Sunday, March 3, 2013

Neuhaus Chocolate Outlet

Neuhaus started life as a pharmacy, and was the first
chocolateur to create pralines.
One of the places I meant to write about back in January, that I never really got to was the Neuhaus Factory Outlet in Brussels. I ran down there before my flight back to the U.S., because I desperately needed an authentic Belgian Christmas gift for family. The quick and dirty version of this place is you can a) go eat as many Neuhaus chocolates as you can shovel in your mouth for free, and b) buy whole one kilogram boxes for the price of 25 euros (or 3 for 50). It's not cheap, but considering one (piece of) chocolate at their downtown locations could cost 7-10 Euros, and a box might contain 50-100 morcels (or more) , you can see why people flock down to outlet for some bulk purchasing discount fun (especially around the holidays).

Of course most tourists don't even know this place exists. I happened to stumble upon a New York Times article on the place about a year ago, and then subsequently ended up in  living in Anderlecht, where my host-family knew exactly what I was talking about.

Those open boxes? Those are samples. Free samples. That's right.
You will find a lot of Belgians in there especially around the holidays, and former residents who come in to town during this time. You do have to re-wrap in your own cellophane  but handing out retail cost, fifty Euro, chocolate gift-bags tends to put smiles on people faces. Many of them will never know you didn't buy them at the fancy boutique at Grand Place from white gloved anorexic high-school girls.

So how do you get there? Get on the 5 line and take it to its terminus (Erasamus), walk out of the station and continue to walk in the direction that the metro was going (away from Brussels), till you hit a traffic circle.Turn left onto Avenue Joseph Wybran (Postweg 2) and walk (or drive) till you see the big red Neuhaus sign on the right (just past the city limit sign). It's a big great gray monolith of a building up on the hill. (You can also choose to short-cut through the ULB medical parking from the Metro too.) It's really only about a five minute walk from Erasamus, but be prepared for rogue, ninja, women pensioners ready to pinch your cheeks and confront you and your chocolate covered, swollen face as you're carrying a sack of bon bons home. I had one pop out from behind a tree and say "ah somebody found the chocolate store!" I hung my head down and mumbled "Oui madam, je suis grosse." This is what I refer to as the walk of shame.

Neuhaus Chocolate Shop Outlet
Hours: 9-6 (18:00) Mon-Sat

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Best Hostel In Brussels

Sleep Well easily has one of the best located Hostels in Brux.
When I was traveling around Europe a few months back, it became quite easy to tell what were the best hostels in cities like Rome (The Yellow) or in Krakow (Goodbye Lenin), but recently I found myself in need of accommodation right here in Bruxelles, and unfortunately there wasn't a clear consensus as to where to stay. To make matters worse, many of the hotels are cheaper than hostels, so why would most people pay more for a hostel than private accommodation? The answer is of course, obvious, to those of us who commonly travel in hostels.

  • free breakfast
  • to meet people
  • better locations (centrally located)
  • bars inside of the hostels
  • parties

Of course Brux is slow this time of year. The hostel was not what you would say is a "rocking" place, and indeed the bar is minuscule (which matters little since you're feet from some of the greatest bars in the world). This of course is something that Sleep Well, the hostel we stayed at needs to work on; but, we adored the vending machines which were cheap and the availability of shampoos and soaps for sale at the front desk.. But you can't get more centrally located then where Sleep Well is. It's literally in the back-alley of the biggest shopping and tourist area of Brussels. The metro is less than five minutes (Rogier), and the rooms are absolutely immaculate and amazing (oh and hot showers too [almost too hot]). Our room even had a flat-screen television. 

Now, you must understand, Sleep Well is still under renovations from a huge fire that occurred about a year ago that burnt the place down, but because of this it's likely to be the nicest (and safest) hostel in Brussels.

I would have preferred baguettes (pain francais)  instead of American bread at breakfast, and they should expand their bar, but you really can't beat Sleep Well in my opinion, simply because of it's amazing location. Something you will appreciate when you visit the real bars near Grand Place (just a few minutes walk away), and want to find you bed at the end of the night.

Where to Eat Testicles?

A truly authentic Belgian style restaurant in Brussels.
Never thought I'd ever title a blog-post that.

There's something to be said about Brussels culinary history. Mention horse in the U.K. and people flip, but to Belgians, they're mouths begin to water. Of course I always thought downing a horse was the peak of my extraordinary and authentic Belgian cuisine experiences, but I was wrong. My friend Nino took me and Shannon last weekend to Restobieres, a very cool, and very Belgian restaurant that sells everything from rabbit to testicles. That's right, you heard me, testicles!

Called choesels, it's one of those dishes many expats don't even know about, and tourists would never know about. Even many of the Belge, while familiar with the dish are unlikely to have consumed them. A century ago, bull's balls were the epitome of high culture in Brussels, as the Anderlecht slaughterhouse turned out meat scraps for locals. The problem apparently was that choesels are a labor intensive dish that can take nearly an entire day to prepare.

Rabbit in wine sauce.

While I'll admit there was quite a bit of a mental obstacle to get over, I was convinced if I had ate horse, calamari, and octopus while in Europe, then testicles wouldn't be the dish that conquered me.

So I dug in and swallowed those balls.

To be honest, they weren't too bad, though I think I preferred Shan's rabbit. Honestly they tasted just like beef, cooked in sauce.

The truth is, the restaurant and the food was awesome. I think perhaps I've finally reached the summit of weird foods in Brussels, but I'm always on the search for something new. So if you fancy to know où manger des choesels, (Where to eat testicles?) then look no further than Restobieres.

The money-shot: choesels.

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