Innovative Chocolate Shops in Belgium
Belgium has been practically synonymous with chocolate ever since legendary chocolatier Jean Neuhaus Jr. invented the praline, the first chocolate with a soft filling, in 1912. Today, the tiny country is home to over 300 chocolateries that turn out more than 725,000 tons of product every year. Now youthful artisans are injecting a shot of fresh energy into Belgium’s storied chocolate tradition and adapting to modern times and tastes. You’ll find so much more than the typical hazelnut-filled praline at these shops, and they’re all easily and quickly accessible using the country’s excellent train system.
Get your Belgian chocolates with a side of pastry at this stylish shop with locations in both Ghent and Antwerp. Chocolatier Joost Arijs and his partner and pastry chef Elke De Baerdemaeker pay homage to classic Belgian flavors (think lots of hazelnut), but they also offer a few surprises, such as jewel-like chocolate spheres flavored with gingerbread and Earl Grey tea. You’ll also find macarons, cookies and ice cream to satisfy every variety of sweet tooth. joostarijs.be
This shop, named after its engineer-turned-chocolatier from Liege, is quietly amassing an empire, now with two shops in Brussels and two more in other Belgian cities. Most chocolatiers use pre-made chocolate that they remelt for their creations, but Nihant participates in the entire process — starting with whole beans and making his products from scratch. He even recently invested in a cacao plantation of his own in Peru. Try the chocolate bars using beans from Madagascar and countries all over Latin America, and compare the subtle flavor differences. benoitnihant.be
Chocolate meets beer — Belgium’s other specialty — at this sleek shop that adjoins the 184-year-old De Koninck Brewery in Antwerp. Here, Jitsk Heyninck makes chocolates inspired by his travels around the world — such as pralines filled with mandarin orange and lemongrass, or blackcurrant with black pepper. They’re all made by hand in Heyninck’s studio visible through the glass behind the counter. jitsk.com
In the medieval university town of Leuven, find Bram Jaenen’s newly relocated store just a short walk from the train station. The chocolate counter is evocative of an old-fashioned toy shop, with a playful range of colorful candies in shapes like Legos, skulls and even little silver robots. Filled with innovative flavors like saffron-and-vanilla-scented rice pudding, absinthe, or even green tea with bergamot orange, these chocolates may look youthful, but they still appeal to grown-up tastes. bittersweet.be
French-born Jérôme Grimonpon earned his stripes working at renowned chocolate shops across Brussels. Now, he owns a 4-year-old shop of his own in the Belgian capital’s residential neighborhood of Uccle. Try the metallic-colored chocolates filled with fig marmalade and thyme ganache (a whipped combination of chocolate and cream), or yuzu with matcha-flavored ganache. If you’re feeling particularly patriotic, pick up some speculoos pralines, inspired by Belgium’s favorite spice cookie.
Meredith Bethune is an American food and travel writer. She’s trying as much chocolate and beer as possible while living in Belgium.