Chez Leon Brussels: Is this the Mussels heaven on earth?

Yum yum yum…

One of my favorite foods, therefore a favorite topic. So be it => Mussels! <= mussels

As a child grown up in a small Aegean coastal town, the taste of the mussels brings back the memories, all the time. We used to dive, collect them fresh from the rocks, and cook them right there on beach. No ingredients apart from the mussels themselves. A fire was set under a tin can, mussels were placed onto it, and let to slowly boil with the salty sea water trapped inside.

Times have changed as the years went by; we are no children anymore. Although as grown ups some of us are lucky to be able to still live by the sea, we are missing a physical touch with it. We are no longer creatures of the sea, rather passers by with a distant respect for it. We stare to the sea everyday with admire, then just walk on. When it comes to touching sea, we go to a remote resort for swimming holidays and swim. As a task perhaps, swim and check marked. And as another seperate task, pay for the seafood in a fancy restaurant for another check mark ::: Order some mussels, grown up in a farm and collected by farmers on a salary, cooked by professionals on a salary, served by waiters on a salary, and hope that you might catch a taste of a long lost childhood from some bite of it, a time of no salaries and complications but only, basically and pure joy. Just like the simple and basic taste of boiled mussels itself.

moules marinieres

Even this highly artificial and minimal hope of catching a childhood taste from a simple ordered plate of boiled mussels is almost impossible to experience in a Turkish seafood restaurant, the country where i spend most of my time. For a strange reason which is beyond my understanding, Turkish people do not know how to cook the mussels, or how to tastefully consume them. They will either deep fry the mussels (which takes away all the taste) or use the mussel as a case to stuff boiled rice into it. The later one, which is called “Midye Dolma” (Mussels stuffed with rice), although i must admit is delicious, does not include much taste of the mussel but rather is a tasty, cold, chilly and sour treat of dolma.

midye dolma
Midye Dolma

So what do i do? Well, i can purchase them directly from the fishermen and cook at home in Istanbul of course as one direct choice, or two, i can wait for the next trip outside the country. Believe me, the second option is more likely to happen compared to coming across with an Istanbul fisherman selling mussels on store.

Belgium is known to be the mussels country of the world, “boiled mussels” or “Moules frites” (mussels with fried potates) being one of its proud national recipes, so Brussels shoud be the place for it! And when it comes to tasting mussels in the Belgian capital, the sign of the restaurant should read “Chez Leon”, a traditional and family operated restaurant in the city centre, with its traditionlly cooked Belgian recipes.

Chez Leon

Here’s how they served the mussels at Chez Leon, moules et frites, mussels with fried potatoes:

Moules et Frites as served by Chec Leon
Moules et Frites as served by Chez Leon
We also tasted oysters in Chez Leon
We also tasted oysters in Chez Leon

The atmosphere of Chez Leon is very lively, vibrant, cosy. It is not solely a tourist attracting spot, but more like a place where locals meet, talk, laugh and enjoy their food for long joyfull hours.

Cafe Chez Leon

The mussels is of course also great. But is it the greatest of the world? Well not to be compared to those we cooked over a tin box on a childhood beach of course. That one was the greatest by far. Then the question is, is it second best mussels ever served in the goddamn world? Hmmmm, I would again say no, i had better ones. Cafe “A Rond Point”, across the “Pere Lachaise” Cemetery in Paris for instance. Perhaps Parisians are better than Belgians in this art. Give it a shot. After all, the British have invented the football but almost everyone else are better then them. Seriously, no offense, probably because of the sauce the French used, i enjoyed the French version better. It was more like a creamy “Moules Marinières” ~ with some white wine, cream and some extra herbs. If some extra ingredients should be in it, as Beligans do, let it come with some more tasty extras then, as Parisians do.

moules marinires

So much talk for the mussels. The next chapter will be about Paris then. This is how i decided to carry on with this blog. A flow of impressions, loosely tied memories.

Gokhan Toka
Traveler, snowboarder, horror movies geek, photographer, digital marketing freelancer... father for DD.
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