I have always liked chocolate, but in Canada I wasn’t too choosy about things like brand, filling or coco content. Toss me some sort of Hershey bar or a box of Pot o’ Gold and I was happy.
Since moving here, I’ve changed. Belgium has turned me into a chocolate snob. There, I’ve said it.
I had always heard that Belgian chocolate was good, but before moving to Brussels, I had no idea what that actually meant.
Belgians are passionate about chocolate, and not just any old chocolate will do. The secret lies in the time and care put in to producing chocolate in this country. Belgians know that a little effort makes all the difference.
Take for example the chocolate shop. When you step inside, you are confronted by the smell of fresh chocolate. Instead of seeing boxes already filled with assorted chocolates covered in plastic wrap, you see a long glass counter with piles of beautiful fresh chocolates inside that have been carefully made by hand. These chocolates don’t sit around for months on end and are always stored at the correct temperature.
Such care is often taken in the presentation, you feel as if you are admiring jewels in the cases. Indeed they are jewels – but those of an edible variety.
In my opinion, the best place in Brussels to get a sense of the chocolate culture is Place du Grand Sablon. In this square, you’ll find all of the big names in Belgian chocolate: Neuhaus (the inventor of the praline), Godiva (whose gold box is known around the world), Pierre Marcolini (whose chocolates are avant-gard and often unusual) and, my personal favourite, Wittamer.
In contrast, it is also nice to visit the local chocolatiers, many of whom also produce incredible chocolate, often in unusual flavours – I’ve tried violet, green tea, and 5 spice among others.
A good local chocolate shop will also encourage sampling to get you hooked.
Whether you choose a big name or a local shop, you can choose exactly the chocolates you want. They are carefully boxed and weighed by hand just for you. This eliminates the fights over the good flavours that often occur when a box of Canadian chocolates is passed around.
At many chocolate shops you can also indulge in other goodies: pastries, cakes, mousses and my personal favourite – hot chocolate.
I admit, my Canadian hot chocolate was made from powder in a can. I’m sure this would horrify many Belgians. Since I moved here I’ve learned how to make proper hot chocolate with dark chocolate and milk (or cream if I’m feeling extra decadent) heated on the stove.
Sure it takes a bit longer, but good chocolate is well worth the extra time and effort. The Belgians have known this secret for years.
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