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Humans owe a lot to shellfish, particularly the humble mussel. There’s evidence that South Africans were consuming mussels some 165 000 years ago. In fact, some research suggests that eating mussels and other shellfish may have helped evolve us into Homo sapiens, as the nutrient-rich little shellfish allowed proto-humans to grow larger brains. Since then, mussels have been part of human cuisine the world over, from Romans to Native Americans. In the Middle Ages mussels were thought to possess medicinal properties. There seem to be very few cultures that have not incorporated mussels into their staple diet: Moules-frites in Belgium, French moules marinières, savor mejillones a la marinera in Spain, American chowder, Chinese black bean sauce mussels and Thai curried-mussels. Mussels really are a timeless, global cuisine.
 
Closer to home, many who have grown up on the western coast of South Africa will be familiar with vast colonies of mussels covering the rocky shores. Here, Saldanha Bay is considered a prime source for growing some of the best and most sustainably farmed mussels in the world,  rivalling New Zealand’s famous green-lipped (Perna canaliculus) and Canada’s blue mussels from Prince Edward Island (Mytilus edulis).

Saldanha Bay is fed by pulses of cold, nutrient-rich water that moves in from the Antarctic, driven by strong offshore winds. This cold water provides an ideal environment for the growth of plankton, a natural feed for mussels. Here, you’ll find black (Choromytilus meridionalis) and Mediterranean mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis). Black mussels are found along both the Indian and Atlantic coasts. They are plump with a tender, soft texture, and a strong, briny flavour. Mediterranean mussels are located on the eastern Atlantic and southern African coasts and are known to be meatier than most mussels. Their flavour is delicate, yet complex, with a rich, buttery texture.

“Being on the water’s edge, guests expect only the freshest and most expertly prepared seafood. It is only natural that Belthazar pays very close attention to how it sources, prepares and serves it mussels,” says Belthazar owner Ian Halfon. Their quest for the best ingredients took them to Saldanha Bay.

Next, it is vital that mussels are live before being cooked. “What we are after is large shells with plump flesh,” says Head Chef Sherwyn Rayners. The shell should have a dark black or purple colour and the flesh a rich mustard centre with an aubergine-coloured lip. If they are open before cooking or remain closed afterwards, they are discarded. To prevent overcooking, they are partially steamed before being finished and served with in either a creamy white wine and garlic sauce or traditional Neapolitan Marinara sauce. Of course, no mussel dish is complete without the right accompaniment. We urge you to soak up the garlic sauce with our twice-cooked, hand-cut potato fries or mop up the tomato sauce with our freshly baked brioche style bread.

From ancient feasts to modern culinary delights, these flavourful treasures have secured a cherished spot in the hearts and palates of people around the world, continuing a millennia-old tradition.

Belthazar Food Editor

Author Belthazar Food Editor

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