The Brusselicious Foods of Belgium

written by | Posted on February 15th, 2012

Chocolate and pastry shops are one of Brussels' best-known attributes. Photo by Sergio Ortiz.

It’s indisputably the capital of Europe. Unlike other world centers, however, Brussels overflows with an urban flair rare in Northern Europe. It has fabulous restaurants, terrific shopping and chic hotels. As if that weren’t enough, it has a long reputation for self-indulgent chocolate, cutting-edge art and strange and potent beer, all amid enthralling architecture that often—especially while hanging around the area of the Grand Place—makes you feel like you’ve stumbled onto the set of a Medieval movie epic.

It’s served by many airlines including American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, with roundtrip fares from New York City often for as low as $900. Evidence of Brussels’ appeal is the fact that American Airlines transported more than 94,000 passengers from JFK to Brussels during 2010 alone.

This is a place that traditionally has been known for its gourmandistic flair and where Brusselèèrs, as natives of the city call themselves, invariably point out that Brussels cuisine rivals anything concocted on the French side of the border, with German-sized quantities to boot. And it doesn’t take long to discover that the dishes emanating from its kitchens are imaginative, delightful and vast.

Brussels has embarked on a year-long plan to attract gourmands to the city with a program labeled Brusselicious, an ambitious project intended to aim a dazzling gastronomical spotlight on the city.

Organized by the Tourist Office of Brussels, Brusselicious spans nearly 12 months of adventures intended to sate most appetites and more specifically, to send gourmands into fits of ecstasy. There are scheduled chocolate samplings, beer fests, food demonstrations, food fairs and loads of events tailored exclusively for visiting food lovers.

Brusselicious shows signs of becoming an event where the toque might turn into the city’s symbol, forever altering the misguided impression that Brussels food is nothing but waffles, chocolate and unusual beers.

Liliane Opsomer, deputy director, media relations, for the Tourist Office for Flanders, explains that Brusselicious’ aim is to “…bring innovative and creative cuisine to the forefront by using traditional cooking methods and local produce to create great food.”

The city’s most celebrated chefs will perform their magic through the year in practically every corner of the city, from Michelin-starred restaurants to markets, from obscure bistros to parks and even on street corners.

Those coming to Brussels to experience taste bud-tingling encounters will find that the city is ringing the meal bell with unprecedented passion.

What are some of the events that constitute Brusselicious? Twenty hotels have already eagerly jumped on the chuck wagon to underline Brusselicious Breakfasts, a year-long program celebrating the best in pastries, cheeses, breads and produce grown in the greater Brussels area.

Frietkot Walk guides visitors to the city’s renowned fried potato stalls (frite stalls) where Brussels’ famous french fries are traditionally garnished with mayonnaise. Information for the walk may be obtained through the Visit Flanders Information Centers set in strategic locations. This is a whimsical adventure where visitors watch French fry chefs performing their magic while sampling different variations of frites.

Beginning this month, the Tram Experience (75 euros pp) begins a daily 2-hour train ride through Brussels. A stylish train carrying up to 34 food lovers rolls along the rails at twilight as riders feast on mouth-watering creations from Brussels’ Michelin-rated chefs who alternate cooking during the tour.

From April to September, an exhibit of 35 large sculptures paying homage to Belgian food and drink will be on display in Brussels Park. Labeled Brusselicious XXL, the exhibit depicts foods like mussels, Brussels sprouts, chocolate and beer.

There are events planned in the most unlikely settings, like seven Dinosaurs Dinners planned at the Brussels Museum of Natural Science where guests will enjoy their meals among skeletons from the great lizards.

Brusselicious will culminate Sept. 6-9 when a large banquet is planned around hundreds of exhibits of food demonstrations and tasting parties that will simultaneously showcase the best products from the city’s fabled beer breweries, chocolatiers, bakeries and humble and great restaurants.

For more information, call (212) 584-2336 or go to visitflanders.us.