Festivities & flavours of Ghent

Tripoto
1st Aug 2014

Sint Michielsplein, with Sint-Niklaaskerk and

Photo of Festivities & flavours of Ghent by Nicholas Lim

Behold!

Photo of Festivities & flavours of Ghent by Nicholas Lim

Neuzeke stand outside Himschoot

Photo of Festivities & flavours of Ghent by Nicholas Lim
Photo of Festivities & flavours of Ghent by Nicholas Lim
Photo of Festivities & flavours of Ghent by Nicholas Lim
Photo of Festivities & flavours of Ghent by Nicholas Lim

A quieter evening

Photo of Festivities & flavours of Ghent by Nicholas Lim

The Bloemenijs shop

Photo of Festivities & flavours of Ghent by Nicholas Lim
Photo of Festivities & flavours of Ghent by Nicholas Lim

The next two weeks could be the best time to visit the Belgian city of Ghent, home ofthe world’s most targeted work of art and many heated debates about its merits as a destination over Bruges.
This Friday (18 July 2014) marks the start of the annual Gentse Feesten, and for ten days the city becomes one of the most fun places to be in Europe. With dance performances, rock, jazz and world music gigs, flea markets, carnivals, street food stands, pop-up galleries, buskers, comedies and parties around the clock, there is no shortage of entertainment wherever you look. 
There is a flip side, of course. Accommodation in the city is hard to come by, in which case commuting from Brussels becomes an option (it takes just 30 to 45 minutes). A man with a thick Flemish accent takes over the tram announcements, which is cool once you get over the change. The streets are filled with revellers from Belgium and abroad; they, the tents and the stages get in the way of the perfect photographs of sights like Korenmarkt and Graslei. On both weekends of the festival, the crowds easily rival those in Bruges, but there is a difference. On both weekends of the festival, the crowds easily rival those in Bruges, but there is a difference.

Set aside the HoegaardenChimay, Delirium and other famous exports for a moment and try the brews from Gruut Stadsbrouwerij. The brewery, the only one in this city, may be only a few years old, but the recipes aren’t. The Brewster (a woman, just like in the old days) flavours the beers with gruit, a traditional mixture of spices and herbs, instead of the usual hops. A different sort of bitterness results, one that I find very palatable. If you drop in at the premises at Grote Huidevettershoek 10 for a drink, put two of their coasters together and take a look at the clever illusion that forms on your glass.

A little florist opposite the Het Design Museum serves with bloemenijs, or flower ice-cream. The floral flavours include several different roses, jasmine and the blossoms of cherry, cinnamon and orange. Unlike the heavy, syrupy Bandung (rose syrup in milk) that is popular in Southeast Asia, this is something I could never tire of. Every lick and every scoop was a summer delight. 
De Gouden Sate (The Golden Satay) is close to Sint Pietersplein, a slight detour from the train station on the way to the city centre. Covered with It looks like many of the other frite shops around Belgium, but there is a queue on most nights during the university semester, populated with young people in various states of intoxication.
Its signature creation, the Julienke (named after a late partner of the business), must be the mother of all frite dishes. A mountain of fries is smothered with fried viandel sausages, mayonnaise, gravy, seasoning and crispy onions. It’s big enough to be a meal of its own. Bite into it and let the party of savoury tastes begin. All that fat makes an excellent buffer against several flights of Belgians finest brews.

Its signature creation, the Julienke (named after a late partner of the business), must be the mother of all frite dishes. A mountain of fries is smothered with fried viandel sausages, mayonnaise, gravy, seasoning and crispy onions. It’s big enough to be a meal of its own. Bite into it and let the party of savoury tastes begin. All that fat makes an excellent buffer against several flights of Belgians finest brews.

Neuzeke (‘little nose’ in the local dialect) are a regional speciality. The gummy candies, which resemble large licorice drops, are firm and chewy on the outside, but that gives way to a gooey flavoured centre. I’m not a fan of candy in general but this was concentrated goodness! Not sure where to find this? My host’s pick is the pushcart outside Himschoot on Groetenmarkt, which also makes fresh pastries on site. What’s the best thing about these treats? None of them costs more than 5 Euro, and there are still plenty of fit people on the streets! 

It’s a living, fully functioning city with tram tracks, power lines, incongruous contemporary features in mediaeval buildings, and people enjoying the festivities rather than gawking and taking photographs of things. The students keep it lively, the locals are quite rightly proud of their city and culture, and their joie de vivre is infectious.
Photo of Bruges, Belgium by Nicholas Lim
Whatever the season when you’re in Ghent, the city offers some specialities over and above the usual Belgian waffles, fries, chocolate and beer.
Photo of Ghent, Belgium by Nicholas Lim
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