Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Belgium Chocolate Adventures

Window of Bruges chocolate shop
Okay, so I had all these plans to write up details about my recent trip to Europe but yeah, that’s not going to happen.

However, I am going to post this entry about Belgium chocolate because there are so many chocolate options in that country. Plus writing about chocolate is fun.

I went to three cities in Belgium: Bruges, Ghent and Brussels. While pretty Bruges is the smallest of the three, it also had the most chocolate shops.  The internet tells me that the city has over 40 chocolate shops and I believe it.

Most of these shops are quite small. Some try to set themselves apart by doing these like chocolate or specializing in truffles or pralines. And some are also like cafes, selling baked goods and hot chocolate (I actually had amazing hot chocolate at some shop located right near the Halve De Maan brewery; wish I’d grabbed the name of it).

Given all that competition, prices are quite reasonable (unless you get something really big or fancy). But if you want the best bang for your buck, do your chocolate shopping at the Saturday market over in the Zand square.  There’s one booth that sells boxed chocolate at very good prices and the chocolates themselves are perfectly fine. This booth does sell out (we got there just in time) so try to stop by before 11 am. And yes, it does offer free samples.

Chocolate figurines at Bruges'
 Choco-Story Museum 
Actually, I think the market was the only place in Bruges that offered us free chocolate. But then these places are so packed with tourists, they’d probably go broke if they were always offering samples. (We did get chocolate at the end of our tour of the Choco-Story chocolate museum but getting into that place wasn't free.)

For chocolate that’s a step up from what’s for sale at the market, check out Dumon Chocolatier. With two locations, this is a real Bruges chocolate shop that makes amazing truffles that aren’t that pricey. I picked up a big of maybe seven-eight of them for only 3.50 and a bag of chocolate-coated nuts went for a similar price.

If you have the budget, and the waistline, it might be fun to go from shop to shop, buying one piece of chocolate from each to see all the different kinds of chocolate that are offered in Bruges.

Of course, you could easily do that activity in Brussels, which also has a ton of chocolate shops.  These shops tend to be bigger and not as “folksy” as the ones in Bruges but they make some very tasty chocolates. They’re also more liberal with the samples.

The streets surround the Grand Palace and the train station are packed with shops, and there must be at least half of dozen chocolate stores located inside the Galeries St Hubert, a long shopping area that’s worth checking out.

Many of these shops are chain shops (including one that’s successfully crossed the pond: Godivia’s) and while their chocolate is fine, I didn’t find them to be any cheaper than the independent stores.

One independent shop we stopped at was Truffles in Brussels, which made truffles that are almost as good as the Dumon ones we had.

I was told the best chocolate shops are located along the Sablon, a higher-end street in Brussels so we headed down and picked up 20 worth of chocolates at Wittamer. For this price, we got 20 chocolates, which is pretty good when you consider that this is one of the city’s best chocolate shops.

To be honest, I prefer Dumon’s truffles over Wittamer, but the latter's pralines, particularly the dark chocolate ones, were amazing.

If you do ever up on the Sablon in Brussels, stop by Pierre Marcolini, an amazing macaroon shop. Okay, these cookies aren’t cheap and I can’t imagine that they would travel very well, but you need to try at least one of the dozens and dozens of flavours.

As for Ghent, it’s a nice place to visit and home to the best hotel we stayed at while in Belgium (the NH Gent Belfort) but it has only a handful of chocolate shops, and none that caught my eye. So save your chocolate shopping for Bruges or Brussels.

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