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Eat like a local: Brussels is a foodie capital laying on a feast of specialities
From fine dining to brasseries, cosy bistros and street food, Brussels has food at its heart. The Belgian capital has a long tradition of serving up hearty fare that celebrates the seasons and the country’s rich variety of regional produce.
Traditional specialities are the ultimate in comfort food, especially in the cooler months. Keep the chill at bay with slow-cooked beer stews like carbonade flamande or rabbit in kriek, piping hot gratins, stoemp mash and crispy grey shrimp croquettes, as well as steaming casseroles of mussels or classic steak and fries.
With its melting pot of cultures and a growing army of street food outlets and trucks, there’s no shortage of addresses in the capital. If you want to discover somewhere new, a good place to start is Visitbrussels’ label Brusselicious, which lists some of the best spots for Belgian cuisine. And here are a few of our favourites to whet your appetite.
With 30 different serving suggestions, mussels are a main draw at Le Chou de Bruxelles in the Châtelain area. Not to be outdone, Schaerbeek institution Le Zinneke (pictured, above), offers more than 69 mussel recipes with hand-cut fries on the side (pictured). The bistro favours traditional cuisine with some tweaked classics and adopts a slow food philosophy. Another time-honoured address is Volle Gas in Place Fernand Cocq. Admire the period features and enjoy the numerous mussels, meat and regional options. Otherwise, Chez Leon may attract tourists with its Rue des Bouchers location, as does Aux Armes de Bruxelles (see the brasserie section), but the mussels are reliably good.
Fernand Obb delicatessen in Saint-Gilles (pictured, above) has won best shrimp croquette award in the capital for the second year running. The bustling deli-cafe also dishes up boudin burgers, chicory salad and crunchy potato waffles, in addition to its star North Sea delicacies (pictured). Family business Friture René in Anderlecht is worth a detour for its excellent croquettes and other traditional dishes. Grey shrimps also feature on the menu at La Belle Maraîchère in Place Sainte-Catherine, in salads as well as croquette form. Check out also the fish dishes and daily three-course menu.
Bread and cheese!
The patron may be French (Véronique Socié), but she delights in sharing her passion for Belgian cheeses at La Fruitière in Rue du Marché au Charbon. Offering up to 40 varieties of Belgian cheeses, the cheese bar is ideal for sampling and buying. Beloved by Belgians as a breakfast staple, the crusty white bread roll known as a pistolet is filled with traditional hot-and-cold Belgian products at any time of the day at Pistolet Original (pictured, above). Soups, salads and desserts are also on sale at its two outlets in the Sablon and the Rue des Bouchers Guest chefs guarantee new flavour combinations.
Other Belgian favourites
As the name suggests, C’est Bon C’est Belge (pictured, top) delivers national dishes from a small but prime location in Rue de Rollebeek in the Sablon. It doubles as a delicatessen and traiteur, so you can pick up dishes to go, such as waterzooi, stoemp and gratins. There’s also a tearoom for brunch and afternoon treats in Rue de Bon Secours. Belgium has a long history of enjoying offal. One of the few restaurants still specialising in the now hip but once maligned product is Viva M'Boma (Brusseleir for Hurray for Grandma in Brusseleir). Head to the Rue de la Flandre address for traditional tripe dishes in a modern setting. La Fleur en Papier Doré is a museum-like city-centre café/bar – once the haunt of the Surrealist crowd – that serves old-fashioned food: Brussels specialities mainly served with stoemp plus lighter meals and a good range of Belgian beers. Stalwart addresses for seafood are the Noordzee/Mer de Nord outdoor fish bars (pictured, above) in Place Sainte-Catherine and Place Luxembourg; ideal for casual, tasty and super-fresh finger food.
You can’t beat a brasserie for reasonably-priced hearty fare in a relaxed atmosphere or ‘sans chichi’ as the locals say. Cosy in winter, with a pavement terrace for sunny days, Les Brassins lies in Ixelles pedestrian alley Rue Keyenveld, which is also the birthplace of Audrey Hepburn (look out for the sign). Brassins being the name for a beer vat, it naturally serves a selection of local brews, including Gueuzes (an acquired taste) and Trappistes (widely revered). You may have to wait for a table -it doesn’t take reservations – but Fin de Siècle near Place Sainte-Catherine is a true Brussels experience with its large communal tables, chalked up menu board and heaving plates of steaming and largely meaty classic dishes served with mash or baked potatoes rather than habitual fries. The beer menu isn’t bad either. A more upmarket address in the sumptuous setting of the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries, Le Marmiton attracts clients with its Belgian specialities, extensive selection of seafood dishes and stylish period décor. Generations of Brusseleers revere Aux Armes de Bruxelles at Rue des Bouchers (pictured, above), which reopened in 2018 after a take-over and renovation. It delivers the best of Belgo-Brussels cuisine, with a tempting shellfish bar and stylised interior; all the ingredients to retain its ‘institution’ reputation. La Taverne du Passage in Galerie de la Reine also belongs to this category. The renovated Art Deco interior and authentic and seasonal cuisine continues to draw accolades, 90 years on.
Home-made or locally-sourced produce defines the innovative and gastronomic fare at Bouchery in Chaussée d’Alsemberg, Uccle. A weekday lunchtime vegetarian buffet offers a seasonal selection of flavours and textures, while for omnivores, four- six- and eight-course menus are proposed in the evening. The Flagey area is already a foodie destination and Dolma (pictured, above) proposes a large choice of dishes in its vegetarian and vegan buffet, including grilled tofu, fregola, parsnip and plenty of seasonal ingredients. You can also stock up at its organic supermarket. Les Nourritures Terrestres is a popular veggie canteen at the Parvis de Saint-Gilles that proposes one vegan dish a day. Once a tea salon and restaurant, and now a store and traiteur, La Tampsa in the Châtelain area tempts with quality produce ,and in summer months, a pretty garden. Try out its soufflés, samosas, burgers, quiches, plus 100% organic fruit and veggie juices.
The accolades continue to fall upon award-winning humus x hortense (pictured, above), thanks to its chef and mixologist Nicolas Decloedt. Named best vegan restaurant in the world in 2019 (We’re Smart Taste Festival, Amsterdam), the address is worth visiting for its Art Nouveau style, including ceiling paintings. There’s a tasting menu of five or seven dishes, accompanied by a selection of drinks, including organic wine and cocktails, all carefully paired with the dishes. Decloedt operates a zero-waste policy, so veggie bits usually destined for the bin can make a star appearance on your plate or in your glass.
Belgium may have been a little slow to welcome mobile food vendors onto its streets, but they have now earned their place in the urban food landscape. Brussels boasts a food truck trail – a weekly schedule of a variety of carts at 20 different sites in the city – offering toasties, bagels, coffee and a mouthwatering selection of world cuisine. Among our favourites: AfroBurgers (pictured, above) for an alternative to the classic burger combo, Soul kitchen’s generously-filled wraps and crepes, Breton pancakes at Crêperie Ty Penty in Saint-Gilles and Rasoi for home-made Indian treats.
Belgium’s ultimate street food is a cornet of hot chips from a local friterie/frietkot. Officially added to the Unesco list of cultural treasures in 2017, everyone has their favourite, with Frit Flagey, Maison Antoine in Place Jourdan and Friterie Place Saint-Josse regularly garnering accolades. Another award-winner is new chip on the block, The Brussels Frites Atelier (pictured, above) in Rue Sainte-Catherine, owned by Dutch TV chef Sergio Herman. Alternatively, enjoy a sit-down experience at Le Tram de Boitsfort, a takeaway and tiny restaurant with four tables on board.
Perfect for an after-work aperitif and bite to eat, Brussels has market stalls open in various squares each evening of the week. With a line-up of food trucks and wine bars - you can even feast on oysters and cava - as well as the usual deli, fruit and veg stalls, stock up on groceries while socialising. Here’s the schedule: Place Van Meenen, Saint-Gilles (Monday), Place Luxembourg, Ixelles (Tuesday), Place Châtelain (pictured, above), Ixelles (Wednesday), Place Albert, Forest (Thursday), Place des Chasseurs Ardennais, Schaerbeek (Friday).
Reach for the stars
Last but hardly least, for an ultimate splurge, consider a reservation at one of the capital’s Michelin-star restaurants – there’s a total of six two-star and seven one-star addresses. Among the two-star establishments, Belgian chef Christophe Hardiquest’s Bon Bon in Avenue de Tervuren has a reputation for creating some of the best gastronomic dishes in the city. Le Chalet du Forêt (pictured, above) has a rural setting in Uccle’s Sonian Forest with chef Pascal Devalkeneer taking advantage of his on-site vegetable garden when designing menus based on French gastronomy. Contemporary French cuisine is the order of the day at one-star La Villa Emily in Rue de L’Abbaye. Chef Mathieu Jacri and his brigade work from an open kitchen on the ground floor of the two-storey restaurant. The Bozar Restaurant under chef Karen Torosyan is another open kitchen, this time in the Art Deco setting of the Horta-designed Bozar arts centre. Formerly, the Bozar Brasserie under David Martin, the latter now runs and owns the two-star La Paix in Anderlecht.
Written by The Bulletin with visit.brussels