Not just a local delicacy, Belgians have made this tasty seafood dish their national pride. It’s said that mussels are the freshest during the months ending with ‘er’ – from September until December – but that can change each year. Mussels are not only delicious but also extremely nutritious; they contain desirable fats and are rich in vitamins and minerals. Here’s how, and where, to enjoy them on your visit to Brussels.
The Belgian way
With unrivalled skill in the matter, Belgians steam and serve juicy shellfish in a casserole pot. Fries and local beers to accompany the dish are a must. Mussels are fun to eat – prise the meat out of its shell using an empty one as pincers, before throwing the empties into a deep bowl. Cooks need to be scrupulous when it comes to mussels. One rotten mussel can be poisonous, so choose a trustworthy restaurant that knows how to properly cook these delicious shellfish.
Chez Léon in the heart of the capital is a mussels specialist. In an authentic, bustling atmosphere, it serves a variety of traditional Belgian dishes, but it’s the mussels that people flock here for. Focusing on quality, the cooks not only select the freshest mussels but also use the freshest ingredients available to prepare the sauces. To satisfy every taste, mussels are prepared in a pot, à la plancha or in foil.
While it’s not exactly in the city centre, Le Zinneke is one of the best restaurants in Belgium. It serves typical dishes from Brussels, using organic products and respecting the slow food movement, and is completely transparent about the origins of its meat, fish and other ingredients. 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 you’re visiting during the summer, sit on the cosy terrace.
A short walk from the Grand’ Place, In’t Spinnekopke maintains its classic, authentic bistro character – even the staff are typically Brusseleir – and unique ambiance in which to experience Belgian specialities. Come here for a wide variety of delectable mussels with crisp Belgian fries accompanied by excellent brown or blond beer brewed in Tubize. It’s very popular, so you’ll want to book your table.
Mussels are surprisingly easy and fast to prepare, and you can find plenty of recipe inspiration online. Ideally, mussels should be fresh – meaning alive – when you buy them. Often, they’ll already have been washed, so the first step in selecting which ones to cook is to immerse them in cold water: those that don’t close by themselves after a few minutes are probably dead and should be thrown away. You don’t need much water to boil mussels as it’s the steam that cooks them. The casserole should only be filled halfway as mussels double in size when they open, which they’ll do when cooked, signalling that they’re ready to be served. And voilà, an authentic Belgian speciality at home.
These recommendations were updated on December 23, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.