Aware that mussels are by far the tastiest seafood, Belgians
have made this dish their national pride. It is said that mussels are the freshest during the months that end with ‘er’ — from September until December — but this is just a rough approximation and may change each year. Mussels are not only very tasty but also extremely nutritious; they contain desirable fats and are rich in vitamins and minerals. Here’s how, and where, to enjoy them.
How Belgians Eat It
With unrivaled skills in the matter, Belgians boil and serve the juicy shellfish in a casserole. Belgian fries and local beers to accompany the dish are a must. The national way of grabbing the juicy meat out of its shell is to use another empty shell, and throw the remaining shells into a deep bowl — mussels can be quite fun to eat. However, cooks should be scrupulous when it comes to mussels, for one rotten mussel can be poisonous. Therefore, it is better to choose a trustworthy restaurant that knows how to properly cook these delicious shellfish.
Chez Leon is the specialist in mussels and is located in the heart of the capital. In an authentic and warm atmosphere, it serves a variety of traditional Belgian plates, but it is for its mussels that families and friends come here to eat. Focusing on quality, the cooks not only select the freshest mussels but also use the freshest ingredients available to prepare the sauce. To satisfy every appetite, mussels are prepared in a pot, à la plancha, or in foil.
Chez Leon, Rue des Bouchers 24, Brussels, Belgium, +32 2 511 14 15
Restaurant, Seafood, Belgian, $$$
While it’s not exactly located in Brussels’ city center, Le Zinneke remains one of the best restaurants in Belgium. It serves typical dishes from Brussels and is completely transparent as to the origins of the meat, fish and ingredients it uses. Le Zinneke is known to not only serve organic food but also respect the slow food movement. When mussels are in-season, the restaurant offers a daily supply of fresh shellfish from Zeeland, and prides itself on preparing mussels in 69 ways. If visiting during the summer, guests should ask to sit on the cozy terrace.
Le Zinneke, Place de lá Patrie 26, Schaerbeek, Belgium, +32 2 245 03 22
Bistro, Restaurant, French, Belgian, $$$
Located in the city center behind the most visited district, In’t Spinnekopke is attracting more and more out-of-towners. The bistro maintains its classic, authentic character — even the staff happens to be typically brusseleir — and unique ambiance in which customers can experience real Belgian specialties. In’t Spinnekopke, a well-respected restaurant, serves a wide variety of delectable mussels together with crusty Belgian fries and features excellent brown or blond beer brewed in Tubize. A very popular place, it is best to book in advance.
In’t Spinnekopke, Place du Jardin aux Fleurs 1, Brussels, Belgium, +32 2 511 86 95
Food is tastier when prepared at home, and mussels are no exception. They are surprisingly easy and fast to prepare, plus there are many recipes that circulate on the Internet making it even easier. Ideally, mussels should be fresh when bought, which means they should be alive. Often, they come already washed, so the first step in selecting which ones to cook is to put them under cold water, and those shells that do not close by themselves after a few minutes are probably dead and should be thrown away. To boil mussels, little water is necessary as it is the steam that cooks the shellfish. Also, the casserole should only be filled halfway as mussels double in size when opened. Indeed, mussels open themselves when boiled — closed ones should be thrown out — which is a sign that they are ready to be served. And voilà, an authentic Belgian specialty at home! However, another way to avoid the uncertainty of cooking mussels — plus washing utensils with a strong smell of the sea — is to visit a Belgian friend.