When thinking about the gastronomy of a particular country, we often have in mind some dishes that are really emblematic of this cuisine, and we limit ourselves by default to them. To illustrate this statement, I will take a few examples from the international collective imagination. For example, we tend to think that the Italian cuisine is limited to pasta and pizza; that the Spanish cuisine is synonymous with tapas and paella; that the Hungarian people only cook goulash, and we picture the Greeks as people who spend their time grilling meat and selling pitas and mousakas. In the same way, many people around the world associate the "Belgium" brand with beer, waffles, chocolate, fries, and mussels. And that is it.
BUT there is so much more!! I can tell you that. Have you ever heard about shrimps croquettes, cheese croquettes, snails with butter, “stoemp” (the Brussels variant of the stamppot dish in Belgium, made of mashed potatoes with vegetables), ballekes (meatballs) with tomato sauce, waterzooi, or the famous rabbit Flemish carbonnade? Well, I could easily guess that these words sound new to your ears, which is normal. Do you want to know more before you go to Brussels? And, more than anything else, do you want to know where to find these dishes? Then just continue reading.
When it comes to tasting real local cuisine in Brussels, the worst mistake that you could ever make is to go to one of the very famous touristic places, such as the Grand Place, la rue des Bouchers, or hotspots like the Heysel area. Let me tell you more about a couple of places which I know well, where you can taste the real cuisine.
The Zinneke is one of those places where you can try the famous croquettes, snails, ballekes and stoemp, which I mentioned above (on top of the cliché “mussels and fries” of course). It is a multi-award restaurant and local favourite, a real institution open for decades now, where you can find the best of Belgian bistro tradition. For years, I personally lived just five minutes' walk away from the Zinneke. And I do remember going there at times and being always served by charming and smiling staff that cares about doing their best to please a clientele of regulars. You will agree with me that there is a world of difference between the level of service of a restaurant that relies entirely on a tourist clientele and that of a place frequented by regulars.
The Quartier du Sablon is a much appreciated (both by locals and internationals) square with terraces and cafes where you can have a nice coffee, taste a Belgian beer, buy Belgian chocolates, or eat a lovely dessert at tea time.
In Belgium, it is not only what you eat, but the whole atmosphere around that matters as well. What I am talking about here is what is called the “bistro atmosphere,” a little hushed, somehow cozy, often dark but always very warm.
The best example of a place that comes to mind here is the Goupil le Fol, a very nice estaminet where you can meet and discuss peacefully with friends while listening to good French songs. That place will certainly please you if you love what is out of the ordinary.
Does all this make you want to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of local restaurants and bistros in Brussels?
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