It is common knowledge that beer is one of Belgium’s national treasures. So of course, once I moved here I started a hunt for good places to drink it. I have three criteria for a good place: selection, atmosphere and bar snacks. I’ve already found two gems who fill these criteria beautifully: the Moeder Lambic bars. They are sister bars and share the name, but they have very different characters in their own remarkable ways.
The original one is in St Gilles and it’s cosy, wooden, smelly and often crammed. It’s a traditional beer house, and filled with locals, Scottish bums, tourists as well as beer connoisseurs who traveled here especially. The first time I visited and asked for the menu, the waitress proudly exclaimed that she was the menu. And then she asked a range of questions before coming out with a beer specially tailored for me. It was lovely. Me and Mr Tjockis ordered three rounds this way before leaving, and it still only set us back 17 euros. The feel of the place is very local, with people chatting away with you as soon as you’ve grabbed a chair – for better and for worse. When I came back with Mr Meatball we sampled one of their beer cheeses. It was nutty and lovely, and served with malted barley.
Malted barley is completely new to me. You feel a bit like a bird nibbling away on little pieces of dry barley with your cheese and beer, but it actually works rather well. For me something about their flavour brings back dreamy memories of cycling around on dusty roads through newly cut hay. It’s like rose-tinted glasses on demand, as you sit in a rainy and cold asphalted Brussels.
They also serve malted barley in the Bourse branch of Moder Lambic. This place is rather different though: large and modern, though still cosy. It is also conveniently located close to the city centre. The menu – which detail their 46 (!) beers on tap is structured around aroma, bitterness and flavour. This makes picking easy for those who don’t necessarily know what they want. And you need to be well-versed in beer to know here: you’ll hardly find any of the standard Belgian beer brands on the menu, and the spectacular alcohol levels of some of the most famous exports are rare.
The snacks are also succulent: apart from the small bowl of malted barley that accompanies the beers, the cheese & bread selection is extensive. They also serve cervelas with pickle, which is a moreish pale Belgian sausage. Most snacks are sharing-sized, which is perfect when you just fancy and nibble over those delicious beers. And the staff know their stuff: try order poorly matching beer to a particular snack and you’ll be dutifully corrected and given a more appropriate recommendation.
Put simply: these places are both lovely, and they are perfect places for a gourmand as well as a gourmet to sample the best of Belgian beers. You find Moeder Lambic in St Gilles here:
And the Bourse one can be found here:
After a little break in blogging due to my move to Brussels, I’m breaking my silence with snail soup, aka Caricoles comme à Bruxelles (like everything else, it sounds a lot more appetising in French). My landlady claims this is one of the most common kinds of street foods in Belgium alongside waffles and frites, but this is highly disputed by Miss Salted cod. Either way, my curiosity got the upper hand, and I felt obliged to try a pot. An old lady sells these from a stand in the daily market at Parvis in St Gilles, which happens to be my local square (a market which is really lovely by the way, and also open on Saturdays). You can buy twelve escargots in broth for 4 euros, which isn’t too bad if you just want a little try.
Now, I’m a massive fan of French Escargots de Bourgogne, which tend to be smaller, slightly more tender snails drenched in parsley and garlic butter sauce. The soupy Brussels snails, however, did not quite fall to my taste. The broth was great for a cold afternoon in the ubiquitous Brussels rain: warm and spicy, with loads of celery and white pepper. However, the snails were a bit too large and chewy for me, and did not quite hit the spot for my slightly tender weekend post-beer stomach. Perhaps it was the fault of this particular snail soup stand, but my next culinary street food adventure is probably going to be more safely frites-based.
Now, if you do want to try out the snail soup, or just visit the lovely Saturday food market in St Gilles, you can find it below on the map:
I went flat hunting in Brussels last weekend, and my first food experience over there were the best frites I’ve had my entire life. (You have to discount times of hungry drunken euphoria over soggy chips, because as we all know, hunger is the best sauce, and I’m pretty sure alcohol only adds to that truth). The Belgians are of course renowned for their chips, and it is fully possible that I will sample even better ones during my stay. But these were beautiful: golden, handcut in odd sizes, in large shapely cuts, balancing perfectly between being shoestring and a chip shop chips. They must have been double fried because every single chip was perfectly crispy on the outside, but soft and velvety inside.
In typical Belgian chip stand fashion, you have a confusing array of sauces to chose between. As you can see above, you have a slightly wider choice than ketchup, mayo and brown sauce. For me, this choice is always simple: pick Andalouse. Andalouse is the best chip sauce ever, and I’ve had it sneakily imported into the UK for the last four years. I even composed a special bacon and cabbage sandwich around it (which may see the light of this blog on a rainy day…). The base of Andalouse is mayonnaise, but then imagine smoky, spicy paprika and chili, and soft hints of curry, and you are kind of on the right track. But words don’t do it justice: you have to sample it yourself.
Frites Flagey is an excellent place to try it, and for €2.60 you get a large cone of frites with your choice of sauce. Perfect street food, especially on a crisp autumn day. And don’t feel guilt over eating just chips – it’s one of Belgium’s national treasures.