Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
We dump our bags in the rented studio apartment in Ghent, Belgium, then head out immediately, intent on our goal: Belgian fries. Some say they are the best in the world, and we are curious to find out for ourselves. Our Use-It map for young people recommends Jozef’s frietkoten (fries barracks) in the Vrijdagmarkt or Friday Market, so we make a beeline for his stall, almost entirely ignoring the picturesque buildings around us.
It is late on Thursday and the vast square is almost deserted. We quickly scan the square but don’t spot the promised frietkoten. On the verge of despair, we decide to make a quick circuit around the square before conceding defeat. It is only then that we spot the unassuming stall in the Northeast corner. There isn’t even a name on the front of the stall, and we have to check the back to make sure that it is Jozef’s frietkoten. Reassured, we place an order for a small serving of fries and samurai sauce, the spiciest sauce on the menu. The whole affair costs 2.50 Euros and is hands down the best fries I tasted on my three-day trip in Ghent and Bruges. The fries are hot, fresh from the frier. The outside is delicately crispy while the insides are steaming hot and soft as a pillow. Everything is slathered in sauce (the next time, we wise up and get our sauce on the side), but it turns out to be a rather mild mayonnaise-based sauce, and nothing like the spicy Asian chilli sauces I am used to.
Sated, we stroll more leisurely through the city, admiring her beautiful architecture. Our next stop is waffles. The Use-It map recommends the Mokabon, a little coffee shop off Koremarkt. We ring the bell at the window and order a waffle with chocolate. With Belgium famous for both its waffles and its chocolates, there’s no harm in combining the two, right? We have to wait for a few minutes – it turns out that this place makes its waffles fresh, unlike most other places we encounter that have a pre-made stack of waffles that they reheat in the oven. Compared to the other waffles we try later, this one is soft and light, with decadent pools of thick, hot chocolate sauce in every square, and a generous dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top. We walk as we eat, simultaneously trying not to spill a drop of the precious chocolate and not to get too much smeared on our faces. When we finish, my black jacket, covered in icing sugar, appears to be the only casualty. The next time, we wisen up and eat it indoors. Neither of us are coffee drinkers but Mokabon is also famous for its coffee, so do give it a try.
And then, of course, there are the chocolates. Yuzu is known to be one of the most creative when it comes to marrying flavours with deliciously rich Belgian chocolate. As the name suggests, proprietor Nicolas Vanaise is heavily influenced by Asian flavours, and we find chocolates paired with such surprising and intriguing combinations as szuchuan peppers, matcha, wasabi, and black sesame. More Western flavours include lavender, whiskey and Havana cigars, and salt and pepper. Chocolates here don’t come cheap, though, as a tiny ganache costs 50 cents, or about 50 Euros per kilo. I pick three flavours and carefully save them for later, when the Doctor is due to visit in about a month.
For a more substantial meal, we visit the Use-It recommendation, De Lieve, near the castle, where we are promised traditional local food. The restaurant is small, cosy, and definitely local. At one point, two locals come in with a Golden Retreiver so large that its head barely fits under the table. He lounges contentedly under the table while his owners catch up over a beer and a meal. The menus are all in Dutch but the patient waitress takes us through the short menu that changes daily. Full from our fries and waffles, we settle for a plate of beef stew and a large glass of Kriek, or cherry beer. The beef is melt-in-your-mouth tender and the sauce is rich and flavoured with dark beer. Of course, the meal comes with a large plate of fries. The Kriek is also excellent; it is sweet, tastes distinctly of cherries, and tastes only mildly like beer, perfect for non-beer drinkers like me. Dinner comes to 23 Euros, which for a plate of stew and a beer, is on the expensive side, but seems to be in the average price range for a meal in Ghent.
The best deal we came across was the all-you-can-eat ribs at Amadeus. For some reason, Ghent seems to be obsessed with ribs, with a number of rib joints scattered about the town. For 16 Euros, Amadeus serves up as much American-style ribs and baked potatoes as you want. When travelling, I tend to try and sample the local delicacies, but I couldn’t resist the temptation. The restaurant resembles and American diner. The ribs are slightly crispy, almost as if they’ve been deep fried, but the waiter says they’ve been roasted in the oven and finished on the grill. They are tender on the inside, and the meat sauce is sweet and tangy. I have a little taste of the potato, which is delicious when paired with the whipped garlic butter topping, but focus on the house special ribs instead. Between us, my companion and I manage to finish three racks of ribs. All in all, it was a great meal, although we probably ate too much. The only rip off here is the price of the drinks, which at almost 2 Euros for a small glass of Coke, is exorbitant.
The best value for money meal we had in Ghent has to be from the Souplounge. Facing away from the Vrigdagmarkt, with Jozef’s frietkoten at your back, walk towards the river, cross the bridge and you’ll see it on your right. They serve four different kinds of soup (tomato, spinach, cucumber and kale on the day we visit), and for four Euros, you get a generous portion of soup, two bread rolls with butter, and a piece of fruit. Soup toppings include cheese, croutons,and tiny little meatballs, and I get my cucumber soup with the works. It was delicious, filling, wonderfully warm on a cold day, and just the right thing to counteract the greasy ribs we had the night before.
Best friesJozef’s frietkoten Northeast corner of Vrijdagmarkt
Best wafflesMokabon Donkersteeg 35
Best chocolateYuzu Walpoortstraat 11A
It’s a little farther south than most of the main sites in town, but it’s worth a visit.
Best local foodDe Lieve St-Magrietstraat 1
Best dealAmadeus Petershol-Plotersgracht 8/10, or Gouden Leeuwplein 7
Best value for moneySouplounge Zuivelbrugstraat 6
Tip: Sit upstairs and enjoy the view
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