Sunday, October 7, 2012

Meals on wheels: Brussels or the neither fish nor fowl edition

It's been quiet here for a reason! I have been on the road for so many days this summer and autumn that this blog is turning into a travel-blog rather than a food blog! But even out on the road I focus on food as much as it is possible, and in Brussels it was very much so. There will be posts on China coming up shortly, but I deciced to start with Brussels where I spent a couple of days last week... And I hope that, by the end of this year, I will also have published that post on cheeky's in Palm Springs which has been waiting to be written since May.
So Brussels. How best to describe it? Let's put it this way: it's neither fish nor fowl, which on the one hand is a good thing (you get the best out of two worlds) but on the other, it's exactly that: neither nor! I hadn't been to France in years (wait until you get to the end of this sentence, I am no stupid blond who thinks that Brussels is in France...) and I was sort of expecting Brussels to be like a cute middle-size French town - which it totally isn't. There are only very few Boulangeries, hardly any Traiteurs, let alone des Patisseries qui sont digne de carry that title. And it's not totally Dutch either...But, if you keep your eyes open, you will find a few gems and to make that easier for you, here are my Brussels-tips:

Let's start with the foodie-mekka of Brussels: la place sainte catherine. If you are in need of fresh vegetables or mushrooms, you should head straight to Le champingros. They have a great selection and the products look as if picked from the garden that same day. They are closed on Mondays, which I learned the hard way, but I went back on Tuesday and bought some girolles (by the way why do I know the French word for chanterelle? I mean I'm pretty good in French but when and where did I pick up that word and why did it stuck to my mind?). Cut in small pieces with a tad of cream and some crispy baguette they made a perfect dinner.

If you are looking for a present, maybe some new kitchen tools, you should definitely stop by the cute little store called pimpinelle, 57, rue de flandre. If I hadn't made the mistake of flying with easy jet (which limits your luggage to a tiny suitcase and maximises your stress level), I would have definitely bought quite a few items there... They also offer a small selection of sandwiches and cakes and occasionally host cooking classes.

On Saturday night, we felt like the luckiest persons in the world as we just so happened to get the last free table at le pré salé, 20 rue de Flandre.

We had walked past it in the morning and decided that that was the place where we would go and have moules-frites in the evening. It's a very simple, no frills place with tiles on all the walls as if it had been a butcher's in its previous life. Judging by the crowd, it must be a locals' favorite.

We were sitting right at the entrance and wittnesed several people being turned down - so if you want to go there, don't expect to be as lucky as we were, make a reservation instead. The moules which were served in lovely battered casseroles were delicious, as were les frites. 



If I ever make it to Brussels again, I might just have to try the frog legs on their menu, a dish I loved as a child (I already was a weirdo at the age of ten).

Of course there is a "funky" chef's figurine in the window, gladioli (fake or real, who knows), but all that just ads to the no-frill charms of the place.

Also on place sainte catherine is Nordzee - Mer du Nord. 

It sits on the corner with the flock of people in front of it. It' s always buzzing with people and I know why: delicious sea-food on the hand, which you can enjoy with a view of the beautiful church of sainte catherine.

I had the fish soup and came back on my last day in town to have another one because I liked it so much. It comes with a slice of baguette and a nice big dollop of a delicious aioli and some grated cheese, what more could you possibly ask for? I wish I would have tried their fish burgers which also looked delicious.

And lastly, also on la place sainte catherine, you will find the Crémerie Sainte-Catherine. It's a shop right out of a picture book which still sells bottles (!) of milk, beurre wrapped in paper and whether you believe it or not, the black and white cat is part of the store inventory. How can you not love a place like that? They also sell a selection of sandwiches which must be great to have on a picknick in the summer.

However, in the rue du midi, close to the grand place, there is an even better traiteur of which I unfortunately did not take a picture. The lady who served me there (probably the owner) is a master example on how you should treat customers! I went into the store and ordered a small slice of a cheese from the Jura covered in dried flowers. She complimented me on my choice and gave me a piece to try, although she already knew that I wanted to buy a piece anyway! That's how you should treat your customers! I also bought some fresh ham and a lovely chèvre-quiche which was served as plockmat (that's Swedish for a buffet of coldcuts) in the evening... Every day I made it back there to check on whether they had any more of those quiches but I always arrived too late during the day...

If you are into the arts, the Wiels is a place you should pay a visit. It's a center for contemporary art set in a former brewery, and the cafe in the entrance hall is a cozy hang-out place. The temporary exhibition of Leigh Ladare's works was too much for my taste, but I nevertheless enjoyed the visit due to the building's interesting design.

When in Brussels, the normal thing to do is to go to a chocolatier and try some Belgian chocolate. The only problem is that I am not that much into chocolate. That's why I rather checked out one of the oldest (and also one of the very few!) patisseries, namely Wittamer. The café sits right on the place du Grand Sablon which makes it a nice spot to sit in the sun on the terrace. Their cakes are the classical French kinds, I had the opéra which unfortunatley lacked the crunchy bottom. The prices were normal for Brussels, but for someone from Berlin, skyrocketing - I think I paid 7 Euros for my opéra (dear sister, correct me if I'm wrong!). I guess I'll leave it up to you to make up your mind on whether that is a fair price or not.

copyright of all photos j. 

That's all from Brussels- next stop: Beijing!