Eating all the foods: Paris & Brussels edition
I find one of the best ways to get to know any new country is through the food. At least that's what I tell myself when I'm gorging on as many local delicacies as possible. It's all in the name of research, and researched I did on my last stint through France and Belgium. Here are a few pearls of wisdom I managed to glean through their delicious, delicious fare.
Thoughts: If you're hungry in Paris, just walk into any bakery and order away. It's almost impossible to get something that doesn't taste like heaven. This tasting plate of sorts (from top left to right) consists of a pear tart, croque jambon (ham sandwich covered in cheese), itty bitty square of quiche and the classic croissant (more on that next).
Just one little insider tip before you go, make sure you brush up on your basic French phrases so you can properly order. It's the polite thing to do.
Thoughts: I'm a sucker for a good croissant and there are none better than in France. It's a cliche, I know, but it's so true. We're talking flaky, buttery and soft deliciousness rolled into a crescent. You don't even need to put anything on them. I'd brave the 24 hour flight right now just to get one if I could. Get one tout suite when you land. You won't regret it.
Thoughts: Contrary to what this blog may indicate, I’m not that fond of desserts. I mean, if someone is kind enough to offer me one, I probably won't turn it down. But it’s generally not my first choice when it comes to cravings. That being said, I could eat every eclair in every bakery in Paris. That is not an exaggeration. The French know their pastries and to say it's done well is an understatement. Eclairs come in all flavours but you can never go wrong with classic vanilla (pictured). So good.
What: Angelina's hot chocolate
Thoughts: Throw out everything you know to be true about hot chocolate. Angelina in Paris has rewritten all the rules. This bistro serves up some of the world's best. It's basically a bar of melted chocolate, poured at your table and served with a heaping bowl of pure whipped cream. It's thick and velvety and rich. It's also not cheap. Angelina is a bit of an indulgence, but who can resist an excuse to drink a cup full of melted chocolate?
What: Specialty Pastries
Thoughts: Paris is filled with sweet treats and they're all called pastries. Think less short crust and puff and more macarons and mousse. They're so decadent they usually come in small bite-sized varieties. At our stop at the aforementioned Angelina, we saw this delicate rose and couldn't pass it up.
Called the Flore, it was a dizzyingly sweet concoction made up of lighter-than-air mousse, meringue, raspberry coulis and a chocolate, hazelnut base – all sculpted into the world’s most perfect rosette and covered in what can only be described as edible flocking. If nothing else, it was a lesson in just how finely crafted French desserts are. Well worth the indulgence.
Thoughts: If you can't go to Paris and not have a croissant, you can't go to Brussels and not have a waffle! Luckily they're sold in little shops all over the city, so you can basically walk in any direction to get one. What's better is they're cheap! They come in two variates: Leige (pictured left) and Brussels (pictured right). The former is denser, chewier and sweeter. The latter is light and crisp with deeper holes. Either way, they're amazing, especially when slathered in toppings (from basic brown sugar to cream and caramel sauce).
What: Belgian Chocolate
Thoughts: There is no finer chocolate. A big call, I know, but I'll stand by it. Like waffles, Belgian chocolate is sold all over the city. It comes in all shapes and sizes and it's all superb. We bought a stack of it with the intention of giving it as gifts to friends and family, but one bite and we were hooked. Had to make a second trip to the chocolate shop to restock before we left!
More eating-all-the-foods inspo?
Thoughts: All right, all right, this is famously a French dish, but while in France we didn't come across a single roadside cart that served up steaming bowls of escargo. But we did in Brussels! For those not familiar, escargo is snails. They're usually served in the shells with butter and garlic. These ones were boiled in a briney stock and served in batches of eight, 11 and 20. Go big or go home is my motto, so we downed 20 of the little suckers. They're meaty for sure, but taste much like what they're cooked in.
Thoughts: Before you dismiss this one as a cone of standard French fries, think again. For one, they're sold in fritteries – little shops that only sell frites. These babies are also hand cut, pre-fried in beef tallow and fried a second time to order. The process makes them extra crispy. We swung by Chez Pappy and picked up a cone, served hot and smothered in sauce.
Thoughts: I've said it before; I'm not a huge connoisseur of beer but that doesn't mean I would skip the opportunity to try it out in a country known for producing some of the world's best. After knocking back a few steins, I can attest to the quality of Belgian beer. One thing I did learn while trying the many, many varieties is that each one comes in its own, specially designed glass meant to improve the flavour.
Thoughts: Speaking of beer, the best way to drink it is while you're chowing down on a giant pot of mussels. Moules Frites is the national dish of the country, and you can find it all over the city. As the best season to get mussels is September to December, we were visiting in a prime mussel-eating timeframe. They're served in all kinds of sauces, from stock-based to cream, and always come with frites. Ours were tender, juicy and full of flavour. Definitely one of our favourite meals while visiting Brussels.