48 Hours in Brussels

Belgium had long been on my travel bucket list because of their namesake waffles. I'd always been keen to try the real "authentic" version (which is an attitude I tend to have about all of the foods I love) and so when I was planning this Europe trip and really settled into the idea of train travel, it all fell into place and I finally got to go.

Brussels was the obvious city of choice because it was the most accessible via train (at least when it comes to direct routes) and most people speak French and that's the foreign language I'm most comfortable with. Belgium is an interesting country because it's surrounded by several countries, all of have a different national language. Belgium's official languages are French, Dutch, and German but many people speak Flemish as well. I think if I had the power to inform the way my own life was shaped, I would have encouraged my parents to immigrate to Brussels so I could have grown up intensely multilingual. I truly wish I were a polyglot; alas, it's likely too late for my hardened brain to absorb the ability to speak more than one language fluently.

Brussels was my "home base" in Belgium and I took a couple of day trips, which I'll be sharing in separate posts, but I've aggregated all of the Brussels-specific content to this one post, even though other stuff happened in between.
I traveled to Brussels via train from Luxembourg City and it was a three hour ride that wasn't supposed to have any transfers but for whatever reason, I did end up having to transfer once.

I had packed a couple of snacks for the train ride, knowing that I'd definitely get peckish. It was lucky I loaded up on calories because I wasn't quite paying attention and I ended up getting off at the wrong station. Brussels has three train stations: Gare du Nord/Brussel-Noord (North), Bruxelles-Central/Brussel-Centraal (Central), and Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid (South). The hotel I chose was midway between Central and Midi and only a 12 to 15 minute walk but Nord was a 30-minute walk and I had all of my stuff with me, most of the streets were cobbled, and it was quite the trek.
I loved this hotel so much. I chose it partially for the location but mostly for the fantastic reviews. It was originally €170 per night but I had a 10% off rebate (through booking.com) which made it closer to €150 per night and it was worth every penny. First of all, the size of the rooms were rather spacious and the decor was quite modern, but not in a trendy way. It was just purely comfortable. The toilet was separate from the shower and sink, which isn't necessarily ideal for a solo traveler, but I can understand the efficiency concept for couples and groups.

I loved the turn down service. Every evening when I'd go out for dinner and return, the bed would be turned down, the slippers settled adjacent to the bed, a bottle of water on the bedside table, and the adorable little old-timey radio would be turned on to a lovely classical music station. It just felt really luxe and I felt pampered.
I'm not sure why this little peeing boy is such an icon of the city, but this area was constantly crowded with people trying to snap a photo. I read that this fountain originally had something to do with the distribution of drinking water, which I find just ludicrous because did I mention that it's a peeing boy?
Grand Place is the main square of Brussels and the place most likely to come up if you search this city up on Google Images. The architecture is the typical style of the region (like a row house with stair-cased roofs) except fancier. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it's considered to be one of the most beautiful square in Europe and I tend to agree.
City Hall, Brussels City Museum, the King's House (Breadhouse), and a few other meeting halls are here, which are all lovely, but I think it was extra beautiful with all of the lights and the Christmas tree.
Around Christmas time, starting at 17:00, there's a light show. I loved it so much, I attended twice. I mean, how could I not? Plus, Grand-Place was barely a 10-minute walk from my hotel anyway so I had no excuse.
For dinner, I ended up at San. Out of the three days I was spending in Brussels, it was only going to be open on one night and I hadn't planned ahead by making a reservation (which I totally should have and that's all on me but I figured I was a solo diner and they'd easily make room for me). I showed up and said, "Bonsoir. Je n'ai pas un réservation mais... avez-vous un table pour un?" (Good evening, I don't have a reservation but... do you have a table for one?)

I was initially turned away but as I was about to close the door behind me, they called me back in and said they had some space at the counter for me. And I'm so pleased I was able to get a seat because this was one of my favorite meals of the trip.
So San is a small eatery with a prix fixe menu and the concept is that everything is to be eaten with a spoon. The chef/owner is Korean and because of this, I was reading that it was a French/Korean fusion restaurant but I didn't really get this vibe. I think conceptually, there are methods and flavor profiles and seasonings that are borrowed from several different cuisines, but ultimately, I felt like this was just really clean, perfect cooking.

It was awesome to sit at the bar downstairs because I got to watch all of the cooking in action. And actually, the chef ended up chatting with me here and there, checking up on me, and I think he enjoyed the fact that I was enjoying my food.
For my drink, I got the house mocktail, which was made with ginger, lemon, and orange with seltzer water.
The first course was an aged holstein beef with crunchy pickled vegetables. The vegetables consisted of sugar snap peas, carrot, and daikon, which were chopped and tossed in a bright, acidic vinaigrette. Holstein is a Dutch breed of cow and I'd never had beef like this before. It was incredibly marbled, which was why the acidity of the vegetables were a welcome accompaniment, and it was super tender. Remember the concept was to be able to eat all of the dishes with a spoon; this was accomplished.
The second course, which ended up being my favorite, was seasonal vegetables with a lacto-fermented broth and shiso oil. The seasonal vegetables consisted of root vegetables, mushrooms, beets, and tomatoes and they were all prepared differently so some were cooked, some were raw, some were dehydrated, and the differing temperatures added another layer to the variety in texture. There were also bits of crispy garlic floating around. The broth was creamy yet light with a really deep flavor, which I attribute to the fermentation.
The third course was sea bream (which is a type of fish and the only reason I was familiar with this vocabulary is because I used to play Cooking Mama on my Nintendo DS). The fish was seared so the skin was crispy and it was topped with crispy quinoa, radish 3 ways, and accompanied by a ginger cream sauce. The radish was prepared raw, pickled, and yuzu pickled. The ginger cream sauce was vibrant and a lovely accompaniment to the fish, which would've felt bland otherwise.
For the fourth course, I was served a dish of wild duck sitting on top of a celeriac root puree, wild mushrooms that were steamed and then subsequently smoked with brandy chips, and the whole thing was sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and coarse salt. The duck breast was seasoned in such a way that I got bulgogi vibes (a Korean beef dish marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sugar). It had savory notes, sweet notes, and was incredibly tender.
Before dessert was brought out, the staff asked if I wanted to take a detour from the menu and have a cheese plate. I agreed, mainly because I wanted to draw out this wonderful dining experience. They brought over a 12-year aged comté with a spread made with almonds, mustard, and cornichons. The cheese was light and nutty and subtle, which I appreciated because I would've regretted biting into a strong stinky cheese that would've overpowered my palate and made me forget the previous courses. Instead, this was a lovely thing to nibble on while finishing my mocktail.
For the fifth and final course, I was brought a mandarin sorbet with fizzy mandarin, chestnut crumble and sponge, with a chestnut cream. There was also a bit of licorice, which I ate before I snapped the photo because I was so excited to dig in, I forgot. The licorice wasn't horrifying in the way most licorice is, but it wasn't great. However, the rest of the dessert was delicious. The cake was light and fluffy, the sorbet was bright and not too sweet, the chestnut crumble was crisp and a lovely textural contrast to all the other creamy and soft elements, and it all came together wonderfully.
Along with the peeing boy, there are two other peeing statues in Brussels. The second peepee statue I visited was this puppy. It's not a fountain, like Mannekin Pis, though, I think that would be funnier.
The female counterpart to Mannekin Pis is Jeanneke Pis, which is a fountain behind a locked gate. Whereas Mannekin Pis is grabbing his dingle, Jeanneke is squatting. If you're a girl, you'll empathize, even if you're grossed out. If you're a dude, this is what ladies have to do to not get pee all down their legs if they're trying to pee not in a toilet.

This statue is hardly well-known in comparison to Mannekin Pis, but the reason she's behind bars is to prevent vandalism. We all know what kind of sick things a pervert might do to this sweet little peeing lady so I 100% appreciated the lock.
This little covered shopping arcade was on my way between Jeanneke and the train station so I walked through just to see what it was all about and ended up picking up an almond croissant and a tortillon (which is a twisted pastry similar to a palmier).
If you're unfamiliar with lambic beer and you really like sweet drinks, I highly recommend you give it a go. Lambic beer is from Brussels and the region surrounding it and unlike regular beer which has yeast introduced to the mixture, lambic beer ferments as it is exposed to the naturally occurring wild yeast of the region. The flavor of the beer ends up being a bit acidic and dry but the ones made with fruit have plenty of sweetness.
For dinner, I went to this highly-reviewed restaurant and did my best to get there somewhat early (like 18:30) because they didn't accept reservations and all the sources (re: the Internet) said it would fill up quickly. I got there just at the right time because a table had just opened up and as soon as I was seated, several parties came in.
I ordered the beef cheeks and I was given a choice to have potatoes, rice, or vegetables on the side and I went with the veg. The meat was incredibly tender - I could've eaten it with a spoon - and the gravy was unctuous and savory and had a lovely deep flavor that could have only come from hours of simmering and braising. The accompanying vegetables were braised endives that were drowning in butter and honey. They were so good, I had to confirm the ingredients and cooking method so that I could try and recreate it at home. And of course, there was a bright and crunchy salad, which was a nice foil to the heavy, fatty meat and veg. To drink, I just had a pilsner that was on tap; it was standard but was a crisp and refreshing drink to wash down this meal.
For one of my breakfasts in Brussels, I decided to do a sit down meal at Maison Dandoy, specifically the location near Grand Place. I got there super early (right when it opened) so the tea room was virtually empty and by the time I left, it was jam-packed and there was queue downstairs so I recommend this tactic if you don't want to have to wait.
I got the regular Belgian waffle, simply dusted with powdered sugar, and it was wonderful. The batter was really light and airy, like eating a cloud encased in a crisp shell.
After my breakfast, I went downstairs and stocked up on some cookies. Even though they're known for their Speculoos cookies, the salted caramel crispy tuile-style cookies that they have on offer are the best. I wish I'd bought way more. However, the Speculoos were delicious as well. They're like Biscoff cookies but the texture is much crunchier, which I find to be a more pleasant experience.
I made sure to snap a photo of the back of one of these little bags as they share the cookie recipe. I have an inkling though that they've omitted an ingredient or two or just the fact that it was a down-scaled recipe is going yield cookies that aren't quite the ones they have available at the store itself.
Of course I had to visit Grand Place in the daylight as well, having visited it twice in the moonlight, and it was just as pretty, though maybe not as fun.
This church is also known as Cathédrale de Bruxelles.
There were loads of gorgeous nativity sets from all around the globe set up throughout the church. It was a really lovely experience.
One final pee-related site in Brussels that I happened to encounter was this comic strip. The actual comic series is called Cubitus and stars this chubby white dog (that looks like a bear) peeing in place of Mannekin Pis, who is off to the side observing. I don't really know if it's supposed to be offering some kind of social commentary or what.
In this square, which is usually taken up mostly by a fountain, they built a platform over the water to create a little Christmas market. Unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs when I got there so I wasn't really in the mood to peruse, but I loved the white roofs, which looked like they were snow-covered, and there seemed to be a decent number of people shopping despite the weather.
Moules-frites (or mussels with fries) is a typical Belgian dish that I knew I had to get while I was here so I went to this renowned seafood restaurant, which offered a v. affordable version at lunch.
I got the house rose with the moules-frites. The fries were absolutely delicious. They were chunky enough that there was enough of a cross section to allow the texture inside to be obviously fluffy while the exterior was golden and crisp. The mussels themselves were super fresh and really delicious. They were simply prepared with a few aromatics and I'm guessing some stock and some wine. The mussels themselves were super plump, there wasn't a bad one in the batch, and the portion size was generous without being gluttonous.
Honestly, Brussels has great architecture and history. There are palaces and churches everywhere you turn and I recommend just walking around and finding them by getting lost.
The government of Belgium consists of a Constitutional, Hereditary, and Popular monarchy. To be quite honest, I'm not sure what all of that means, but all I know is that there is a King and a Queen but they don't actually reside in the Palais de Bruxelles.
To get out of the rain and have a bit of relaxation time, I popped into this cafe to sip a tea and do some journaling. I loved the set up, with the mishmash of seating and tables. My matcha tea was quite delicious and I enjoyed the free wifi and warm and cozy vibes for a few hours.
Since Belgium is known for its chocolates, I realized I had to try some and buy some before I left. I'm not a huge chocolate fan, but I appreciate them when they're good. As soon as I stepped into the store, the lovely staff offered me some free samples and they were fantastic. I ended up buying two small boxes, one with assorted chocolates and the other with assorted truffles. When I got home and my sister saw them, she was like, "Why didn't you buy more?" But I was thinking about how I was going to have to carry them around for a week and I had to temper my shopping.
After a few days of heavier, richer foods, I decided I needed a bit of a respite so I ended up at Knees to Chin for dinner on my final night in Brussels. They have a variety of spring rolls on the menu and they were super simple but incredibly delicious. I especially loved the variety of sauces on offer.
For dessert, I popped into Maison Dandoy on my way back to the hotel and got a plain liege waffle. It was so chewy and sweet and delicious. I've made liege waffles at home before but they weren't quite this good.
And then when I got back to my hotel, I tucked into the bag of man-shaped Speculoos cookies before bed.
From Brussels, I went onto Germany. But I mentioned earlier in this post (as well as in a previous post) that the timeline of my travels was all mixed up because I wandered around and did a few day trips and I'm doing my best to cumulate them into single location posts. Anyway, even though I did go to Frankfurt from Brussels, my next post will be about Ghent.
Here's my video diary: