Jul 30, 2014

Travelling Vegan: Eating out in Brussels & Ghent

It's been a while. I just realised my last post was in March. Time has got the better of me. While I type this, the rains in Mumbai have been lashing us through the night and giving us a break during the day. The husband and I managed to take our annual break last month. This time we jam packed our two weeks with so much activity we needed a break after the break. Our first stop was Brussels, probably Belgium's most visited city with a statue of a boy peeing as one of the most famous tourist attractions.

Like last year, this time also I did not chalk out the vegan restaurants I had to eat at. Frankly I did not have the time. I was baking cakes for people until the night of the flight. Even before I knew it I was passed out on the short flight to Paris. A quick train ride later we were in a grey, rainy Brussels.

Belgium is known for its chocolate and they want you, the tourist, to be very clear about that. While walking towards the touristy center of the town, every second shop is a chocolate shop. Put on some blinkers on the sides of your eyes if you don't want to enter every chocolate shop. They have amazing selections of dark chocolate most of which are vegan in a variety of flavours. You can buy an assortment of whatever you like by the kilo.You can also buy dark chocolate spread at these small chocolate stores. Make sure you check ingredients.


Drooling yet?



Everyone is welcome!


My loot - Dark Chocolate squares with Dark Hazelnuts, Strawberry and Cocoa Nibs


While on this trip, I'd decided I would also try to be as wheat-free as possible. Yes, I love challenges! I've noticed a marked difference in the way my body reacts if I eat wheat. While in Belgium I managed to stay wheat-free snacking on these amazing Tartines (almost like the rusk) made from Chestnut flour with a Truffle Pâté. I may have even made it a meal on one occasion.


Very crunchy snack. Also available in lots of different flour options.

Tartex is a famous brand that makes lots of yummy vegan stuff.


We took a day trip to the pretty Ghent which is supposed to have the most number of vegetarian restaurants per capita in the world. They even officially have announced Thursday as a meat-free day. We literally waited outside a vegan restaurant until the friendly manager opened for business for lunch. Komkommertijd is run by a worker's co-operative and serves an all you can eat buffet. I skipped breakfast so that I could fill up on the lovely food there!



We were the first to arrive, but it got full very quickly.


The manager was a little unsure if we would like the food when she realised we were Indians. She said they are always worried about Indians finding the food bland. The food and decor were perfect for the cold, rainy day Ghent was having. They had a warm soup, lots of salad greens with native leaves and edible flowers with a choice of dressings (veganaise, mustard, vinaigrette), herb baked potatoes, cheesy root vegetables, a goulash, rice, Portobello Bhajjis, Spring Rolls, a baked dish with carrots and other root vegetables and not to forget a beautifully dense coconut cake baked with blood oranges and raspberries.


Beautiful green salad leaves and edible flowers

Veganaise!

Herb Roasted Potatoes



Goulash



Cheesy Roasted Root Vegetables

Round One!




Simple and stunning


Back in Brussels and on the prowl for lunch one day, we entered a quaint and brightly lit cafe De Markten. We didn't intend to eat lunch there. I wanted to try Den Teepot but when we went there they were closed for renovation which was a shame because it was my last day in Brussels. De Markten did not have anything vegan on the menu, but by my third day I was craving for some good salad. I asked the young waitress if they could make anything vegan for me and she suggested a salad. What came was the tastiest salad I have ever gobbled up. I ate the whole thing!


Den Teepot has an organic market downstairs

Tastiest Salad Ever!


We also went to a brewery in Brussels that brews some amazing beer. This part of Europe likes their beer flavoured too. So besides the regular varieties of beers, you will find cherry, raspberry, strawberry flavoured beers.


Plain and Raspberry Beer


If you are looking for dessert other than chocolate, you can head on to any of the dozen Le Pain Quotidiens. They always have a vegan muffin - either apple cinnamon or banana blueberry. Marked as Bio with a carrot sign next to it on the menu. They also have other vegan stuff on the menu all marked with a tiny orange carrot next to it.


Vegan and Organic Blueberry Muffin from Le Pain Quotidien


Vegetarianism is bigger than it ever was in Europe and I noticed it everywhere. All restaurant menus have more then one veggie option. The smaller cafes and restaurants by the busy streets dont have that many options and also I would ask you to give up the idea of eating Belgian waffles if you are a vegan. I still remember when we traveled to Europe in the early 90s, my mom had smuggled a single electric cooktop in to our hotel rooms. If we didn't find anything to eat outside, hot rice and dal was always there as a backup. What is even more surprising is the Gluten-Free movement. Every restaurant has gluten-free options (not always vegan) and even the gluten-free section in supermarkets are bigger and better than I have ever seen. I continue on my vegan, gluten-free quest towards Amsterdam in my next post.

Some things to keep in mind:


  • Many restaurants have off days during the week. Check the websites for when they are open.
  • Always look for restaurant timings before you venture towards them. Sometimes they are not open on weekend evenings.
  • It's better to know or learn key words of the language they speak. Most touristy cities have an English speaking population. But my (poor) French skills were of tremendous use during this trip.




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