Belgium / World Cuisine

Mussels In Brussels

A long overdue post, but finally, here we go. Belgium is a food loving country with a cuisine born from the marriage of French and traditional Flemish influences, creating a thrilling fusion and a subject for a potentially lengthy discussion of Belgian dishes. Brussels’ food scene is vibrant and diverse, the plenty of French brasseries, fish bars, restobars and tapas bars, cafes and patisseries will surely satisfy the most picky eaters. So to avoid being boringly long-winded, let’s take the most thrilling highlights.

If you like seafood, and don’t mind touching what you eat, trying local mussels is a must. Good mussels is easy to find as almost every restaurant serves it, and there are good bargains too, for the competition is strong. Along the traditional flavourings (my personal favourites are cooked in white wine or beer), you can find mussels cooked with vegetables, like leek, mushrooms and celery, or served with a cream sauce. Served piping hot straight off the stove in a pot that’s a cross between a casserole dish and a cast iron kettle. Order a good brew to go with the dish to entice you with even more flavour and aroma. Some menus offer a matching beer for any food choice; when in doubt, don’t be shy to ask your waiter.

Beer is a staple in Belgian cuisine. It’s not only consumed as a refreshment and to oil the cogs of any conversation, but it’s used for making food. There is beef stew, leg of rabbit and mussels cooked with beer, horse steak with beer sauce, and beer is also used to enhance the flavour of bread, saucisson (a type of dry cured sausage) and cheese. There is probably beer-flavoured chocolate too, I just haven’t come across it. Beer comes from several large manufacturers and microbreweries across the country. There are countless pubs, bars and restobars (yes, it’s a thing) with a selection of local and international brews to tickle your taste buds. My favourite places are (not necessarily in this order): Delirium Tremens near the Grand Place is favoured by locals and travellers alike, but as it’s in a rather touristy area, naturally has a more commercial feel to it; Moeder Lambic Fontainas has usually over 40 beers on tap; and if that’s not enough, let yourself be surprised by the Bier Circus with over 200 different brews. If you favour a party scene, try Scott’s Bar, a new cafe/bar at the northern end of Las Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. On a side note, Belgians also have this cute and somewhat annoying habit of insisting that you have any beer in the glass specially designed for it, as it’s rumoured that using the correct glass enhances the aroma. Therefore don’t be surprised if upon visiting a Belgian family home, they’ll spend 15 minutes in the cupboard trying to find that one perfect vessel.

SONY DSCWhat baffled me the most during my visit was that commercial Belgian food is not what I would consider healthy. Almost every main meal is served with fries (usually thick-cut potato chips), and flushed down with beer. You have options of course, but unless you ask for something else specifically, fries is what you get. There are shops selling chunky chips and frikadel (deep fried meat sausage) with a choice of 20 or so different sauces. There is chocolate shop or patisserie on every other corner; street vendors sell waffles, plain or with toppings that range from powdered sugar, through fresh fruit and whipped cream to Nutella and maple syrup, or any combination of the above. So how people are not morbidly obese, is beyond me (on the other hand Brussels is not ideal for driving, so they probably get more exercise). That aside, I haven’t even mentioned cheese, bread, saucisson,  baklavas and other delicacies, thanks to the large Middle Eastern population. Belgian cuisine is a thrill for any foodie.

One more advice: most restaurant already include a service charge that
will be detailed on the bill; if not, it’s customary to leave a minimum of 10% on top of
your purchase. In any case, a tip is always appreciated.
For more pictures visit my gallery here.

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