Living in Brussels is expensive and grocery shopping is no exception. The two big chains that invade the city are Delhaize and Carrefour (also GB). I’m more familiar with Carrefour because it’s what I’ve got closest to home, but from what I’ve heard and experienced, the same comments apply to Delhaize. My first comment on Carrefour, and this seems not to apply to Delhaize, is that the layout of the products is just illogical and counterintuitive: although I’ve lived here for seven months I still have trouble finding some products. In general the relationship between price and quality of the fresh food is not very good: flavourless and expensive. The meat bought at the counter is decent though expensive, on the other hand fruits and veggies are absolutely insipid and fish is just not worth the money. It’s ok for the basics if you get an offer or choose the ‘discount’ line. So what to do instead?
Go to the markets! There are two big weekly markets in Brussels, one around Midi station and the second at the Abattoir, just outside the Clemenceau metro station.
The Midi market is on Sundays only up until about 14:00. It gets very crowded and people come with trolleys and prams so it can make you very nervous. Fruits and veggies are very cheap and sometimes the quality is very good. As there are a lot of people of Arab origin, spices and fresh mint are very popular products too. The best deals start around 13:00 when the sellers start to tidy things up and, rather than packing everything up, they sell off huge quantities of food at very low prices.
The Abattoir is a much more grocery-focused version of Midi market with the additional perk that it’s open on Saturdays too. This is the place to go for great fish and meat at a reasonable price. The African population makes for a colourful selection of fruits and veggies, with stands full of products from their own cuisine. Again the crowd is huge, so if you are not confident elbowing your way through a mass of people, go early and you’ll survive!
I must admit that I use a different solution for fruits and veggies as I like to buy local and seasonal products. In Carrefour I almost never find Belgian products; it seems the closest it gets is France! Or there’s no indication of the origin. So I thought I’d try the organic shops to find something more eco-friendly, but the prices are often plain insane: a kilo of pot would be cheaper than a kilo of potatoes!
My second step was to check out an organic market I saw advertised on a magazine: La Tricoterie (rue Théodore Verhaegen 158 – website) a nice place that serves organic food and offers a variety of activities such as music, theatre etc. Through La Tricoterie I found out about L’Heureux Nouveau.
L’Heureux Nouveau (website) was born in 2010 from the minds of five young people from Brussels. It connects producers in Belgium and in nearby countries who provide products which are then sold in Brussels.
It’s an extremely easy service: you register on the website and then you can order your basket online. There are three sizes of baskets available: €12 small (3-6kg), €17 medium (4-8kg) and €22 big (6-10kg). You can choose to just have fruit, vegetables or a mix of the two. There’s also a choice between local, which means only Belgian products, or local & Europe, which includes products coming from nearby countries (an extra €0.50 will be added to your order for transportation fees). It is possible to preview what will be in your basket by accessing the ‘La composition de la semaine’ (the week composition page). If you prefer to compose your own basket you can, but you’ll have to buy a minimum of €20 worth.
They don’t just sell fruits and veggies but also juices, wine and other products too. You can have your basket delivered to your home for an additional €3 or you can choose to collect it from one of the agreed shops: the whole list is on the website and really covers a lot of areas. Deliveries are done by bike on Friday or Saturday for the agreed shops and Saturday or Sunday for home service. They always send an email to tell you what time they will be at the shop or at your place. Remember to order before 12:00 on Wednesday if you want your basket for the next weekend.
I find the products very fresh and good quality, and I’m very happy with the service as it’s always organised, very clear and friendly (they add a little booklet of recipes you can make with the products of your basket). It’s not cheap, but compared to the big chains it’s definitely better!