As headquarter city for both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Brussels plays host to some of the world's most important policy-making gatherings. As a result, visitors quickly become accustomed to dramatic and noisy motorcades, men and women decked out in formal business attire, the near constant din of myriad languages and accents, and the overall sense of urgency that emanates from nearly all quarters of this capital city.
And while global leaders, diplomats and other government types confer on international topics, Brussels own civic leaders face their own domestic political scuffles, namely, the linguistics and cultural battle between the city's French and Dutch speakers. This controversy began over a century ago and still infects daily life here. For example, in 2007, local media had a fit because Miss Belgium didn't speak Dutch! And "school bans on French" have been imposed to help non-Dutch students acclimate.
Back in the 1800's Belgium was predominantly a Dutch-speaking kingdom. However, an influx of French-speaking immigrants and a growing inferiority complex among Dutch-speaking Flemish allowed the "native" language to slowly seep from the city's fabric. This "Frenchification" began in the late 19th Century and accelerated into the 20th Century as Brussels international prominence began to rise. While the city is officially "bilingual", French dominates. It's estimated that French is used exclusively in 60% of Brussels' homes versus a paltry 15% for Dutch. (However, even these numbers are controversial and argued about by leaders.)
Language differences aside, there is one thing that locals can support: a love of all things sweet. Belgium is famous for its hand made chocolate and Brussels for its waffles (or gauffres).
Despite "Belgian" (or "Belgium") waffles being listed on nearly every brunch menu around the world, Belgians don't call their thick and deep dimpled dessert treats "Belgian waffles", just as "French fries" are not found in France. In fact the term originated in New York City at the 1964 World's Fair. Maurice Vermesch, a Belgian restaurant manager, called the waffles he was serving "Belgian" instead of "Brussels" assuming that customers would not make the geographical connection.
We always encourage sampling local fare while visiting foreign cities. And with delicious chocolate and hot waffles tempting you at every turn, make sure your workout doesn't fall off the agenda. We've provided recommendations to help.