I’m on a 10 day solo trip around Belgium and absolutely loving it! One thing is for sure…Belgium is not a place to lose weight! I mean, when I left Bruges for Ghent, I was so full I never thought I’d manage another food tour! But I certainly did! With the help of Julian from Legends tours, we headed out to hunt for the best food in Ghent. You will be amazed by the fries (with Flemish stew), waffles, Belgian chocolates and Belgian beer.
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You will be pleased to know that food in Ghent doesn’t seem as expensive as in Bruges or Brussels. Belgium on the whole is relatively expensive, but I found more cheap eats in Ghent than in the other Belgian cities that I visited. This could be thanks to the high student population.
The food tour starts at 11.30am at Hostel Uppelink which is also a fantastic place to stay.
Introduction to Food in Ghent
Food in Ghent is out of this world, I promise you! One of the reasons why it became such a big foodie destination is because the city was built on the confluence of the two rivers, making it easy to transport goods and food into the city. Because of the food, many new professions were developed here in the golden age (12th-15th Centuries)….bakers, brewers and even textile (weavers). Ghent was set to become a very prosperous city.
The other thing is that Ghent introduced a city tax of a whopping 25% for any boats passing through. This tax was used to build a glorious city, which at one point had a population only second to Paris. With the high taxes and great prospects for improving food, Ghent attracted many people from the surrounding parts, growing and expanding the city.
Kornmarkt and Belgian Fries
Kornmarkt (corn or grain market) near the harbour was where the taxes were paid by the boats passing through, and so it was the perfect place to grow a food market.
Now, did you know that Belgium has the most friturj (fries) per capita in the world! They eat more than the Americans do!!!! But, before the 16th century they had never seen potatoes before! That is because potatoes actually come from South America!
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If you aren’t sure of your European history, at the end of 16th century was the time of the Dutch revolt. Ghent falls in the Flanders region and this was one of the wealthiest areas in Europe up to that point. But the Spaniards came in, and if you ask any Belgian, they will tell you that the Spaniards destroyed everything…they ruined Flanders and this led to the Dutch revolt. The Dutch population at this time had to migrate to the Netherlands and Belgium (although it did not exist as the country of Belgium at that point) was under Spanish rule at the time.
What did the Spaniards bring with them? The Spaniards brought with them the potato of course…but not as a gift…they brought it because they didn’t like it! So, for the first time ever, potatoes grew here in Belgian soil and they grew bigger and sweeter! Around the 17th and 18th century, it started to spread around Europe.
Now, the people of Ghent at this time used animal grease from the ox to fry their fish. So, when the rivers froze over they started to use this to fry their potatoes and they began making fries! These fries became golden and crispy!!!
At the end of the First World War, (most of the western front was actually fought in Belgium), the Americans totally loved these fries and decided to take them back to the USA with them. But, the man who first took them to New York made the mistake of calling them ‘French Fries’! That’s how to annoy a Belgian – call chips French Fries, when they were actually Belgian fries!
Where to get it: If you want to know where to eat Fries in Ghent, there are two places I recommend. The first is Taartar Bar on Heilige Geeststraat (very generous portions) and the second is Frites Atelier. Ask for them with the gorgeous Flemish stew sauce (it’s cooked in beer and my favourite food in Ghent!) Dip your chips in the sauce and you will be in heaven.
Belgian Chocolate in Ghent at Sophie’s
Next we headed off to Sophie’s chocolatier to learn about how Belgian chocolate is made. Sophie’s chocolate is a famous local Ghent chocolatier (not a chain) and it’s located near to the Belfry.
If you didn’t already know, chocolate comes from cacao, which is a fruit. It needs to be fermented – sugars turn into alcohol and it gives the specific chocolate taste to the seeds inside the fruit. After that process, you have to dry it. The white fruit goes brown and you let it dry and wait for it to go hard, then roast and peel it!
Cacao was originally ground by the Inca’s as a ceremonial drink with a spiritual purpose, and combined with Ayahuasca (a psychedelic substance found in the vines of the Amazon). There are several good things about chocolate – dopamine and serotonin go up and it’s also a natural aphrodisiac!
Cocoa was sent to France and mixed with milk and sugar cane, making it a very fancy and exotic drink in Paris. It was a status symbol – a bit like drinking Dom Perignon champagne today! Therefore, chocolate became very popular in Europe in the 19th century!
The growing of cacao beans became industrialized – they have to grind it to its finest particles which is what makes the chocolate so fine and smooth here in Belgium. The Belgians were the first to have this really fine chocolate, so in the 1950’s it was the best chocolate in the world! Swiss is also a high quality chocolate, because they mix it with high quality milk. In Belgium however, they use milk powder to make their chocolate.
Seeds are oily inside and you use it to make cacao butter – that’s all you need with ground seeds for dark chocolate. Add milk powder for milk chocolate. If you only use cacao butter and milk powder, you have white chocolate.
At the end of 19th Century the Belgians invented the pralines and you can find stores all over Belgium now that have these chocolates. Funnily enough, the hollow chocolates were originally popular in chemists as they were used to fill it with medicine or tablets to disguise the taste for kids to take it! They then progressed to filling it with praline which is a soft hazelnut chocolate.
Now remember…don’t store your chocolate in the fridge! This is not the correct way to store chocolate, it will change the taste and texture of even the highest quality chocolate. If it is in the fridge too long you will start to see that white residue on the outside which you don’t want. Store your Belgian chocolates at room temperature.
Where to get it: Sophie’s chocolatier near Ghent Belfry.
Belgian Waffles at the Waffle Factory
Next it was on to the Waffle Factory to try the two main types of waffles – the Brussels waffle (light, square shaped and sprinkled with icing sugar) and the Liege Waffle (thicker, rounded and with clumps of sugar!) Most people prefer the Liege waffle, but I actually loved the lighter and more original Brussels waffle.
Waffles are essentially a mixture of eggs and wheat, and they didn’t have them in Belgium until the 16th century.
Here’s a fun fact for you – the biggest sugar producing city in the world until the 20th Century was actually ANTWERP!!!
Now, Belgian waffles originally developed from pancakes – you couldn’t control the iron easily when making them – they often ended up burnt on the outside and were still uncooked inside. So, they put squares in the iron so it pressed into the dough and so the waffle was created! They had many waffle stands often outside the churches up until the 20th Century when waffles became slightly less popular.
After the second world war, the Americans were really big fans of the waffles and they wanted them with so many different toppings. They then expanded to the United States of America.
Where to get it: The Waffle Factory on Botermarkt, but really anywhere that you get waffles in Ghent is going to be good!
Cuberdons – The Sweet Noses on Kortemunt
The last interesting thing to try is the Ghent sweet noses called Cuberdons! These sweets are made out of flowers or fruit flavours and Arabic gum (not gelatine making them vegetarian friendly). When Cuberdons were originally invented they never added sugar, but now they do. They bake the Cuberdons for two days. You need to eat them within a month otherwise the sugars will start to crystalise.
Where to get it: The stalls outside Brood Aernoudt Banket on Kortemunt
Belgian Beer at the Waterside Beer Bar and the Friday Market
Next let’s talk about the main reason why most people visit Ghent….the beer scene! Remember that every single beer has a specific glass! So if a Belgian receives a beer in the wrong glass, they will send it back! Don’t try to drink ALL of the Belgian beers…there are so many that if you tried to then you will die!
There is a Waterside Beer Bar (Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkart) that has a menu which is a whole book! Also, on the Friday market – go to Beer Bar de Dulle Griet, which is 250 years old. Just entering the bar is an experience in itself!
Both of these bars serve all the Trappist beers that exist in the world! There are 12 Trappist beers and 6 of them are from Belgium. There are qualifications for a beer to be a Trappist Beer…
- Must be made by monks, they have to be trained for their whole life, they are not allowed to share the details outside the groups, and everything has to happen on holy ground – the monastery.
- The grains must be grown on monastic ground and beer made in monastery.
- The profits have to go to charity!
Now something very interesting is the ‘Super Kwak’ – a special beer that was made for carriage drivers (in the days when drink-driving was allowed!) It had to have a special glass to go on the carriage – one which looks like a gigantic experiment tube that comes with a hanger! It’s served as 1.2 lites of beer and is 9% volume. The glass itself is worth 90€ so you need to put a deposit on it….one shoe!!
Now, I wasn’t sure if I believed this or not, so I headed into Dulle Griet where I saw exactly that….a guy drinking beer that was in a tall tube on a rack….with one shoe missing! Legend!
Where to get it: The Waterside Beer Bar (Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkart) or Beer Bar de Dulle Griet on the Friday Market.
Good Restaurants in Ghent
You will also want some recommendations for good restaurants in Ghent, so here are a few of my favourites….
- ‘t Vosken (Sint-Baafsplein) – Classic Belgian restaurant
- Cafe Galgenhuis (Groentenmarkt) – The Old Gallow House! Serves good beer, good food and sweets.
- OOOST – On Goudenleeuwplein OOOST has good traditional Belgian food without being rip off prices!
- Soup Lounge – Good soups and cheap eats.
- Eithuis Augutijnje – Scampi, lobster and all the Belgian classics.
- Oudberg – International Street Food.
- Keizershof (on Vrijdagmarkt) – Belgian Brasserie.
Further Reading on Travel in Belgium
If you enjoyed this article on the best food in Ghent, you might also like to read….
- Things to do in Ghent
- Is Ghent worth Visiting?
- Things to do in Charleroi
- Is Bruges worth visiting?
- Churches in Bruges