See’s is better.
I’m sorry, but it is. It’s richer. It’s creamier. It’s yummier.
Belgian chocolate comes, as, evidently, European chocolate everywhere does, in two types: pralines and truffles. Pralines are hard molded chocolate shells with flavorful fillings of various viscosities. The “caramels” are like Dove or Ghiradelli caramels, spilling out as soon as you crack open the shell. “Nutty” pralines are faint nut flavors, perhaps very finely ground, in bland chocolate. I could not find a single “almond” praline with actual almonds in it. Texture variety is provided by the equivalent of rice crispies sprinkled in surprising spots.
Truffles are very rich, hand-rolled chocolates imbued with mostly alcoholic flavors. They can be hand-dipped or roled in cocoa powder. These were, on the whole, closest to See’s, though apart from straight-up chocolate truffles, the textures were much softer than expected.
Belgians also seemed to be way okay with brazen displays of a whole gamut of molded chocolate gendered nether-regions, frequently on sticks to be . . . I hate to say it . . . sucked. Yeah. It was cultural border jump for sure.
The only thing Belgian chocolatiers produced that made me want to rap on See’s corporate candy door were candied orange peels dipped in dark chocolate: for the WIN.
But if you’re in Bruges, and there is no See’s available, I would recommend the following places:
Neuhaus seems to be the See’s equivalent. It seemed to be a smaller chain than Godiva (though definitely a chain, as it popped up in Brussel’s Grand Place as well), but it was very good quality. The presentation was elegant and upscale, and the service was very helpful. I very much enjoyed their caramels. They are a few blocks down on the main shopping drag, Steenstraat.
Stefs Chocolate was lower quality but still creamy, delicious, and, importantly, cheap. It was just half a block off the Markt (on Breidelstraat between the post office and city hall) and gave me three delightful pieces for just a €1.
And, I hate to say it, Godiva was pretty good. Not miraculously good, mind you, but when it comes to “candied orange peel enrobed in luxurious dark chocolate,” I was pretty impressed with how much better it tasted than all the other chocolate-covered orange peel. It’s impossible to miss the store smack on the corner of the Markt and Steenstraat.
I would stay away from these places:
The Chocolate Line is expensive, even by Belgian standards. One precious piece of not-so-good chocolate (granted, I only had one piece, which is not a huge sample size, but if you are charging me €0.97 for one piece then get used to abrupt reviews) was not bad but it definitely was not up to par. It was even recommended by Rick Steves. I don’t know if Rick Steves has ever had See’s to compare it to, but then, he lives in Washington state, so he has no excuse.
Leonidas was bad. Just . . . no. Did I mention yleuuuch?
Le Clercke‘s was so disappointing because of the incredible display and prices, but the fudge that had been taunting me for weeks was chewy but not quite. It didn’t melt in your mouth, and it was seriously difficult to chew, but it wasn’t sticky like a caramel. The truffle was meh. Rick Steves strikes out again.
. . . and everywhere else, though are undoubtedly shops I did not try. It was just all so disappointing. But then you may disagree. Go ahead and try some and let me know what you think!