Belgian Chocolate, a Classic Souvenir
We start our coverage of Brussels souvenirs with the top souvenir that no one can (or should) leave Brussels without– Belgian chocolate.
Why is Belgian chocolate so delicious?
- Chocolate has a long history in Belgium, dating back to the 17th century.
- Chocolate standards in Belgium are high— all chocolate must meet a minimum level of 35% pure cocoa (compare that to the US, where milk chocolate only needs to be 10% chocolate liqueur). Belgian chocolates must also be made with 100% cocoa butter (vegetable oil is forbidden).
- Most Belgian chocolate is still handmade, using traditional recipes.
- Any chocolates labelled as Belgian must be produced within the country.
When buying Belgian chocolate as a souvenir, it’s important to keep your terminology straight. Unlike in America, where we use the word “chocolate” generically to cover all sorts of chocolate variations, in Belgium, chocolate is typically referenced in one of three main ways–
1. Belgian Chocolate Pralines
2. Belgian Chocolate Truffles
3. Just Belgian Chocolate
In Belgium the generic word “chocolate” is used to refer to everything else– like chocolate bars, chocolate sauce, or chocolate covered waffles.
Where to Buy Belgian Pralines, Truffles and Chocolate in Brussels
Fortunately, you don’t need to do a lot of research to find out where to buy chocolates in Brussels– or anywhere in Belgium for that matter– this small country is packed with over 2000 chocolate shops! In Brussels, Belgian chocolate shops not only line the squares of well-trodden tourist spots but are also tucked into regular neighborhoods. After all, locals need to get their chocolate fix too (the average Belgian eats 15 pounds of chocolate per year!)
Many Belgian chocolate shops have several locations in Brussels. However, if you want to hit a bunch of chocolate shops at the same time, there are some areas that are chocolate hot spots in Brussels. You’ll find many of the most famous chocolate shops in these areas:
1. Shopping for Belgian Chocolate in Brussels’ Grand Place (Grote Markt)
You’ll find nearly all the big (and small) names clustered around Brussels’ gorgeous Grand Place.
2. Shopping for Belgian Chocolate at Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
3. Shopping Belgian Chocolate at Brussels’ Place du Grand Sablon
For a less touristy environment (and excellent antiques shops to boot) head to the Sablon area for many of the same chocolate shops you’ll find in the Grand Place. The Grand Sablon is also the only Brussels location for the chocolate shop Wittamer, easily recognizable by their bright pink awning.
Brussels’ Best Belgian Chocolate Shops
There are so many chocolate shops in Brussels, it can be hard to decide where to buy your Belgian chocolate souvenirs. My method of selecting a chocolate shop was not terribly strategic– I walked into the first shop I saw (Pierre Marcolini) and loaded up on chocolate covered marshmallows and chocolate bark. If are intending to bring your Belgian chocolate souvenirs home with you, I recommend immediately storing them deep in your suitcase to prevent snacking (I ended up eating almost all of my Pierre Marcolini chocolate in my hotel room).
As I was “forced” to restock my Belgian chocolate souvenirs, I visited some of Brussels’ other noted chocolate shops– picking up pralines at Mary and Frederic Blondel. My excellent hotel, the Stanhope, gifted me a delicious box of Neuhaus. After sampling four different Belgian chocolate shops, I still can’t pick a favorite, but I can confidently say Brussels is now my favorite chocolate destination.
A selection of Brussels chocolate shops, in no particular order:
- Mary This chocolate shop, dating back nearly a hundred years, is the favorite of Belgian royal family, which was reason enough for me to stop by.
- Neuhaus invented praline in 1912. I was familiar with Neuhaus and have bought chocolate from their New York City store. While it’s not an only-in Belgium souvenir, they are still downright delicious.
- Pierre Marcolini Although this shop is best-known for their single-origin Grand Cru chocolate bars, I went straight for the addictive chocolate covered marshmallows and chocolate bark. Fancy atmosphere, but very helpful staff.
- Leonidas One of the world’s biggest chocolate companies. These Belgian chocolates are not handmade, but are signifigantly cheaper than the high-end chocolatiers– a consideration if you need to buy in bulk.
- Galler, Family-run, they specialize in dark chocolate and chocolate bars (which you can even find at the supermarket).
- Frederic Blondeel Chocolatier Excellent high-end chocolates, also recommended for hot chocolate, coffee and even ice cream.
- Passion I didn’t get a chance to sample the chocolates in this Grand Sablon chocolate shop, but online reviews suggest this shop hsa the best prices for the quality.
- Wittamer Nearly a century old, Wittamer has their loyal fans. Their only location is in the Sablon, easily distinguished by their bright pink awning (and adorable cafe).
- Godiva Everyone is familiar with Godiva, a shopping mall staple. While the chocolates are still made in Belgium, the company is now Turkish owned.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Souvenir Finder Shopping Tip Sheet
What to buy: Belgian Pralines, Belgian Truffles and other chocolate products like chocolate covered marshmallows, chocolate bars, and chocolate sauce.Where to Get it: Brussels has an enormous selection of chocolate shops– for the best selection, head to the Grand Place, Galerie St. Hubert or the Sablon area.
What to Know: Fresh pralines, truffles and chocolate in Belgium has no preservatives, so plan on consuming all chocolate souvenirs within a few weeks of purchase.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the luxury boutique hotel, the Stanhope— within walking distance of all the main chocolate areas.[/box]
Do you love Belgian chocolate? What are your favorites?