Me neither. But I am pleased to say that I spent a few days eating at and visiting numerous vegetarian and vegan food places in Ghent and have come away not only in foodie love with Ghent, but came away completely inspired by the attitude and success.
‘Veggie day Thursday’ – which was started back in the year 2000, was actually invented in Ghent. This concept has gone worldwide – though for Anglophones, it has been adapted to Meatless Mondays. The concept was championed by The EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative), a non-profit organization based in Ghent with the mission to inform people about the benefits of eating more plant based foods. The organization did this through a whole series of hands-on workshops for professionals, consumers and schools, along with various seminars, magazines, debates and dinners. And it worked.
What made it be a success? They believe it is because they have been promulgating a positive message. Usually, vegetarianism is associated with the negative (don’t eat meat), rather than the positive – eat more vegetables, which are good for you.
Plus, of course, they focused on the solution – eating more veg, and the fact that setting aside a day to eat more veg is an effective way of doing it. If people are given a nice easy solution, with a positive message, they are likely to take it up.
And – integrating this message throughout the city also helped. If restaurants serve vegetarian meals on Thursdays, schools have vegetarian menus on Thursdays and so on, it makes going meat-free a natural thing for citizens to do.
You can measure the success. Now 80% of people eat vegetarian on Thursday. And about 30 % of the population east vegetarian meals at least 3 times a week, which is the highest anywhere in Belgium.
And what does this mean for the tourist?
Well it means that Ghent features numerous vegetarian and vegan food joints catering to all budgets. Really good food, that just happens to be vegetarian or vegan.
Here’s a list of the best restaurants to try vegan and vegetarian eats:
This lovely little restaurant, with a very fun decor, describes itself as 100% botanical, 99% organic and gluten-free. The vision behind it is that of a more healthy and sustainable cuisine. And they do this in a very inventive way and using seasonal products. I highly recommend their superseded avocado, their beetroot, apple and ginger detox juice and their full therapy mezze platter, where you get to try a little bit of everything including their lush veggie chilli with brown rice.
Volta has got to be one of my favourite ever restaurants to have a vegetarian meal. It has a nicely open interior, a rather trendy lounge bar with great vies of the restaurant and outside, and an open kitchen where you get to see the chefs at work. On warm days, you can eat outside in the sun. These guys specialise in creating 5-6 course menus based on really good quality organic vegetables. The dishes are light and creative in a way that really allows the flavour of the vegetables to shine through. Seriously, the food is so good, that I almost cried when I finished. Two standout dishes for me where the ceviche of watermelon with sour cream and the lick your plate clan Burratta and bell pepper escabeche with Japanese dashi sauce. Oh and those cocktails…….
The demo (and lunch) we got at Food Storms has got to be one of the most inspiring food lessons an moments, I have ever had. This pop-up restaurant is fully vegan, but does not make a big deal about it. The idea is take a vegetable from every season and make a dish or even a meal about it. And every week features a new vegetable. They have very little waste, as much as possible is used and the rest composted.
Kevin was seriously engaging as he took us through the food demo. We learnt about how to present multiple veggies in one meal (the secret is to cook them all differently, blanched, grilled, cooked in a creamy sauce etc), that blanching really should just be blanching, not cooking for an extra minute just to make sure (guilty as charged), that charring is good as it makes the veggies taste a little bit sweeter, and it is attractive to plate veggies in 3’s, 5’s and 10’s. All useful lessons for me – you’ll see them in my blog later! My favourite eat was the kohlrabi with garlic infused oil, asparagus, watercress and pine nuts, followed closely by the marinated strawberry dessert.
This vegan friendly restaurant, right next to all the action, serves a huge range of tasty and filling food. We were spoilt for choice by their amazing crispy falafel dishes or burgers, tons of salads, smoothies and fruit juices and plenty of hot drinks. Feel free to eat at the café or grab a dish to go as you explore Ghent.
This really charming place serves you guilt free desserts, without and dairy products or refined sugar. Dig into an avocado and lime cake, spiced popcorn, coffee and creamy hot chocolate made with real chocolate and hazelnut milk that was made on the premises. It is definitely a place to chill out or grab a treat or two for later.
Ps I would live to also say a special thank you to my hosts at the very centrally located Aanaajaanaa bed and breakfast, who along with lovely accommodation, were really helpful and provided us with the most awesome vegan breakfast known to man.
With thanks to the Visit Gent who hosted me on this really amazing trip. I can’t wait to get back to Ghent. All opinions and travel love are my own.