The last 10 – 15 years, I taught Dutch and English to individuals and groups all over Brussels. In my first class, I would present myself, talking about my origins, hobbies, partner and so on. One day, about 10 years ago, I had a group of 12 students and a young woman of North-African origin suddenly asked me if I was a real Flemish or not.
As you can imagine, I was a bit taken aback by this question, not being aware that there was such a thing as a “real” and a “false” Flemish. When I asked her to clarify her question, she asked me bluntly whether I was a racist or not. Where did this come from?
At that point in time, the political party called Vlaams Belang was quite popular in Flanders. This party was hugely in favour of Flemish interests (hence the name) and wanted all foreigners out. I pointed out to my student that although 1 in 3 Flemish had voted in favour of Vlaams Belang, this also meant that 2 in 3 hadn’t. And I finished by saying that everybody was welcome in my class, no matter what skin colour they had, religious beliefs they adhered to or political views they supported. As long as we all respected each other and worked together. Case closed…
Anyway, that day I learned a valuable lesson, namely that prejudice is everywhere. We might think that that young Moroccan man carrying a large sports bag is a potential terrorist (especially since the terror attacks of last year), whereas they could think that we are all racist. And prejudice is the basis of racism. And furthermore, let us be honest: the unknown makes us afraid.
As a visitor to Brussels, you may not always be aware of the huge diversity of people living in the Belgian capital. So, let me take you to a place where you will meet them. This is a place where you will find a lot of produce, which is suitable for vegetarians. I am taking you on a visual journey to the Foodmet. The word “met” by the way is a Flemish dialect word for “market”.
This food market is not located in the centre of Brussels itself, but rather in the neighbouring municipality of Anderlecht. The best – and fastest – way to get there is by metro. Take line 2 or 6 and get off at Clemenceau. This metro station itself is colourful, thanks to its mural.
Once you get out of the metro station, you will see a big black building surrounded by stalls, selling food, clothes, shoes, kitchen equipment, and so on. I guess the only thing you cannot buy here is a car! Anyway, that building is the Foodmet.
The Foodmet used to be a slaughterhouse. Nowadays, it houses more than fifty stalls selling fruit, vegetables, fish, seafood, bread and so on. The market is open on Fridays, Saturday and Sundays from 7 am to 2 pm. The official address is Ropsy Chaudronstraat 24, 1070 Brussels. The Foodmet also organises different kinds of events and projects such as the Urban Farm (a garden on top of a building).
The building has many entrances. The one shown below is where you can find the fishmongers.
If you happen to live in the centre of Brussels, it is very difficult to find a fishmonger that sells a huge variety of fish and seafood at reasonable prices. At the Foodmet you can! Most of the fishmongers here are of North-African origin.
In the same corridor, Belgians and Romanians sell vegetables and cheese. The vendors chose not to be photographed.
When you arrive in the big hall, to your right, you will find a North-African stand selling fruit, vegetables and spices from all over the world. Isn’t this colourful?
My favourite fruit and vegetable vendor was willing to have his picture taken.
Two North-African gentlemen sell nuts, dried fruit, olives and a lot more in their narrow shop. To give you an idea of the prices: half a kilo of non-salted almonds, for example, costs 5 euros. You can buy a litre of olive oil for 3 euros: in a supermarket in Brussels, you will pay at least the double.
If you feel thirsty and/or hungry, do not worry. In this Romanian patisserie, you can taste their products and have an espresso or mint tea for one euro. In the centre of Brussels, an espresso will set you back 2-3 euros. And there are more stands spread all over the Foodmet where you can eat and drink something.
My fiancé and I spend about 70 euros a week here. Yes, that is right: 70 euros for a huge variety of food for two persons for a week! As a consequence, we only buy beverages, pasta and rice in a supermarket. Not only do we save a lot of money, we also support our local economy.
The clientele, by the way, is as varied as the produce and the sellers themselves. Belgians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Africans and Indian people do their grocery shopping here. And I actually think I have skipped a lot more nationalities. I took some random snaps of some of the shoppers.
If you look beyond the Grand Place, the Atomium and the museums, you see the real Brussels: an interesting and fascinating melting pot of nationalities, religions and political and cultural backgrounds. And still, we all have something in common: we need to do the grocery shopping, eat, drink and enjoy life. Why not do that together in a place such as the Foodmet?