Being a veggie in Ghent, Belgium


I’m not a foodie. Being a vegetarian has made it even more difficult to become one. When I go overseas, I always look for vegetarian counterparts of the country's cuisine I'm traveling. In their absence I usually settle for a sub or sandwich. In the worst case scenario, I find an Indian restaurant to have a plate of idly or dosa. Of course I love idly and dosa. But I would rather have them in Chennai, where they taste the best.

But Ghent was different. Ghent is called the veggie capital of Belgium and not without reason. You will be surprised to find quite a number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants that offer more than ubiquitous menu like sandwiches and burgers. I never expected to find so many in Europe considering they are connoisseurs of food, especially meat.

“But in Ghent people are more environment conscious,” I heard a native say when I thought out aloud. This is the reason why places like Komkomertijd, an exclusive vegan buffet restaurant, are thriving. The restaurant is packed on most weekends and is pretty popular. Here for 16 Euro you get to experience an exhaustive spread of dishes from vegan starters to dessert not to mention even drinks are vegan. But vegan beer is bitter than usual, which I do not care for.

My dinner companion, who has been living in Ghent for six years, said, “Many have gone organic and large number of people here are turning vegans. This is one of the reasons for burgeoning vegetarian restaurants here.” The city even has ‘Veggie day’ to stress the importance of vegetarian food.

When it comes to food, vegetarian food is not the only thing that Belgium has to offer. You could try Belgium's famed waffles and fries. You get them everywhere. All you had to do is take a walk around any city in Belgium and let your sense of smell direct you. You can never go wrong, for aroma of syrupy waffles with strawberries, fresh cream and caramel and piping hot fries just call out to you. At that time you should forget about calories and answer that call. Though waffles taste good anywhere, waffles with strawberry and fresh cream I had in Chez Albert in Bruges was till date the best.

Waffles and fries aside, soup is another popular dish in Belgium and you can find eateries that specialise in soup like Soup’R. The shop has four vegetarian options and the menu changes weekly. This was my everyday lunch spot when I was in Ghent. The place is packed between 12 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. with office goers and students, after which the crowd trickles down.

There is a spot near a window, where you can rest your back and stretch. Since this spot overlooks the shopping district, it is a great place to observe natives and tourists. But then again, the problem is you can hardly combine observing and eating when it is crowded right? Nevertheless, drop by during non-peak hours and enjoy the view.

Apart from indigenous cuisine, you will find other restaurants like Selis Noodlebar that offers sufficient vegetarian options. I just loved this place. It was small, cozy and lively. We went there as a party of three, two of us vegetarians. Considering that it was a Chinese restaurant, I found ample vegetarian options. I ordered a bowl of noodles and a customary beer to go with it. Needless to say it was a good combination. It was over two hours by the time we finished and the weather was getting colder even though it was summer.

One of the best things to do when it is too cold is to have a scoop of your favourite ice cream. Luckily there was one right beside the noodlebar. While one of my dinner buddies ordered a cappuccino, another friend and I got ourselves a scoop of lemon sorbet. We walked back home shivering and eating sorbet as the cold wind grazed our barely concealed legs.

Last but not the least, your food walk is never complete if you never had a picnic by riverside in Ghent. For one, it is an amazing pass time. On the other hand, tranquil riverside calms you. On one such surprisingly warm summer evening, I decided to have a picnic by the river Leie in Ghent with my sister. The day just seemed to call for it. But by the time we left home, it was 8.30 p.m. when most shops with takeaway close. After a long walk, at least a one kilometre away from the river, we found Basic Italian that was open till 9 p.m.. Here for 8 euro, you get a bowl of simmering pasta of your choice as takeaway. Once that was settled, my sister and I rushed to the riverside and chose a less crowded place to settle down with our pasta.

There were variety of people who had come by that night – couple who had eyes only for each other, friends with few bottles of beer, elderly on their evening walk and tourists taking in the beauty of Ghent.

My spinach pasta just seemed to go with it. Even after I finished my pasta, I just sat there gazing. I thought it was a great place to end your day.