I love vegetables. I love meat more for the record, but I do love to munch on some crisp broccoli or a lightly tossed salad; for me a meal really isn’t complete without something green. Seriously, in another life I might have been the Witch from Into The Woods. So when I see that the mussels were on a bed of steam celery and onions, I am very pleased.
When people think of Belgian food, they think of beer, chocolate, and fries. (Sorry to break it to you Americans, but fries are a Belgian invention. “French Fries” is a misnomer.) However, Belgium has much more to offer the culinary world and I am about to try a very typical Belgian dish: mussels and fries. I have never had mussels in any capacity before and I am excited. It’s a dish my husband and his family really enjoys and one that I have meant to try on previous visits to Antwerp, but have never gotten around to eating. Fortunately, mussel season starts in July making this a prime time to have my first taste of this popular dish. There are many ways to have mussels I am informed; you can steam them naturally, add garlic, add a white wine sauce, or even marinara sauce. Tonight, we are having them natuur.
I look into the large pot almost over spilling with mussels and am a bit surprised to see that they’ re a little orange in color. There just aren’t many naturally occurring foods in nature when you think about it. I suppose I expected them to be cream colored like scallops .The presentation of the dish is rather simple and compartmentalized; mussels are placed in a bowl and the fries are set aside on a different plate so as to keep the fries from getting too soggy. Mr. Isinvar demonstrates for me how most people choose to eat mussels by using an empty shell as pinchers to pluck out the meat from the shell.
Without any hesitation, I dig in not quite sure what to expect. They’re a bit chewy, almost fluffy and the flavor I am not sure how to describe. Immediately my mind is filled with images of the sea as I eat. They taste like how I imagine the sea would taste if you could turn ocean water into something solid. There is a subtle brininess to them that just instantly transports you to the beach. I feel like I can taste the current of the ocean under the waves, passing through coral reefs and the gentle crashing of the waves above on the shore; it’s almost as if I can smell the sea salt air. I also can’t decide if I like them or not.
“Wat is ‘celery’ in Nederlands?” I ask my husband, as I hold up a piece of the vegetable preparing to pop it into my mouth.
“Selderij, but don’t eat the vegetables,” Mr. Isinvar warns me, “They absorb all the bad stuff from the mussels, and will make you really sick.” Immediately the piece of celery is dropped down onto the plate, leaving me slightly disappointed. A dish where I can’t eat the vegetables? I am not sure this is something I want to have in the future.
By the end of dinner, I have come to my conclusion about mussels – I don’t dislike them, but I don’t really like them. Maybe with a white wine sauce I would like them better, but naturally they’re nothing I would seek out on my own.
*Note* I did a quick search on the internet and can’t find anything about not eating the vegetables that mussels are cooked with. Does anyone know anything about this? Do the vegetables really soak up inedible aspects of mussels or is this an urban myth?
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