Brussels Highlights

Moules-frites

Let me start this post by declaring my love for the Northern European high-speed train network: Northern European high-speed train network, I love you.

Really, can anyone think of anything more enthusing than the fact that London‘s Borough Market, Amsterdam‘s rijsttafels, and Strasbourg‘s flammekueche are just a couple of hours away from Paris, and that the trip to get there does not involve taking off your belt, your shoes, and the filling in your left molar, nor tossing out your only bottle of contact lens cleanser? I can’t either.

And to further illustrate that point, Maxence and I have just spent a sunny weekend in Brussels, a city of true gourmands where every other street name has something to do with food — Rue des Bouchers, Rue aux Choux, Rue du Persil… Here are a few highlights.

Moules-frites at La Bonne Humeur

Of course, we had to kick things off with mussels and fries, and we had the good fortune of stumbling upon these posts by Laurent Goffin. He was writing about a modest bistro straight out of the seventies, complete with formica tables and wood-paneled walls, and his review essentially boiled down to: “La Bonne Humeur = best moules-frites in Brussels.” This was all I needed to know.

We headed there on our first night, fresh off the train, and because the restaurant is a little way out of the city center, the walk allowed us to work up a hefty appetite. La Bonne Humeur was easy to spot from afar — see the swarms of eager diners waiting on the sidewalk? that’s where it is — and we got in line with the others.

Our meal was every bit worth the wait, and if I had to wait again I would — twice longer, even. Our moules marinières (i.e. cooked in a broth of onion, celery, and butter; pictured above) appeared in their cast-iron pots, steamingly flavorful and jumbo plump, with a side of pale blond fries, not too crisp but not too soft, which we dipped with abandon in the homemade mayo.

The mussels we were served came from the Zeeland region in Holland, where they are harvested at the bottom of the sea, as opposed to the French moules de bouchot, which are farmed on ropes that spiral around wooden poles — kind of like pole dancing for molluscs.

La Bonne Humeur (literally, “The Good Mood”) / map it!
Chaussée de Louvain, 244 – 1000 Bruxelles
+32 (0)2 230 71 69

We got another fix of moules-frites the next day, this time from a brasserie on the Sablon named Le Grain de Sable: the frites weren’t quite as memorable, but the moules au vin blanc (same as marinières, but with the addition of white wine) were delectable, and the sunshine falling on our table was the perfect condiment.

Waffles from a street stand

Hot waffles are to Brussels what hot crêpes are to Paris: everywhere you go in the touristic center, the smell of freshly pressed waffles wafts up to your nose from waffle trucks and streetside stands, and who am I to resist such a delicious cliché? My apologies to the light and crisp gaufre de Bruxelles, I much prefer the cakey and caramelized gaufre de Liège, of which I’d be content to eat just the pointy edges.

Chocolate-pistachio ice cream at Wittamer

Wittamer and Marcolini are the two Belgian chocolatiers of highest repute. Pierre Marcolini has a boutique in Paris, so I simply paid the mothership a visit to admire the pastries, which aren’t (yet?) sold at the Parisian outpost.

At Wittamer, however, I selected a small assortment of chocolates from the chocolate shop, before we went into the pastry shop to get a waffle and some ice cream — chocolate-pistachio for me, almond milk for Maxence. I was underwhelmed by the filled chocolates (I like mine to be less sweet) and the waffle (it should be required by law to serve them hot off the iron), but my ice cream, a smooth, dark chocolate base with pistachio caramel swirling through it, more than made up for it.

Pierre Marcolini / map it!
Rue des Minimes, 1 – 1000 Bruxelles
+ 32 (0)2 514 12 06

Wittamer / map it!
Place du Grand Sablon, 12 – 1000 Bruxelles
+32 (0)2 512 37 42

Pain à la grecque at Dandoy

As long as we’re in the sweets department, there is no getting around another Brussels institution: the venerable Biscuiterie Dandoy, famous for its speculoos, pains d’amandes, and assorted butter cookies.

Among the specialties we sampled, my favorite by far was the pain à la grecque, a confection of buttery yeast dough that is rolled in pearl sugar, flattened, and baked until golden and irresistibly caramelized. My friend Sigrid published a recipe last fall (yes, it is in Italian, but why do you think God created Babelfish?) and I intend to try it as soon as my blood sugar stabilizes.

There is a list of Dandoy locations on their website; the oldest boutique on Rue au Beurre (how appropriate) seems to be perpetually packed, so you may want to visit one of the others — on Rue de Rollebeek off the Sablon, for instance.

Other things

In between those meals and treats, we walked and biked and walked some more, we bought excellent Belgian cheeses (a slice of Vieux Bruges and a raw milk, organic Pavé de Soignies) from a shop off Place Sainte-Catherine, and I visited the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée (the museum of Belgian comics and graphic novels) where, misty-eyed and tight-throated, I reveled in the original planches of the BD series that peopled my childhood and adolescence. (Hey, I turn 28 on Friday, I’m entitled to a bit of healthy nostalgia, no?)

Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée / map it!
Rue des Sables, 20 – 1000 Bruxelles
+32 (0)2 219 19 80

  • http://amysahba.blogspot.com amy

    I miss the ability to travel from central london to central paris in 3 hours… enjoy!

  • http://www.ceresandbacchus.com Mary

    Such a great post, thanks for the culinary tour of Brussels. Et joyeux anniversaire!

  • http://www.poonamphatak.blogspot.com/ Poonam

    The comfort of this travel is evident from your post. Interesting!

  • Griffin

    “At Wittamer, however, I selected a small assortment of chocolates from the chocolate shop”

    Clotilde, I am shocked… shocked and I admit impressed… a SMALL assortment of chocolates?!! How? How did you possibly manage it??!!

    I mean some of the best chocs and you only bought a small assortment. I take my hat off to you, I bow – such discipline, such iron will, such a small assortment! Even when I just ‘take a look’ at chocolates I end up buying lots.

    You know also that the Musee Victor Horta is in Brussels. A whole house in the Art Nouveau style by one of the earliest architects of the style. Tho’ Hector Guimard’s Metro entrances are just as iconic, if not more so.

    One day, I too will go to Bruxelles… but I am afraid I will make a chocolate raid on Wittamers… shhh, don’t tell them I’m coming!

  • Rachel

    Yes, it is nice living in a Eurostar city, isn’t it?

    If you fancy trying another place for moules frites on your next trip, the best I’ve ever had in Brussels were in an unassuming little place toward the northern end of Rue Haute (I can’t remember the name, but it’s a tiny restaurant on a corner with wood panelling and about 10 tables, if that). Though I must warn you the mussels come with a large helping of cheese, in the form of Radio Nostalgie Bruxelles…

  • http://burntlumpia.typepad.com Burnt Lumpia

    Wow Clotilde, that serving of Mussels and Frites looks huge! And how was the beer? You and Maxence must have had some good Belgian beer while you were there, right?

  • mainyacha

    I am envious of the Northern European high-speed train network. I was gifted with 2 lovely bottles of body lotion and shower gel while out of town and I couldn’t bring them back with me because I wasn’t checking in my bag. I will have to wait and get them in mail.
    Also, I want some mussels very badly now. I guess I will have to make do with going to the Le Petit Abeille here in nyc. By the way, I love your blog. If I had been interested in cooking or known about you when you were in town, I would have surely came and gotten a signed copy!!

  • http://saffronandblueberry.blogspot.com Hilda

    Well Joyeux Anniversaire en avance et merci for the great addresses to add to my list of TGV-accessible treats.

  • mainyacha

    Oh! Also is that the rocket from the tintin comic books at the museum you provided the link for? I can’t seem to go anywhere else on that site but I recognize that rocket. I grew up reading ‘tintin’ and ‘asterix and obelix’ comic books in nepal. I was surprised to find that mostly nobody in the US have heard of them!! I have to go to that museum!!

  • http://kellytheculinarian.blogspot.com Kelly Mahoney

    The food looks great, I hope I make it to that neck of the woods one day.

  • http://www.epicurien.be Laurent

    nice to see you enjoyed la bonne humeur… it’s one of my best adress in Brussel. If you re still in brussel, you should also try Viva M’Bomma which is really a wonderfull adress.

    About chocolates, i have discovered a new talent in the center in Brussel but i’m never able to remember the name. Out of the center, i really advice also visiting Fabrice Collignon who is an ex chef pâtissier of Alain Ducasse.

  • Laura

    I cannot wait to head north! This is one of the many reasons we decided to make a move across the atlantic… easy access to so much great culture and food. Can’t wait to have those moules. We are headed north soon, even sooner now!

  • shelli

    Bonne anniversaire!

  • Joan

    so easy to taste that photo..I’ve always loved that combination..’n Clotilde a truly perfect description of air travel :-)

    hugs from Oz for THE day…may it be full to the brim with delights

  • John Norris

    Your trip to Bruxelles makes me feel a little envious. You seem to have had a very good weekend!

    I used to travel to Bruxelles by train more when I lived in London, but now I am in York I am waiting for the train link across London to be ready this autumn rather than fighting my way across on the London Underground. That can be the worst part of the whole trip.

    The Centre de la Bande Dessinée is good; a model of Tintin’s moon rocket is on my windowsill. I shall stock up with cartoons when I am next there. However, I have found the Centre’s café rather disappointing; did you eat there? I found better in Madou.

    Wittamer’s chocolate is a regular treat in store.

    I shall try your recommendations for moules-frites. I have occasionally been surprised that a cuisine which emphasises shellfish, as theirs does in Bruxelles, seems sometimes careless of the need to eat it absolutely fresh.

  • http://vegfoodie.typepad.com/vegfoodie Michael Natkin

    What is everyone’s theory on the perfect frite? The ones in Clotilde’s picture look a little too pale for me. I’m all about a high crispyness ratio. Ideally I like a thin fry that I that is dark brown and snaps crisply in two, with just a bit of starchy fluff inside. The best ones I’ve had lately were at Anthony’s Seafood in Seattle, at the SeaTac airport branch of all places.

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    I agree-traveling by train is such a pleasure. You can arrive 10 minutes before the train leaves, take you seat and that’s it! My only complaint is if they put you in one of those units for 4 people and you must face two complete strangers and bump feet and knees the whole time. I dumped a can of diet coke on one unfortunate man facing me once. It’s nice to watch the scenery out the window too instead of watching it from high above-more close and personal.

  • Elizabeth

    Clothilde,
    How funny – I’m an American interning in Paris for the summer, and I, too, took advantage of the wonderful Thalys to go to Brussels on Saturday. I’ve been culling your blog for Paris food destinations, and wish I’d caught your Brussels entry in time! Marcolini was indeed fabulous. Next time you’re in Brussels, if you can manage to tire of mussels (I don’t really like them to begin with, so I had to look for other offerings), try Le Perroquet on the Sablon’s rue Watteu for the best of the fresh soup-salad-sandwich genre. Alas, I didn’t write down the name of my salad, but I remember the important parts well: warm, mild chevre; ultra-fresh greens; a dark mustard-based vinaigrette; apple; sundried tomato. It was perfect on its own, but the basket of lightly toasted pita didn’t hurt either. Welcome back to Paris!

  • http://bretzeletcafecreme.blogspot.com/ Bretzel et Café Crème

    Complètement d’accord avec toi, Paris – Munich la semaine dernière en TGV puis Munich-Hambourg avec le train rapide allemand, un rêve.
    Du temps pour rêver, écrire et lire pour préparer sa ballade gourmande.
    A Bruxelles, un must : les frites de la baraque d’Antoine du côté de la Communauté européenne, rien que d’en parler, j’en ai envie (avec une lichette de mayo tant qu’à faire). Nostalgie quand tu nous tiens…

  • http://clairedbao.canalblog.com Claire

    Glad you enjoyed our wonderful Bruxelles. Seems to me you managed to visit all the best spots in two days :-) Dandoy, Marcolini, La Bonne Humeur… I must admit I find Wittamer a little overstated (them being “Fournisseurs de la cour” and all), but they do have some amazing pastries and ice-creams, though the price is as amazing as the flavour!

  • http://www.handtomouthkitchen.wordpress.com B

    Oh, this just looks so delicious and you have completely inspired me to take an overnight trip to Brussels. I live in London, and I took the Eurostar to Paris, and I realised on my way there that this is how truly civilized people travel.

    I will gorge myself of flavoured beer if I go.

  • http://www.chewonthatblog.com Max

    I wholeheartedly support and join your in your profession of love to the rail system. I was completely spoiled when I live in London and often wish the US would get a clue and catch up!

    Great post – hopefully I’ll get to all those wonderful places one day.

  • Kara

    Hi Clotilde –
    I’ve really been enjoying your website and was pleased to see this recent entry on Brussels, given that I have to go there often now for business. I too went last week to Wittamer and Pierre Marclini, spending a small fortune for those delicious chocolates.
    One thing I really enjoyed that you might try on your next trip is going to Place de Chatelain for the Wednesday market. My office mates took me there after work and we had an impromptu happy hour in the middle of the wonderful market, enjoying cheese, saucissons and delicious ripe fruits. It was a highlight of the trip.
    I was pretty impressed with the ice cream in the city, having tried it at a few outposts. My favorite flavors were lavendar and violette – so subtle, yet really very delicious and such a powerful aroma!
    For moules frites, I visited Aux Armes de Bruxelles off the Rue de Bouchers. This is a historic restaurant and I loved the moules, served as you noted with a great deal of celery, a touch of white wine and butter – simple and delicious. The frites I tried while in town, were not very memorable, which was disappointing. They were quite thick – almost what we Americans would call “steak” fries. Next time, I’ll try the places you visited as they sounded very nice.
    on a final note, I was really impressed with Brussels as a culinary destination. It’s not as intriguing perhaps as some other cities, but the people are wonderful and I adore the cafe culture that exists and the fun spirit of the people who live there.

    Thanks for all of your wonderful reports – I really enjoy them.

    Best regards,
    Kara

  • Noodle Princess

    Your comment about rijsttafels made me long not for Amsterdam, but for the real deal in Indonesia! Nothing beats Masakan Padang and a table laden with scores of tiny plates of tasty goodness.

  • http://madeleineshepherd.blogspot.com/ Madeleine Shepherd

    Mmmmm – waffles, chocolate, BD, art nouveau – Your post stirred so many memories of our recent trip to Brussels. A glorious city that I want to see more of – we only had three days.

    Someone above mentioned the beer – we discovered a great microbrewery in the centre of the old town – see Madeleine’s Hepherd: Brussels at last! for a bit about the beer.

  • hachee

    In Zeeland the traditional ingredients to accompany mussels in a broth are onions, leek, carrots, celery, salt, pepper and a dash of white wine or beer.

    The fries are supposed to be thick and served with some mayonaise.

  • http://80breakfasts.blogspot.com joey

    What a wonderful food journey! Those mussels look fantastic :) I used to be based in Amsterdam for a bit and we too loved the high-speed train network that would whisk us off to a day of eating in Brussels :)

  • http://nicolemobile.blogspot.com/ Nicole

    I agree about the trains! I live in Amsterdam and love the Thalys!

  • veron

    That is an incredible trip. Those mussels look deliciously plump!

  • http://thehungerseattle.blogspot.com Stephen

    Those mussels and frites looks and sounds amazing. You’re such a lucky duck! ;)

  • http://www.winosandfoodies.typepad.com barbara

    Happy birthday Clotilde. Have a wonderful day. I hope Maxence has something nice planned to celebrate what has been a remarkable year for you.

  • Dawn

    I really enjoy reading your blog. It’s so inspiring! I love your writing and all the photographs. They just brought me back to those years when I was in Europe. Love it!

  • Rachel

    p.s. Joyeux anniversaire, Clotilde! Here’s to many more years like this one.

  • http://tokyohanna.blogspot.com Johanna

    Ah, the city of my birth! I am so nostalgic, and haven’t been back in eleven years. I had a wonderful time reading this and reminiscing, so thank you (:

  • mary

    i’d give my little toe for a dish of those mussels right now. yum!

    and happy birthday!

  • http://lorraine-redkitchen.blogspot.com Lorraine

    I’m now officially adding Brussels to the itinerary for our Europe trip next summer.

  • Charlotte

    I love anything that includes carmelized sugar. I tried babelfish for the traslation on the italian cookies/biscuits; I am still laughing it is hard to type. What is “1 leaven coolness”? And I love “1 insufficient teaspoon sugar”. Any chance someone can work this out in English? The picture looks fabulous and I would love to try them!

  • http://deetsasdiningroom.blogspot.com Nerissa

    I only spent a few days in Brussels a few years back and I fell madly in love with the city. I think back with fondness to the crispy chewy chocolate drenched waffles from a street stand, an amazing Chinese restaurant with koi swimming under a glass floor, the streets lined with endless choices of restaurants. And somehow they all seemed so much friendlier than any other European city I’ve been in yet.

    I just went to see the TGV station in the Meuse region with my Father in Law a couple days ago. I agree with you about the immeasurably great feat of connecting those cities is so much better than losing your favourite pair of nail clippers because some thinks you might manicure someone to death. Hurrah TGV

  • MAC

    Having just enjoyed flammekueche in Strasbourg last weekend, and headed to Brussels this weekend, I also appreciate the love of the TGV out of Paris. This very timely entry has me craving moules even more now. It’s nice to have a recommendation!

  • http://www.maialeubriaco.blogspot.com/ Il Maiale Ubriaco

    You are now in our links bar.
    So nice C&Z. Many compliments. Ste-

  • Luci

    hello!
    I am very much envious that everything within Europe is a short travel away via train, plane, boat, or car! Currently living in Hong Kong everythign but China seems like worlds away. Still not use to the Hong Kong hussle and bussle of fast life (although being Japanese I shoudl be use to it lol), I am slowly adjusting to the country.

    I was planning a holiday to Europe (Paris, London, and Brussels was my agenda) I’m glad to have stumbled upon your experience. I just hope/pray that mussels are still in season when I go in August/September (>_<). Before I forget, I must mention I am a big fan of your book. I had it through college when I was living in the USA. I was a very popular girl within the dorms when my dorm room smelled of sweets and food instead of the normal college grundge. According to my roomates and my friends, there was nothing more satisfying than eating freshly cooked food/sweets in a room that didn’t smell like old socks.

    Love your column! Hope to be a regular in teh comment section as well (I hope you don’t mine :p)

  • http://lalandedigitalpress.blogspot.com/ MATTHEW ROSE

    What a great discovery your site is…terrific writing about terrific food. I posted about your review on Hidden Kitchen on The Paris Blog (http://www.theparisblog.com). Wonderful experience.

    Best,

    Matthew Rose / Paris, France

  • Sarah

    Brussels is wonderful! Belgian food is some of the best! I’m so glad to see this post as Belgium is so often overlooked.

  • Ivy

    Belgium is a great country for food and beer.

    Try the mustard from Gent called Tierenteyn. When I leave I will miss this more than the beer (which is saying something).

  • http://www.carablack.com cara

    My mouth is watering, Clotilde!

  • http://www.parisbreakfast.com/ ParisBreakfasts

    It’s been so long, too long since I visited Brussels, but everything here sounds just irresistable to me. Plus biking around town…
    I’m green with envy :)

  • http://www.cheftomcooks.com Chef Tom

    This sure does bring back some memories. A couple years ago my girlfriend and I took a trip to The Netherlands and Belgium. Had a great time in Amsterdam and the city of Gent in Belgium. Its so nice to experience culture in another part of the world!

  • http://www.only-cookware.com/ Paula from Only Cookware

    I visited Brussels many years ago but the one thing I remember were the fries which came with mayonnaise. At that point I had only ever had fries with ketchup so this was very novel to me.

  • http://nycdailyphoto.blogspot.com • Eliane •

    Bonjour Clothilde,
    I am a Belgian gal living in the Big Apple and reading this post about my lovely hometown made my day! And I have to agree with you completely on all your observations. How could I not? They are all wonderful.
    Next time you are in town, great classics to try are: tartines au fromage blanc, with a cool Kriek (it’s a summer thing), les anguilles au vert, le stoemp au chou ou aux carottes, le tomate-crevettes (avec les bonnes petites crevettes grises), … I could go on. You’ll just have to hop on the train more often. There is so much to try!

  • Felix

    when i visited brussels this weekend i also went to “la bonne humeur” together with my girlfriend and a friend of hers who lives in brussels for some months. i ordered the moules marinières whereas my friends were not so hungry and wanted to share a plate of boulettes plus additional fries. the very second the innkeeper heard that, she turned very unfriendly, told us sharing is not allowed in her restaurant and threw us out. probably they think their food is so good, they don’t need to be friendly. this was quite a disappontment since we got to the chaussé de louvain, which is neither in a central nor in an actually beautiful neighborhood only to eat at “la bonne humeur”. we ended up that night in the brasserie “a la mort subite” eating croques monsieurs.

    so i had the moules frites the next day at “le grain de sable” and liked them very much. we also went to “wittammer” for chocolates and had very good breakfast at “le pain quotidien” all at the sablon which is a really nice quarter. we had waffles at least once a day and we bought candies in the very beautiful shop “la cure gourmande” on rue du beurre.

    so except for the disappointment at “la bonne humeur” it was a really nice weekend. thank you for the adresses

  • Alex Talmon-l’Armée

    Clotilde, thank you so very much. I live in Brussels, at the Sablon, better in Rue des Minimes, down the street from Marcolini. And the ‘grain de sable’ is my hangout.
    As I am in Papua New Guinea since 7 months, your post of home brings tears into my eyes. 7 more weeks…

    Next time you come to BXL, try the Au Pré Salé, 20, Rue de Flandre-Vlaamsesteenweg (near place St Catherine), +32 (0)2 513 6545. A former butcher shop, locals flock here for some of the best moules in town, sold by the kilo (figure on 24 Euros) and served up in half a dozen ways. Also serves the full range of other Brussels favorites.

  • http://www.prooferking.com Natalie

    Chocolate pistachio ice cream sounds divine! Can’t wait until I get a chance to visit!

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