Sunday, 1 March 2015

Maison Antoine & Gare du Midi market (street food special)

One of the things that distinguishes Brussels is the ready availability of foodstuffs for immediate consumption, and the fact that people aren't afraid to eat them in the street (there's a good take on this here). I like this attribute of the city very much. So it seems time to take a look at a couple of outlets where metal cutlery and china crockery are replaced by plastic forks, fingers, and copious amounts of paper napkins.
(the market at the Gare du Midi in a rare break between showers)

Let's start with frites (I'd prefer to give them an English name for the purposes of maintaining French/Flemish neutrality, but fries somehow sounds wrong, and I've been informed that they are emphatically not chips). The importance of frites in Brussels and the constant quest to determine where the best ones are found need little introduction. I don't really want to get into that debate, but I've already tried my local fritkot and found its frites fine, but nothing special - I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. So I was happy to have the opportunity to visit Maison Antoine in place Jourdan, regularly cited as a candidate for the top spot.
I admit that the photo doesn't make the frites look particularly special, but they really were very good: it sounds like stating the obvious, but they had a very pure and intense potato flavour that wasn't at all overwhelmed by the fat in which they were fried, and the outside was neither too flabby or too crispy. I'd definitely have these again, and in the place Jourdan there's the added attraction of being able to eat them in one of the bars surrounding the square. Moreover, I was informed that the Maison Antoine mitraillette also compared favourably to other offerings. I should add that the cheese fricadelle (a deep fried, hockey puck-shaped piece of reconstituted 'cheese') that I also tried was disgusting, but I should probably be glad I didn't have the more usual meat version.
More wholesome fare was on offer at the Sunday morning market at the Gare du Midi. I'm enjoying discovering the markets of Brussels and this was the most extensive I've been to so far, offering more discount shampoos, loose-fit clothing and succulent-looking fresh produce than I've seen in a while. I was tempted by the fruit and vegetables (sold to a constant refrain of 'uuuun euuurooo'; if anyone from Oxford is still reading, this is clearly the Brussels equivalent of the Gloucester Green 'pound a' baked bananas' cry), but I had come in search of Moroccan pancakes, which I'd heard were highly recommended.
It took me a while, but eventually I found the stall in question (under the railway bridge itself). One of the staff was rolling out thick, square pancakes and cooking them on a grill, while others sold them as they were or took orders for a kind of makeshift restaurant. Those eating there could choose a savoury crêpe filled with olives, tomato and cheese for 4.5E or a sweet version with honey and cheese for 3E, but other people were asking for one 'with everything' so I followed suit.
It doesn't look like much, but trust me, what you see below was truly delicious. Layers of delightfully greasy, flaky pastry (not a million miles away from an English pancake, but thicker and saltier) were wrapped around a delectable combination of soft cheese and gently warmed honey, with a generous helping of olives and semi-dried tomato adding some vitamins and an important savoury note. Not often does a dish cover all main flavours and food groups so successfully . The only drawback was that it was extremely messy to eat (I also ended up with a cup of mint tea, which was authentically Moroccan and therefore too sweet for me, but it proved a useful fingerbowl). But that's street food for you, I suppose.

1 place Jourdan
Brussels 1040

Gare du Midi
Brussels 1060
(I don't think the stall has a name, but the chap in charge looks a tiny bit like Rupert Graves)

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