Fatou knows Schaerbeek like the back of her hand. If it were up to the DJ of the all-female hip-hop crew Supafly Collective, she would never leave the municipality where she moved when she was a teenager. “After 28 years, many things have changed for the better, but Schaerbeek has never lost its diversity,” she says as we walk through the Josaphat Park and along stately lanes while she points out both old classics and new hotspots.
A baby-friendly park
“We live a stone’s throw from the Josaphat Park, in Schaerbeek. It’s very handy for my partner, DJ LeFtO, because he travels a lot and we are only fifteen minutes from the airport. But more than anything it is a blessing for me because I grew up in this park and it is one of the nicest places in Brussels. I like it even more since I became a mother. I sometimes come and sit on the terrasse of La Laiterie. It is often completely packed. They serve hamburgers, there is a good selection of local beers, and they occasionally organize concerts, but more than anything it is extremely baby-friendly.
The park hasn’t always been such a hospitable place. When I was young and I would come here with the athletics club, there were a lot of drug gangs that hung out here. Now, fortunately, it is an oasis of tranquillity, especially in the hidden little corners. If we need a moment of rest and quiet, this is where we come. On the other hand, it used to be a place where we come to listen to music. These days, a lot of local bands from Schaerbeek perform here. Maybe LeFtO will make a documentary about it someday. In the summer, it is always worth stopping at ice-cream parlour Cocozza before coming into the park. I have lived in Schaerbeek since I was ten and I have been eating their artisanal ice creams for all those years. The range of flavours is enormous and they sometimes have daring combinations. The long queues clearly demonstrate that they’re getting it right.”
A gentrified hood
“When I arrived in Schaerbeek in 1990, there were a lot of drug-related problems. Those were the years of the racist police commissioner Johan Demol. But the neighbourhood has gradually recovered. Schaerbeek has changed, but it has retained its diversity. In addition to the halal butchers, Moroccan bakeries, and little Turkish coffee bars, a number of new and hip places have been opened, like Le Barboteur - Bièrotheque. They primarily serve artisanal beers and my friends really like it. I’m not an enormous fan of beer myself.
I prefer to go out to eat, or I go to the Brasserie de Lalaing on the roundabout. We know everyone there. You often see the same old couples who are always very friendly. The opening of Côté Gourmand right next door is a characteristic example of how the neighbourhood has changed. You would expect a pricy bakery/pâtissier like that in Uccle. It was the first time that something opened for a more bobo clientele, and it is clear evidence that the area has become gentrified.”
The best pizzas in Brussels
“I have eaten in many Italian restaurants in Brussels, but none of the pizzas taste as good as the fresh-baked pizzas at La Ruota on the Chaussée de Louvain, near Place Dailly, in the area where I used to live. They are baked in a large wood oven, so they are nice and crunchy. I’m not talking about pizzas that only have mushrooms or olives, but about pizzas with plenty of fresh vegetables like spinach and asparagus. The seasonal combinations and chef’s suggestions are often surprising and innovative.”
- La Ruota, 325 Leuvensesteenweg/chaussée de Louvain
A hospitable Belgian kitchen
“When we have foreign guests and we want to introduce them to Belgian cuisine, we take them to ’t Potverdoemmeke. The restaurant is run by a father and his son, Matraske and Naske. They have been a duo for the past ten years, and they have been in this unique location for the past five. We don’t know them personally, but we are also met with a very friendly welcome whenever we eat here. They are very familiar and speak a mixture of French and Dutch. The atmosphere is very typically Brussels. My favourite dish? Endive gratin. It’s been my favourite since I was a child. Yes, even in the summer. (Laughs) The (potato) croquettes are also delicious with endive sauce. And you should definitely try their boulettes à la liégeoise. You pay slightly more than in the average brasserie in Schaerbeek, but you can taste the difference.”
- 't Potverdoemmeke, 10 Generaal Eisenhowerlaan/ Avenue Général Eisenhower
A terrasse full of gaspas
“If you’re not very hungry, the light tapas – they call them ‘gaspas’ – at Bar du Gaspi are excellent. This spot, with its views of the stylish art nouveau houses on Avenue Louis Bertrand was already a popular bistro in the 1980s. Since it reopened just under ten years ago, they’ve aimed at a cultural crowd that also likes good food. In the evening there are all kinds of activities, but I especially like their big terrasse and the tapas options. You can combine a number of homemade gastronomic treats, including vegetarian options, with a salad.”
- Bar du Gaspi, 309 Haachtsesteenweg/chaussée de Haecht
Organic in the heart of the city
“Every Friday afternoon and evening and on Saturday until 1.30 pm, the organic market Les écuries van de Tram comes to the old tram depot (the name refers to the former stables of the tram horses, tp). I go quite often because there are a lot of local producers. Butchers from the Ardennes and organic farmers sell their own produce without any middlemen. The fruit and vegetables are incredibly fresh. People think that organic is always more expensive, but compared to the Carrefour Express around the corner the prices are very reasonable.
The market is just around the corner from the town hall, where you will find one of my favourite organic restaurants: Boentje Café. I have been several times on my break from work and always enjoy it. The atmosphere is always great. I remember eating a curry there that was simply sublime. They actually put the ‘zero waste, local taste’ mission statement in their logo into practice. Everything is organic and zéro déchet (zero waste). The space is also very baby-friendly. I see a lot of mums with prams there.”
Looking at trains with the whole class
“In addition to my DJ sets with Supafly Collective and our regular sets for BRUZZ radio on Thursday evenings I am going back to work as a teacher in September. My school isn’t far from Train World, which is just beside Schaerbeek station. I have never taken my class there, but everyone tells me it is brilliant. So I will definitely have to give it a try after my maternity leave.”
- Train World, 5 Prinses Elisabethplein/Place Elisabeth