Chocolate is the quintessential symbol of Belgium, what with the praline being invented here at the turn of the 20th century, and a whole culture around it. The praline, a chocolate bonbon with a hard shell and a soft center filling, was invented by Jean Neuhaus II in 1912. It has since grown into an entire industry with dozens of chocolatier offering their version of this classic Belgian treat. The Belgian chocolate has become so sought after that they can cost upwards of 80€ per kilo. This is also due to a recent crisis in the farming of cocoa beans, with some experts predicting that it may become seriously threatened by climate change in the coming years.
Brussels Express offers you its personal guide on the world of Belgian chocolate. For the sake of time we’ll take more of a cursory glance than a deep dive, identifying some of our favorite chocolatiers in Belgium’s three biggest cities.
The stand out in Brussels is Pierre Marcolini. Their flagship on the Sablon is a mix of 19th century exterieurs and sleek modern intereurs. The pralines are on the second floor next to a couple tables with a spectacular view of the church of the Sablon. Marcolini sources cocoas from around the world and makes the chocolates in house, unlike most chocolatier who buy the chocolate already made and take it from there. Two things really make this chocolate standout, the first is that all the praline look the same, this gives the whole affair a minimal feel to it, and it fits perfectly in a gift boxes. The second is that the flavors are what you could consider to be experimental. Chilis from texas, safran etc. Marcolini is a perfect place to take a couple friends in town.
Mary is the official chocolatier of the Belgian royal family. These are the chocolates we give to visiting dignitaries. That means that these presumably were the chocolate Donald Trump was eating “a lot of” on his recent trip to Brussels. Mary makes a more traditional praline, they’ve been around since 1919, and have been a fancy of local dikkeneks for nearly a century now. The interieurs are reminiscient of a different era. These are the chocolates you give to the in-laws.
The most well-known chocolatier in Antwerp is ‘The Chocolate Line’ by Dominique Persoone, a native of Bruges. This is known as a more experimental chocolatier, although what they have in originality they lack in overall quality. The Chocolate Line is overpriced, overly sweet, and pretty tasteless. The staff there are students who don’t care about chocolate, the interior is thoughtlessly asymmetric. This is just a tourist trap disguised as a chocolatier where you can find bacon and weed flavor praline… cool story bro. This is a classic case of instagram gourmandise.
Burie on the other hand is the real Antwerp chocolatier, despite the family being from Oostende. The store is less impressive, and less centrally located, but the chocolate is simply superior. They are known for their quality, history and hand-made chocolate statues that change every couple weeks. They have little chocolate hands and diamonds, two emblems of Antwerp, that serve as excellent toursity snacks.
Yuzu in Gent is a “best of both worlds” sort of chocolatier. They’re young and experimental, but delicious. The one thing that’s great about Yuzu -that these other chocolatiers don’t have- is the typically Gent characteristic of a complete lack of pomp. My first time there I didn’t realize it was the same yuzu I had been reading about all those years. The chocolate is incredible though. At this point I can’t visit Gent without stopping by Yuzu. It’s Belgian chocolate with a Japanese twist.