A fascinating mix of African cultures and Belgian bohème, Matongé is one of the most eccentric and trendiest quarters in Brussels. It is a buzzing business and meeting place full of colors, noise, music and a variety of smells. Infinitely charming, Matongé is a must-experience in the Belgian capital.
Named after a lively area of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Matongé area came to being in the late 50s with the influx of Congolese students in Belgium and developed into an authentic African quarter after Congo gained their independence in 1960. Nowadays, it is a true melting pot of cultures co-existing in peace along Chaussée de Wavre, just off Porte de Namur, steps away from the European Quarter and one of the most expensive shopping streets in Brussels, Avenue Louise. If you want to experience Matongé like a true Brussellois, check out our tips.
Take a stroll down Chaussée de Wavre
You can feel freedom in the air the minute you start walking along this vibrant street, the main artery of Matongé. People casually roam without a care in the world or a need to be anywhere. Dive into the melodic noise of friendly encounters, absorb the smell of dried fish coming from the picturesque grocery shops, plan an exotic vacation to one of the African destinations offered exclusively by the travel agencies in the area, or do some window shopping at the traditional fashion boutiques. An impressive number of hair salons and barber shops act, in a way, as local community centers, and on occasion, you may be offered a complete makeover or even just a shave.
On your way down the street, by all means, do some grocery shopping in the African food shops, which are lined up one after the other. This is the only place where you can get your hands on exotic and delicious vegetables like cassava, yam, plantain, extremely hot chili peppers and all other kinds of plants, fruits, and spices. When at the cash register, look around for the somewhat suspiciously packaged peanuts (in a simple see-through bag or in a used water bottle) — probably the best peanuts you will ever taste.
A must-visit for film lovers, this old movie theatre shows independent and arthouse films with a focus on French-language cinema. Right in the heart of Matongé, the dark rooms of the cinema are perfect for a cozy Sunday evening.
A small pedestrian zone on Rue Longue Vie (squeezed between Chaussée de Wavre, Rue E. Solvay and Rue de la Paix) welcomes you with an olive tree, the symbol of peace, into a heaven of delicious (and cheap, for that matter) African cuisine and special local cocktails. Grab a seat at a communal table in Soleil d’Afrique and order an assiette mixte or its veggie version to get a taste of everything on the menu. Top it up with a Viagra cocktail (a mix of rum, ginger, sugarcane and lemon) — ginger apparently increases the male libido by up to 17 percent, hence the name.
Spend an afternoon in the sunny terrace of L’Athénée
Just at the back of Saint-Boniface Church on a square unofficially named by the locals (with a proper sign and all) after Patrice Lumumba — the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — you’ll find the colorful chairs of L’Athénée. The lovely neighborhood café is perfect for a lait russe and a good book in the afternoon or a beer with friends in the evening. Enjoy the sunny terrace outside or the cozy typical Belgian bar atmosphere inside in the company of a laid-back artsy crowd and great indie music. A funny fact: this is one of the few Belgian bars where you get your beer in whatever glass they have (usually every brand has their own glass), but don’t hold it against them, they take life too lightly to care.
Swing by the hip design shop Belgikïe (the name combines the French Belgique and the Flemish Belgïe) and buy a cool item by a Belgian designer. Founded by two architects, Gladys and Pouria, the shop offers a great variety of T-shirts, jewelry, bags and wallets, gadgets, the famous Brussels Ketchup sauces and all other kinds of curious stuff. A cool thing that a shopper might find in the store is a T-shirt that reads ‘Embrasse-moi, idiot’ (‘Kiss me, you idiot’).
Just across the street from Belgikïe and a stone’s throw away from L’Athénée, you’ll find the delightful terrace of Stam Café, one of the newest additions to the neighborhood. It is a great spot for brunch, lunch or dinner, with tasty burgers and fresh juices to die for. All throughout summer on Thursday evenings, you can also enjoy live jazz music. The name means tribe or clan in Flemish, and this is exactly what it is – a place to meet and mix with like-minded people.
The Beer Mania shop offers the largest selection of Belgian beer in the world in one place. Here, you can discover more than 400 local beers, including some very rare finds, as well as a variety of beer glasses. If you are not sure what would be a good choice for you, ask at the counter for professional advice. They also have a few tables inside and a garden for tastings.
Don’t miss one of the oldest vintage shops in Brussels, located between the beautiful Saint-Boniface main square and the busy shopping street Chaussée d’Ixelles. Nowadays, Look 50 offers a mix of new boutique models, cool shoes and accessories, as well as vintage clothing dating back all the way to the 50s. Their dresses are particularly lovely, so make sure to try on a few, and if you can’t find your size, just ask the salesgirl as not everything is on display. Aimed mainly at the female audience, the shop also offers some men’s outfits.
The beautiful square with the church all lit up in the evening and the buzzing restaurants around make for a great rendez-vous point. If you feel like a relaxed after-work drink, check out the neighborhood’s favorite L’Ultime Atome — a classic Belgian brasserie with an easy-going atmosphere and a clever name, which makes it all the more charming. Or you can grab dinner at one of the many restaurants offering everything from traditional Belgian to Asian cuisine. Go to Le Clan des Belges for a vintage feel and Belgian specialties, or get the best moules-frites at Au Vieux Bruxelles. You can indulge in Japanese specialties in Little Tokyo or Hana, burgers at Le Comptoir.