Three places that are more than they seem

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The good (hidden) food of Saint-Gilles

I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself, as this is my very first article on the DZB1060 website. I figured an easy way would be to start with an introduction. My name is Mona, I write about food & nutrition with a cultural spin, I love cooking and reading and I have a day job in a Belgian start-up company (yes, I do, occasionally, work). I live in St. Gilles and I feel like I finally found my place under the sun, as the saying goes. I landed here by pure chance (and man!, what a chance that was); I’ve been exploring & discovering our neighborhood for the past four years or so.

Needless to say, our little oasis is a food-lovers paradise. Walking distance from my house alone, there are tens of great food places for all tastes and from all walks of life. International cuisine at its best. We all know these place and we all love to go there. But today, it’s not about them; today is about the hidden food gems of St. Gilles. Now don’t get me wrong, I like fancy food just as much as the next person, but what I really love is authentic food, made with care and dedication. Which doesn’t always translate into “fancy food”. So far, I have discovered three hidden places that offer us much, much more that they might seem at first sight. This is not an exhaustive list, not at all: I suggest we make it into an open, ever-growing list; please leave your suggestions in the comments. Go off the beaten path and do report back!

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photo Sebastien ” Seba ” G

The first place I would like to tell you about is a small, drab-looking boulangerie: Le Grain d’Or on rue de l’Hotel des Monnaies, no. 194, right on the Barriere. Where should I start? Well, I have to confess, the first thing that brought me there was the proximity to my house and the convenience, really. Then, the discovery process begun. The owners are a Moroccan family and the guy is the most gentle, welcoming and warm person you can ever imagine. Always with a smile, always with a good word and always friendly. Like the old Moroccan uncle you never had. But what about the food, then? The bread is not great…there, I said it! But ALL the rest is absolutely fantastic. My love affair with this place started after I came back from Morocco, from my friend’s wedding and I went straight to the guy to tell him all about the delicious pastries I ate on this trip. In a stroke of genius, I asked him what he could make; he told me to stop by in the coming days. He started timidly with a few things, but within weeks, we had to tell him to save some for us, as most of the stuff was gone by the time we came back from work. Harshas, mini-pizzas, pastries filled with spinach, Moroccan sweets, Ramadan goodies…they were all there, along with the classic viennoiseries. Lately, he’s been going through a dry phase, so I say we all unite, go there and (kindly) demand he brings everything back!

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Photo P.Y. Lambert et R. Zegzaoui

Another hidden treasure is El Pueblo Latino, on Av. Jean Volders, no. 52. Going in there is like stepping into another world: it’s filled with stuff that you can’t really (properly) identify, the shop-keeper only speaks Spanish and, most of the times, you’ll be welcomed by the proverbial “happy grandpa”, leaning on his walking stick, behind the door. I like to think that after they close the business, they all gather there, drink and smoke cigars. Anyway, I was doing some of my grocery shopping there for a while (the thrills of opening a can without knowing what to expect keep my adrenaline flowing), but I didn’t pay much attention to the food. A Colombian colleague from work told me this is the best authentic Colombian food in Brussels. Seriously? 10 minutes from my house and I have never tried it? Something needed to be done! Buying food there goes like this: you point at what you want, smile and pay! The empanadas are something out of this world and they are (almost) never the same: which means they always make them fresh, with what’s available. Such a wonderful cooking concept, don’t you think? Very, very important is NOT to forget the spicy salsa, I always take two because one is never enough. Collect this bounty and move to Verschuren: they let you bring your own food, which is absolutely fantastic. By the way, Verschuren is one of my favorite places in the whole world, I was devastated when they closed the kitchen: life is not the same without their croque monsieur.

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Finally, for a quick (but substantial) bite, I absolutely adore the Bifanas Fernandes booth on the Parvis. I’ve explored the subject at large on my blog, if you care to have a look, but I leave you here with the essential. A Portuguese sandwich filled with pork slices that have been slow-cooked in oil & wine. As easy as this, very simple food! The guy (he’s lovely, by the way) will ask you what sauces you prefer: my suggestion is to just go for “a bit” of your favorite one…you don’t wanna cover the porky goodness. No, this place doesn’t look like much, but the bifanas are beyond any imagination!

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Photo Mona Lazar

So that’s it for now! I hope this inspires you to let your guard down and explore places that don’t necessarily look fancy or cool or what-have-you. Look at the faces of the people who are eating or buying food there: pure bliss and impatience! Look at the people selling the food: you’ll find pride and a sense of accomplishment! Then take the food and look around you: you’re in St. Gilles…what could possibly ever go wrong?

 

Words Mona Lazar

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