Belgium – a country famous for its delectable desserts, chocolates and dairy products. People travel from near and far to taste the delicious choices that the country has to offer. But where does kosher fall into the picture? In this picturesque European country, almost nothing is off limits. From bakeries to restaurants, and even dairy creameries, locals and visitors alike always have kosher items at their fingertips.
For the rabbis in Belgium, working around the clock to ensure the security of kashrus is a top priority. Mushky Lasker, daughter of OK Rabbinic Coordinator and Chabad shliach, Rabbi Shimon Lasker, in Brussels, shared her view on the unique experience behind keeping kosher in such a remote, yet accessible country. “My parents moved to Brussels in 1984. They’ve been in Belgium for over thirty years, Baruch Hashem. There are two grocery stores, one with a prepared food section, as well as two local catering companies.” While there is a larger variety of kosher supermarkets and restaurants in Antwerp, a forty-five minute car ride from Brussels, the locals in Brussels are far from hungry. “Pretty much anything you would typically find in an American grocery store is available in the stores around Belgium,” a tourist who recently spent time in Belgium explained. “We were never hungry!”
Beyond the variety of shops and choices in Brussels, there are the local chocolate and dairy production companies. After all, when you think “Belgium” you think “chocolate”. Perhaps one of the greatest delights of Belgium is that kosher chocolate is widely available throughout the country. Kosher chocolate production companies such as Barry Callebaut have production facilities in Belgium and distribute worldwide. Rabbi Lasker is one of the world’s top experts on kosher chocolate production, and is the onsite rabbi at Barry Callebaut. The chocolate produced in Barry Callebaut’s factories are distributed to suppliers and stores around the world, such as gourmet grocery store chains, restaurants and repackers.
Belgium is a haven of culture and culinary delights. Tourists wishing to visit the country have an abundance of options for food and comfort. Between kosher accommodations, which include hospitality, Shabbos and Yom Tov meals, and the variety of availability in the local stores, tourists are bound to leave happy and well fed. “Throughout the year, tourists are constantly coming and going,” Mushky Lasker shared. “During the week, we direct them to the grocery stores for kosher items. On Shabbos, we host meals that range from twenty guests to fifty or sixty. You never know how many people will come through the door! Every event is different. There’s always a mix of locals and tourists, especially around holidays like Chanukah. That’s usually when people are on winter break and travel the most.”
Antwerp also has a robust kosher selection. During Chanukah, the bakeries around Antwerp pull out all of the stops. “You can smell the doughnuts from a mile away!” a local student in Antwerp shared. “You have to order considerably far in advance, because they sell out very quickly. My favorite is the chocolate filled. I wait all year for it!”
Last summer, during a ten-day trip around Europe, a group of American girls found themselves in Belgium for less than a day, a small stop over on their way to Rome. Though they had traveled through Europe in the past, it was their first time in Belgium. They weren’t sure what to expect when it came to keeping themselves well nourished, even during the short time period. Upon arriving in Antwerp, the girls were more than pleased to find an abundance of kosher restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores scattered across the city, more than twenty-four options in total, including a pizza restaurant and a steak house. For these European travelers, Belgium was by far the best they had seen…and tasted! “We were there less than a day, but we really managed to eat a lot! My favorite part was a bakery we visited. We practically bought the place out!” Another group of American tourists, who spent a week in Antwerp, spent time learning about the local Jewish community and culture, including the local dairy production. “If I’m not mistaken, this company has been around since the 1950’s. Can you imagine a kosher dairy production starting up after the war? They provide all sorts of different dairy products around Europe, including milk and a variety of cheeses.”
When asked about what advice they would give to other tourists looking to travel to Belgium, they answered in unison “Come hungry!”