Monday, 16 October 2017

Veggie Thursdays in Ghent

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium

Ghent is like Bruges but without the Disneyfied atmosphere of a museum city. It's lefty, hippy and vibrant, partly thanks to the population of 75,000 students. It's also one of the most beautiful towns I've ever visited. This ancient city is built on a complex system of waterways and canals, weaving through half timbered medieval architecture, characteristic stepped gables which zigzag across the sky, while trams rattle along the cobbled streets as bicycle and church bells reverberate like glockenspiels. Ghent also has the world's largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita.
I met Maureen Vande Cappelle, part of a Belgian organisation called EVA 'Encouraging vegetarian alternatives', at Le Botaniste, a vegan restaurant housed in an old pharmacy in the centre of Ghent. 
Every Thursday, restaurants, schools, workplace canteens, government offices, are encouraged to provide a vegetarian or vegan meal as the main choice. This initiative started in 2009 and is now, eight years on, part and parcel of Ghent life. Why can't we do this in the UK? One of the founders of EVA is Tobias Leenaert who wrote 'How to create a Vegan World, a pragmatic approach'. (I agree with him that some vegan purists can be off-puttingly negative to flexitarians and this is not the way forward).
Maureen and I, we worked out, had come across each other before, at the Anti-G8 camp in Stirling. She, like me, coming from an activist background, was part of Rampenplan, a Dutch anarchist food truck, which made, I recollect, particularly delicious food. We reminisced about cooking for hundreds of activists while surrounded by riot police. 
The political situation is Belgium is also delicate. In Flemish towns like Ghent, I was told, they prefer you to speak English rather than French. There is a rivalry between the Flemish and French speaking parts of Belgium, in fact some maintain that there is no such thing as Belgium at all. The northern part is Flanders, next to Holland while the southern end, near the French border, is Wallonia. 
Strangely Lille is considered part of Flanders even though it's in France and they speak French. 
One thing I found strange in Ghent which after all has its fair share of tourists, is that most menus are not translated into English, however virtually everyone can speak very good English.

What to eat and drink in Ghent:

witloof, endives, Ghent, Belgium

Ghent 'noses'

cuberdon, Ghent noses, Ghent, Belgium
Cuberdons or Ghent 'noses' are cone shaped sweets, traditionally violet flavoured but now in liquorice, cherry, raspberry and other flavours. They should ideally be eaten fresh, as the liquid interior dries up after a couple of days. Five euros will buy you nine cuberdons.


Tierenteyn-Verlent,mustard, Ghent, Belgium
Tierenteyn-Verlent,mustard, Ghent, Belgium
Tierenteyn-Verlent,mustard, Ghent, Belgium
The mustard Tierenteyn is a good gift to take home, beautifully wrapped by the historic shop Tierenteyn-Verlent, opened in 1790, which still makes it fresh in the basement. A girl will scoop the mustard out of a large wooden barrel into a glass, plastic or ceramic container. Prices are from a couple of euros for a small jar.
They also sell jars of citrussy yellow piccalilli. 


I prefer Dutch and Belgian style 'Jenever' to English gin - it's smooth, needs no mixers and can be slowly sipped. A fantastic place to try them out is t' Dreupelkot, a historic, dimly lit bar which gives you the first gin shot on the house. The walls are lined with freckled brown ceramic bottles on creaky wooden shelves. There are dozens of different flavours such as chocolate or banana, my favourite is the unlikely sounding Green Apple, which tastes like alcoholic sour sweets.


The Belgians are famous for waffles, thick like doughy mattresses, squirted with feathery duck down cream and chocolate sauce. The inventor of the Belgian waffle was Max Consael of L'Etablissement Max, which was founded in 1839. You can visit his descendant Yves and try this speciality baked in one of the 12 original waffle irons at the new Etablissement Max.


Stoverij is usually a slow cooked beef stew cooked down with Belgian beer and mustard; I had a vegan version stoverij with seitan at Mosquito Coast restaurant opposite the Vegan BnB. It wasn't great to be honest, the seitan was rubbery and tasteless, but the potato croquettes served with it, were fantastic. 

Originally this was a fish stew but today is usually made with chicken. I don't know of any vegan/vegetarian restaurants that serve this as yet. Let me know in the comment if you know of any in Ghent.


'T Velootje, brown cafe, Ghent, Belgium
 'T Velootje, brown cafe, Ghent, Belgium
'T Velootje, brown cafe, Ghent, Belgium
Belgium is famous for its beer and Ghent is no exception. I drank at a really odd brown café, the ceiling cluttered with hanging rusty bicycles, called 'T Velootje, run by  eccentric landlord Lieven De Vos. When I visited he was wearing women's tights under some yellow shorts. 
'What do you want to drink?' he asked. 
'What have you got?' I replied 
'I'm going to give you beer' he said handing me a bottle of something delicious. .
He chooses. You drink it. The customers all talk to each other, just like in a good pub, which is perfect when you are travelling alone. 

Belgian Fries:

De Frietketel was voted as this years best 'frietkot' chip shop. Their fries are great, cooked in vegetable oil, and their veggie and vegan menu comes highly recommended, especially the walnut or pumpkin burger. Try the vegan tartar sauce, the bitterballen, the stoverijsaus.

Where to eat in Ghent:

Le Botaniste, Ghent, Belgium
Le Botaniste, Ghent, Belgium
Le Botaniste was started by Alain Coumont, who also started Le Pain Quotidien, which is not French but Belgian. (I have a little theory that all the best French people are actually Belgian: Jacques Brel, Tintin, Georges Simenon, Hercules Poirot, Smurfs, Charlemagne, Jean Claude Van Damme, Plastic Bertrand). Coumont believes that a plant based diet is the future, and his new project is Le Botaniste. There are two branches at present - Ghent and New York, but Coumont hopes that Le Botaniste will be as successful world-wide as Le Pain Quotidien.
Lepelblad  had only been open for 2 days when I visited. I had tacos and a cocktail, all sourced from local suppliers where possible and admired the old fashioned Aga, which wasn't working. 

I didn't manage to eat in many places, as I was only in Ghent for a day and a half, and you need at least 3 days, but I got some great recommendations from Maureen:
  • Madam Bakster The Guiltfree Bakerya selection of vegan cakes and bakes.
  • Full Circle Coffee:  All vegan new wave coffee bar, which serves pies and brioches. They serve coffee with oat milk (which is nicer then soy milk).
  • Lokaal: the name of this 'teabar' means 'local', they source everything from nearby while remaining organic, veggie and vegan. 
  • Food Storms at Nest: a pop-up cafe in the Old Library, until April 2018, maybe longer. Starting from mid-October Foodstorms  will feature a vegan tasting menu by Kevin Storms, a well known chef in Ghent.  
  • De Superette: This is not a veggie/vegan place, but is apparently worth a visit thanks to the wonderful fresh sourdough bread and pizza baked in the wood oven. Set up by chef Kobe Desmalaults, Ghent's rock and roll chef, they also do vegan and vegetarian options.

Around Dok, the new part of town they are developing. 
  • V-box: originally they provided vegan street food but are now new fast-food kid in town, according to Maureen.
  • Way: provide a vegan option every day.  
  • BeO: an organic shop with a lunch place attached. Cheap good organic produce in a nice setting.
  • Dochters van de jaegher: run by two sisters, this is an ironically named vegetarian or pescatarian canteen ( 'daughters of the hunter') based in the old Hinkelspel cheese factory. They also sell cheese and fresh produce. 


The Holy Food Market, Ghent, Belgium
The Holy Food Market is built in a converted 16th century church. To be honest I felt it was badly done, rather tacky and while I'm not religious, it felt like sacrilege. Gross. 
Groot Vleeshuis/ Great Butchers' Hall, Ghent, Belgium
Groot Vleeshuis/ Great Butchers' Hall is off the main square is a 15th century vaulted wooden trussed roof with cured hams hanging off the beams. Not exactly veggie-friendly but visually impressive nonetheless. This old Guild House sells local specialities.

Pakhuis: this is a former warehouse that has been renovated. Good restaurant and beer selection.

Belga Queen, Ghent: enormous 800 year old architect designed restaurant near the port.

Where to visit in Ghent:

This is a place you can do a lot of walking, but wear comfortable shoes, my knee hurts from turning it on the cobbles. There are plenty of interesting alleys, canal pathway walks, archways, architecture features to discover.
You can also hire bicycles or kayaks. I rather like the idea of roaming around the network of canals under your own steam. 
I recommend buying the CityCard Gent which allows access to all museums, historical sites, a guided boat tour, the hop on, hop off boat, and all public transport. 30 euros for 48 hours, 35 euros for 72 hours.

  • The 12th century Gravensteen Castle is atmospheric, with interesting exhibitions and great views over the city.
  • The Museum Dr Guislain, housed is an enormous sanitorium, is quirky and worth visiting. Dr Guilhas was one of the pioneers in mental health in Belgium, you can find out more about treatments, conditions, the history of psychiatry. There are also art exhibitions and a cafe.
  • The 'STAM' Ghent City Museum is vast and modern. In the first rooms, you are given overshoes so that you can walk over a map of the city; like treading over an up lit Google Earth. In other parts of the museum you explore the history of Ghent from 1200 to the present day. In 1400 Ghent was as big as Paris and equally important. 

I loved the shop Dille and Kamille, which while Dutch in origin, has many branches in Belgium. I bought enamel bowls, serving spoons, wooden moulds for butter (sheep) and speculoos biscuits, a red and white checked apron. I could have spent a great deal more. Great for food styling props. When are they going to open in the UK?

Where to stay in Ghent:

Aanaajaanaa off the main square is a charming BnB in a tall old 19th century house. There are only two rooms which are huge. Rates are around 100 euros a night with breakfast for one or two people.
It's owned by Markus and Carol who live downstairs with their children. Markus was very friendly and helpful, his children helped served a delicious vegan breakfast with a freshly made smoothie. The colour scheme, everything saffron, orange or red looks Buddhist.
Markus explained, as he carried my case up the steep dark wooden stairway:
 'We can't say we're vegan because of the wool rugs and blankets but we don't want to throw them out but the breakfast is completely vegan'.

How to get there:

Ghent Belgium

Eurostar from London takes less than three hours, change at Brussels and get a local train to Ghent- 30 minutes away.

I was hosted on this trip by VisitFlanders and VisitGent.

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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

What to eat and do in Malmö, Sweden

canal, malmo

shopping arcade, malmo

You've seen Malmö on TV, as the Swedish side of The Bridge, a half hour journey from Copenhagen in Denmark. The Øresund bridge itself, which opened in 2000, spans five miles, by road and train. It's an impressive ride over the harbour, especially at sunset. 
For a long time Malmö was Danish, only becoming Swedish in the 17th century. In fact the dialect spoken by Malmö residents is closer to Danish than say Stockholm Swedish.
Almost half of the population of Malmö were not born in Sweden. It is a city of high immigration with a certain amount of poverty. Since the bridge opened, its image has been rehabilitated. Malmö, therefore, is both poor and rich, old and new, utterly Swedish but also very foreign with lots of headscarves.
Malmö is also city of contrasts when it comes to the weather: it was either pissing down or balmy and sunny beach weather and I was only there for four days. Some days I wore rubber boots while others I sweated in a T-shirt. The weather is even madder than in England.

Food Hall

Saluhall, Malmö
Saluhall, Malmö
Saluhall, Malmö
The Saluhall is a food hall with chic restaurants, shops and delicatessens. Great for lunch and shopping. You can find the best cardamom buns in Malmö at St.Jakobs Stenagnsbageri


falafel from Mollens,, Malmö
Malmö was economically deprived from the 1970s onwards, leading to depopulation. At this point Malmö welcomed immigrants, some of whom started food businesses. Since the Syrian war, refugees have been opening restaurants.  There are more than 60 falafel restaurants in Malmö, it's actually become a local food. Everybody has their favourite falafel joint.
Mollans falafel, Malmö


This is where I tried my falafel. I didn't understand the queuing system so I went to the counter, where they politely but completely ignored me until I found the back of the line. I got a large juicy flatbread with all the sauces, every type of salad plus pickled peppers. 
They have an extensive vegan menu, with things like tofu 'halloumi.' 
Town Grill,  Malmö
Town Grill: Some vegans I met recommended this place as the best.
jalla, jalla,Malmö
Jalla Jalla is another popular place which some people cite as their favourite.


There is a burgeoning vegan movement in Sweden. When I was in Malmö, I saw a demonstration in Adolf Gustav Square which happens every Saturday. About 20 Swedes stood silently holding posters/cards with animals being tortured.

Uggla Kaffebar (Owl café)

uggla kaffebar, Malmö
This place is totally vegan with fantastic coffee. I have to say, Swedish vegans are hard-core, they were sitting outside in the pouring rain drinking soy milk lattes. 
uggla kaffebar, Malmö, raining



Bastard,  Malmö
Probably Malmö's trendiest restaurant is Bastard - with a name like that hipness is a slam dunk. I was sorely tempted to nick a napkin, which is adorned glass cloth style but replaced with the word Bastard. The food was excellent, crisp corn fritters, burrata with broccoli and hazelnuts. There were enough dishes, small plates, to please a vegetarian or pescatarian.
Bastard,  Malmö
Bastard,  Malmö
Was recommended this restaurant but when I got outside, I lacked the nerve and the appetite to go in. 


'Hygge' (Danish word for cosy) and 'Fika' (Swedish for coffee time) have now been added to the English language and are as popular as IKEA furniture. Swedes will share coffee and buns at the drop of a hat. Speaking of IKEA, did you know that some older pieces are now collectibles? IKEA opened in Sweden about 20 years before it came to the UK. 
Le Glorieux Cafe Dornonville, designed by an architect and run by his charming and friendly wife, Agnes Ranelid, features vintage Scandinavian furniture. I noticed the 'Elastoplast' pink hue of the walls. Agnes told me that it's so popular with customers, they give out the paint code, so people can get the same colour made up. It's only open till 3pm each day, she has young children and has to pick them up, but it's a fun, cool space to have a coffee and a cake.
Le Glorieux Cafe Dornonville, Malmö
vintage IKEA sofa Le Glorieux Cafe Dornonville, Malmö
Systrar Broder is well regarded.

 Konditori Hollandia:

This is the oldest café in Malmö, opening in 1903, and features 1950s Dutch furniture. It's just near the main square Gustav Adolf Torg. 
 Konditori Hollandia:, malmo
 Konditori Hollandia:malmo

Lilla Kafferosteriet has great coffee and breakfast.
Lilla Kafferosteriet, malmo

Johanna Jeppssons Bageri

Johanna Jeppssons Bageri, malmo
A regional speciality you must try is 'spettekaka', or spit cake, a towering meringue-like gateau. The only place that bakes it in Malmö is Johanna Jeppssons bakery but the owner is a right bitch difficult- she tried to charge me £150 to photograph the place. She's not Johanna herself, who died years ago, but a former 90s pop star who fancies herself rotten. Anyway I travelled to another bakery out of town which I'll be writing about soon. They were really nice.

Other places to visit:

Museum cafés:


Småk, malmo
Småk, malmo
This caff attached to an exhibition hall, has a good selection of vegetarian and vegan food. I had a soup, bread, several salads and potatoes, with tea or coffee for about £10. 

Modern Museet (Museum of Modern Art)

Modern Museet (Museum of Modern Art) cafe, malmo
A stylish café with snacks, books and magazines to read. The gallery hosts exhibitions by modern Scandinavian artists. 

Bathing at Ribersborgs Kallbadhus (Public baths)

Ribersborgs Kallbadhus , malmo
I highly recommend making the trip to Ribersborgs Kallbadhus. At the entrance (where there is an elegant restaurant) you can hire a towel and buy a lock (or bring your own). Remember to bring a bottle of water. You can wear a swimming costume but must go naked in the sauna. It's down a boardwalk pier to Victorian public bathing house dating from 1898. The saunas, not dark and depressing like in the UK, have a wonderful view, facing out onto the harbour. There are men, women and mixed! You aren't allowed to take pictures, but I sneaked a few. It was full of drop dead gorgeous Scandinavian women, all robust and healthy - going from steamy sauna to ice cold seawater. Brrr!
Ribersborgs Kallbadhus , malmo
Ribersborgs Kallbadhus , malmo
Ribersborgs Kallbadhus , malmo
Ribersborgs Kallbadhus , malmo

Gamla Staden (Old Town)

Gamla Staden, malmo
In the old town you can see 18th century half-timbered buildings, gable rooves, archways and candlelit windows, covered shopping arcades, cobbled streets.


canal, malmo
canal, malmo
A nice way to see Malmö is via the extensive canal network. You can take tours, picnic boats (opposite the Central Station) or hire pedal board boats.


Buy a daily pass from Central Station for around 65 SEK.  An hour's transport within Malmo usually costs 25 SEK.
Cash is not accepted on buses, only credit cards.

To get to Copenhagen: take the train from Central Station. It costs 110 SEK. 


I stayed in Malmo courtesy of the First Hotel Mortensen which was centrally located with helpful and friendly staff. Rooms are around 900 SEK per night. Breakfast is included.