“Open it,” he said. I stared into the glowing face of the man who would become my husband and then down at the small magenta box he had ceremoniously placed in my hands, as if it contained the most precious treasure. Its pale pink ribbon swirled and curled around my trembling fingers. I knew it was a box of chocolates he’d brought with him from Brussels. He’d talked about Belgian chocolate since the day we’d met. He’d told me, in response to my silly question, that if he could only bring one food with him to a deserted island, he would take Belgian chocolate, and more specifically, chocolate from the shop where the king buys his bread, Wittamer. I didn’t have the courage to tell this man I loved that not only did I not love chocolate too, but I didn’t even like it. Or so I thought. I eventually did open the box and took a piece, and as the small square melted, it covered my tongue with a complicated dance of textures and flavours – smooth and crunchy, sweet and bitter, and also fruity, nutty, and spicy. It was a universe unto itself and I was in heaven.
Why did I come to Brussels?
Like so many others in this truly multicultural city, I came for love. Unfortunately, this love didn’t last, but my love for chocolate did, and in the more than ten years I’ve been in Brussels now, has continued to thrive. Growing up in Toronto, I knew chocolate to be a sickly sweet confection, devoid of any flavour besides sugar. In Canada, chocolate was made by candy companies, in Belgium, it is in the domain of chocolatiers, true artists who study and hone their craft like any good sculptor or painter would. Brussels may be the capital of Europe, but it is also the capital of chocolate. Many of the best chocolate makers can be found here nestled among the antique stores on the Grand Sablon, and the others are an easy metro or train ride away.
What are my favourite places in Brussels?
Like many writers, I have a disciplined routine. Tuesday morning, and Wednesdays and Fridays are for honing my craft. But before I can even pick up my pen and crawl back into bed (my favourite place for creating and where I’m writing this article now), I put on the kettle and eat precisely two pieces of chocolate. I cannot skip the chocolate. It’s as if it wakes up my senses, my creativity, my curiousity. Without it, I simply cannot write. Taking away my chocolate would be worse than taking away my pen. Sometimes, at extremely busy periods, this chocolate is a couple of squares of Cachet’s almond and sea salt bar that I’ve picked up at my local grocery store, but ideally, it is from Frederic Blondeel on Place St. Catherine, or Joost Arijs which I can always find in the impressive chocolate section of the Rob supermarket, or the award-winning Centho (the best caramel pralines I’ve ever had) and now, their soon to open shop on rue Franklin. When friends come to visit, I always take them over to the Galleries St. Hubert. This glorious 19th century shopping arcade and its arches, pilasters, and glass dome in the Italian Cinquecento style is home to the first Neuhaus store. Originally a pharmacy, it is here that the praline as we know it today was invented. In 1857, Jean Neuhaus covered his medicines with chocolate to make them more appealing to his customers. You can still see the original pharmacy fixtures in the shop today.
Why is Brussels extra special for me?
Besides the chocolate, put simply, Brussels has been good to me. As a result of living in Brussels, I have met some of the most incredible people – talented, intelligent, compassionate – and have forged friendships that have helped me grow both as a creative person and a human being. Half the week, I follow one passion and work in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility and in the other half, I am a writer and creator with a passion for novels and porcelain. In this city, not only is my dual life possible, it is embraced. People may complain about the weather here, but this city has a soul unlike any other. Brussels, je t’aime.