caused the praline to curl up into a taco-shape instead of being flat. Instead of discarding the batch though, he decided to get creative. He filled the centers of his deformed pralines with a cream, covered it all in chocolate, and created what the world now knows as the first Belgian soft-center praline.
This is perhaps the most famous chocolate in Belgium (or so I was told). Every chocolate store has a version of one, but naturally, I had to track down and try the original Neuhaus praline.
Today, Neuhaus is a chocolatier powerhouse, thanks in part to their innovation of the soft-center praline. They specialize in all sorts of other chocolates now too, including the cornet. This is essentially a miniature version of an ice cream cone. However, instead of ice cream, the top is pure chocolate!
Luckily, finding a Neuhaus chocolate shop in Belgium was not difficult; there was one located inside a small outdoor strip mall (called Anspach Shopping Brussels) in the city center. And even better, the strip mall had a handful of other chocolate shops there too, including Godiva.
For any chocolate-lover, walking around here is an absolute must; bring your credit card though. It’s practically impossible to not buy your body’s weight in chocolate.
The experience redefined the term ‘window shopping’ for me. Each chocolate shop had something I hadn’t seen before. Some have chocolate that almost looks too pretty to eat (key word is almost). At times it feels you are looking at jewelry and not something that you can eat! The chocolate is colorful, behind glass, and the workers treat the chocolates like diamonds – each piece is handled with care and feels like it was picked especially for you.
Other stores have exquisitely designed chocolate. I saw full chocolate animals, and since I traveled there in November, a couple stores had giant chocolate Sinterklaas-es – the Belgian version of Santa Claus.
All in all, it teeters on being a religious experience. And that’s before you eat the damn things.
From Neuhaus, I got a few flavors of pralines, some caramels, and a cornet to sample some of the classics. The employees were friendly and happy to offer their recommendations. Though all taste buds are different (as they reminded me), they helped in narrowing down the many choices they had.
If there it’s still too much, I recommend settling for the praline sample pack that gives you one of each flavor. That way you get to try one of each and pick your favorite. Personally, I liked the standard chocolate-filled praline the best, but the raspberry one came in a close second. You’ll surely find one that you’ll like that will make the whole trip worth it – regardless of where you are coming from!
Once I had the chocolates in hand, it was only a matter of time before I ate them. That’s why I don’t have any pictures (sorry). Don’t worry if you eat them all like me, there’s a Neuhaus in the Brussels airport for restocking.
Other Belgian Sweets:
Let it be known that it’s not all chocolate and praline for Belgians though. I was able to find a cool candy store that proves that Belgium likes the sour stuff – just like their beer!
It wasn’t widespread (and I recommend sticking with chocolate), but if you find your sweet tooth craving something else, head over to Tresor de Pirates. It’s got barrels full of gummy candies – some of your all-time favorite super-sized. There’s tennis gumballs, Trolli Burgers, Haribo Smurfs, what seems to be GIANT Fini’s filled licorice, and a spicy chili gummy just to name a few. It’s a playground for sour-lovers, if chocolate isn’t exactly your thing.