Belgium’s history with chocolate goes back to the mid 17th century when the country was under Spanish occupation
It’s a rare person who comes away from a visit to Belgium without tasting, or rather indulging, in Belgian chocolates. And nowhere is it more difficult than in the country’s capital Brussels. Much of Brussels’ old town revolves around the Groote Market. While the beautiful buildings all around the square are eye catching and the square itself has a lot of activity going on, it is the unmistakable whiff of chocolate that is enticing.
Belgium’s history with chocolate goes back to the mid 17th century when the country was under Spanish occupation. Procuring cacao from African colonies and processing them became an industry. So much so that in the 19th century, chocolate making expanded exponentially and Belgium chocolates gained worldwide reputation for quality and finesse. Just how popular is evident in the many streets that lead off from market square in Brussels. Though chocolate is omnipresent throughout Belgium in its many towns and villages, the variety is especially spectacular in Brussels.
At Neuhaus on Rue Lebeau, the pride of place is of course occupied by pralines, a type of chocolate with a soft, gooey centre encased by a harder chocolate shell. It was supposedly developed by Jean Neuhaus and introduced as far back as 1912. At Godiva in Grand Sablon-Grote Savel, you can gorge on all manner of truffles and ganache chocolates. At Mary in Galerie de la Reine, a century-old institution, it is the nutty versions, figurines and ganaches that are prominent. Leonidas has a variety of bars, including those with interesting combinations such as citrus and chilli. At Elisabeth near the market square, coffee-bean sized nuggets in a variety of concentrations are irresistible as are the tiny waffle-shaped biscuits dipped in rich chocolate. For avid chocolate fans there’s also the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate on Rue de la Tete d’Or but a more rewarding experience is a chocolate making and tasting session at Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier on Rue Ravenstein. Lasting more than an hour, Gerbaud himself takes participants through the process of tasting and then making chocolate squares, which you can choose to infuse with an array of things such as nuts, raisins, ginger, citrus peel etc. And you’ll come with a new understanding a bigger craving for chocolates!
Words By: Anita Rao-Kashi