When the organization that runs Belgium’s largest vegan festival asked me to come speak I jumped at the chance. I’ve never been to Belgium and needed to get closer to my 50 before 40 goal (Belgium was my 46th country visited). Ghent (or Gent) actually has a good reputation of being a vegan-friendly place. In 2007, the city started Donderdag Veggiedag, where every Thursday the whole town goes vegan and restaurants started offering more vegan options on their menus. That’s pretty exciting!
Gent is a young city in age but also has a young vibe. That is probably because it’s a college town and the university just had their 200th year anniversary. But it’s also considered a rich town as my walking tour guide described it. The cost of living is really low so I guess that keeps more money in the pockets of it’s inhabitants. You can get a 2 room apartment for $650 all included, which means it’s great to live here. But other things are very expensive like transportation and restaurants. So while it’s cheap to live there it’s actually expensive to visit compared to many other European cities. It’s hard to find a decent meal with a drink for under $15, but thankfully many of the vegan cafes are somewhat more affordable. Bus/tram tickets are 3€ for one hour of travel making it even more expensive than London! Gent is a small city so you can get away with walking and biking instead but since it rains most the year it will depend on weather conditions when you visit.
Belgium is a very proud socialist city. You will find it’s very liberal and there’s a distinct separation of church and state. Catholicism is dying out with the growth of a younger population. Prostitution, gay marriage, abortion and other liberal hot topics are legalized in Belgium, yet you’ll find super low crime rates and safety here. Go figure! You don’t see homeless around which makes me think they take care of their people. I found the Belgians really nice, which was such a pleasant surprise having lived in Berlin for over two months now where people are not generally friendly.
I had a few nice meals over my three-day stay. My favorite meal was this veggie burger with baked sweet potato wedges at Greenway. It was a bit expensive at almost 15€ but totally worth it for the tasty burger that didn’t spill out the sides when you bit into it (you know what I’m talkin’ bout!!). And the sauce on top of the sweet potatoes was to die for! Definitely do not miss Greenway when you are in Gent.
La Botaniste has nutritious bowls ranging from $11-14. I got the Spicy Chili Sin Carne bowl because it’s hard for me to pass up anything that resembles Mexican food. This was served with both brown rice and quinoa, a nice sized scoop of chili made from soy bits, beans, and veggies topped with vegan sour cream. It was a rather large bowl that I could barely finish making it a solid meal for 10.95€.
Madam Bakster is actually not on HappyCow so it’s a good thing I did my research outside of that! This little cafe and coffeeshop has the most beautiful pies and treats, all gluten-free and without refined sugar. I got this cherry cheesecake and was not disappointed. They do vegan brunch as well but I wasn’t able to try it.
There’s this bakery/sandwich chain around Belgium called Panos. To my surprise, they have a vegan sandwich right on their menu filled with curry hummus, veggies, nuts, and dried fruit for only 4.60€. Weird combo I know, but as someone who loves sweet and savory together I was totally digging this sandwich! I was really thankful to find it in the train station on my way to Bruges for a day trip because there wasn’t much vegan there.
O’Yo saved me on my way out of town with their quick and healthy bowls. Thankfully it was open at 9am and near my hostel so I was able to grab the tofu bowl to eat on my long day of travel. It I had stayed in Gent longer I would have spent way more time at this cafe. Lovely atmosphere and friendly staff. I waited too long to book my return flight and the bus/train option was half the price so I decided to choose the long haul option. I don’t usually do that but now that I’m paying rent I figured I should pinch my pennies.
One last thing, the vegfest was amazing. If you live anywhere nearby check it out next year. Everyone was very kind and the volunteers were awesome. They had SO MUCH FOOD, which is the right way to have a vegfest. Too often these things don’t have enough food making the lines unbearable. They had an outside courtyard with food trucks all around, plus tons more food vendors inside. I had Indian food for lunch and a Thai curry for dinner, with some treats and ice cream rolled in. Everything I ate was very good. The treats were also off the hook! Thanks Be Vegan for having me!
Have you been to Belgium? What is your favorite city there?