Belgium for the Senses
By Rachel Medanic on January 21, 2012
Belgium, a land where dairy rules and dessert is afforded a higher status than in other countries. In this country with its funny language, dessert can be a meal onto itself. The French culinary influences offer up abundant cream sauces and most anything you order is drenched in rich dairy. Actually, it can be too much. But then there is the chocolate to rescue you. If you prefer some modicum of healthy eating, get thee to the weekly market!
My recent first-time ever travels to Belgium left plenty for my senses to enjoy...and not just my taste buds.
For Taste: We found a very "parentlicious" restaurant concept that doesn't exist here in the US: classy, restaurants with child care or spaces/toys for children to play built into them. Parentlicious means, "you must go (date night destination for parents)." If you're ever in Antwerp with little ones, Sens Unik is a must destination. It's a classy 3-story place to have dinner while up on the 3rd floor your children are fully entertained and supervised in a multi-room play space with toys and gear. On the ground floor pictured here, you can watch them by video monitor and even go as far as to have them served their dinner up on their floor.
Sens Unik also served this Piedboef, a kind of root beer beer that was pure fun to drink...and yes, very sweet. The ribs (I never eat ribs) were out of this world and the French fries (because in Belgium, ya gotta') were fantastic.
For Smell: Pretty much anything that is edible in the country is fair game. The weekly market in Antwerp was kind of like an American farmers market only 5 times as large and with a much more deeply Middle Eastern variety of nuts, fruits and breads. Vegetables, handmade goods and ethnic specialties were abundant. Nothing beat the wrap experience: Ricotta cheese drizzled with honey in a crepe; or roasted veggies in a crepe.
For Touch: Most of what you can buy or eat (or eat and buy) can be touched (diamonds, chocolate, beer, pastry, cheese). But for those with kids, there is a great destination in downtown Antwerp called in Den Olifant (on Leopoldstraat). It's a giant local toy store that can keep kids occupied on rainy days and best of all, it is across the street from Het Gebaar, a very fancy lunch and chocolate place with an acclaimed Belgium pastry chef, Roger van Damme. We didn't get to eat there, but we stood in line awhile. Reservations are a must. English is a third language step child here so if you can go in French do, otherwise, English is perfectly viable.
For Sight: Antwerp and Brussels are Art Nouveau meccas, but let me first mention the Antwerp Zoo which does a fantastic job of getting you very close to the animals. The zoo sits on the backside of Central Station, so a visit there can be paired with train travel back to the airport or to other destinations. For Art Nouveau, I loved the Four Seasons district along Waterloo Street. We headed there in search of the Cogels Osylei quater (quarter) which boasts an intersection with Art Nouveau mosaic tiles on 4 houses representing the 4 seasons at Waterloo's intersection with Transvaal straat. After enjoying the district, we happened upon a lovely lunch at the Wattman Cafe.
For Sound: Enjoy the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels. It's lovely art nouveau exterior, extensive listening stations for many historical instruments and posh cafe at the top make it worth the trip.
So what is she eating in the lead photo? (See the last photo). You cannot believe how amazing this berry cream pie thing was. None of that meringue/egg white lightness, it was deeply creamy. And alas, just mere museum food in Brussels. All in all, Antwerp is a very personable and walkable city with lots to see and not much crowd to fight. It's also a great jumping off point to many other destinations around Europe.
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