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When you hear Flanders and Moules Frites (mussels with fries), you may think of Belgium before thinking of France. And that wouldn’t be wrong. Once upon a time, the County of Flanders was part of the Kingdom of France. Nowadays, Flanders is the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium – the only part of the former Kingdom of France that is no longer French. A tiny part of the County of Flanders remained French, in the most northern part of the country. Lille and Dunkirk are the most famous cities up there. And Lille is very famous for Moules Frites.

Difficulty

Easy

Time

15 minutes

Dietary

Can be dairy-free

With this series of articles, I aim to share recipes not only to prepare a dish but to prepare a full experience that will allow you to discover a new place – from home. The food you’ll cook is just one of the ingredients you need for the experience. As I live in Australia, I’ve picked dishes that are easy to make or to adapt when you don’t live in these regions. Have your pan, forks, speakers and globe trotter’s curiosity ready!

Where are we going?

The region: French Flanders

A few words about French Flanders

My experience of French Flanders is limited to Lille, France’s fourth biggest city. The old city centre, le Vieux Lille, has a few buildings in red brick, and this particular style gives away the clue that you’re approaching the frontier. Another clue is the Picard language, and more specifically the Ch’timi dialect in Lille. There aren’t many people who can speak the dialect nowadays, but many locals still use some Ch’timi expressions and pronunciation when they speak French. People from the North of France are called Ch’ti in French slang.

Lille is also famous for hosting annually the largest flea market in Europe, la Braderie. The market started in the 12th century and attracts nowadays millions of visitors. The numbers are impressive: 8,000 sellers, 80km of stalls, 500 tons of mussels, 30 tons of fries and the beer to go with them is uncountable. People visiting the flea market want to bargain as much as they want to eat Moules Frites and listen to street live music. You’ll see a few mounts of empty mussel shells in front of restaurants challenging each other to get the highest one.

In the north of the region, Dunkirk is another famous city with an interesting history. Over the centuries, it’s been part of France, Spain, England and Belgium. With its long and large beaches, the seaside town is a great spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing. But it is also very famous for Operation Dynamo the biggest evacuation in military history to rescue Allied Forces during WWII.

Music or film for your Moules Frites dinner

Movie: Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis

The comedy Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (translated to Welcome to the Sticks) is the highest-grossing film of all time at the box office in France. Using (French) humour, it fights against all the cliches that people from the South of France might have on the North of France. I was unsure if it would be funny for non-French speakers but this review from an Australian movie reviewer is excellent, so I think you may have a good time. Here’s the trailer, and those in the US can rent the movie on Amazon Prime*. It’s unfortunately no longer available on Netflix Australia or SBS, so it will be a bit harder to find for Australians.

Movie: Dunkirk

Directed by Christopher Nolan – who also directed many Batmans, Interstellar, Inception – some say Dunkirk is his best movie and one of the best war movies ever.

It could not be more different than the movie I first suggested and won’t really give you a feel of the region, but it’s an important moment of history. The movie is a realistic representation of the historical WWII evacuation. I’d feel weird watching this kind of movie while eating, so I recommend keeping it for the end of the evening. You can watch it online on Amazon Prime*, and here’s the trailer:

Music

It wouldn’t my first choice to listen to this kind of music for my dinner – or anytime to be honest – but here’s a playlist with Ch’ti music for a special kind of party, in case you’re very curious and somehow adventurous.

If you want to dine with music, I’d recommend crossing the border for a better playlist with this folk playlist or a romantic piano playlist:

The recipe: how to make moules frites

Your sauce is what will make the Moules Frites special. The most common recipes are:

  • Moules marinieres, with a white wine sauce and onions (dairy-free)
  • Moules a la creme, the creamy version of the moules marinieres (not dairy-free!)
  • Moules provencales, with a tomato sauce and garlic
  • Moules au bleu, with blue cheese

The moules marinieres are the most traditional ones, but my favourite ones are the moules au bleu. So I’ll show you both recipes so you can tell me which one you prefer!

What to buy for this easy moules frite recipe

We rarely find fresh mussels in Brisbane, even if mussels come from Australia (or sometimes New Zealand). So we often buy them pre-cooked and clean in a bag at the supermarket or at the fish market.

To prepare moules-frites marinieres

  • Mussels
  • French fries
  • Onions
  • Dry white wine

To prepare moules-frites au bleu

  • Mussels
  • French fries
  • Onions
  • Dry white wine
  • Blue cheese (although it’s not French, I like Gorgonzola because it’s creamy and tasty, and not too expensive in Australia but an Australian blue cheese will be great too!)

Steps to make moules frites

The hardest part of the recipe is to find a pot big enough to cook all the mussels. First, clean the mussels. Then, cut the shallots, onions garlic and parsley to add them all into the pot with olive oil. Stir and soften for three minutes before adding two glasses of white wine. Stir regularly as it cooks for another five minutes. Then, you can add the mussels into the pot. If you’re going for the blue cheese recipe, also add the cheese and the extra herbs. Stir regularly and cover for three minutes. When all the mussels are open, it’s ready! Serve with fries and, of course, bread to finish the sauce.

What to serve with moules frites: beer or wine?

You’ve used white wine in the moules frites recipe, so it makes sense to drink it with the meal. Wine should never go to waste, and it’s a good pairing with seafood. However, the traditional drink in Lille and Flanders is beer.

We haven’t found a beer from the north of France in Australia, but it isn’t too hard to find Belgian beers. Of course, you could just opt for an Australian beer, but the Belgian beers have something special and could be an original touch for your night. Although my personal favourite of all time is the Hoegaarden, which is very easy to find, I recommend beer lovers go for something more tasty and different than usual beers, like Chimay or Kwak.

Have you tried this moules-frite recipe? Share your experience in the comments below!

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