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Visit Gent – Veggie Capital of Europe

Earlier this year we went on holiday to northern Belgium and spent a few days in Gent (also spelled Ghent).  Before we went we didn’t really know anything about the city, but read in an article somewhere that it is the vegetarian food capital of Europe.  This got me intrigued, mainly because Belgium did not sound like somewhere that you would find a lot of vegetarian food.

I was also a little skeptical because I figured that if it was a nice place to visit, I would have heard someone mention it but yet I had never met anyone that had mentioned going to Gent.

That turned out to be a part of its charm.  Gent turned out to be one of the most wonderful cities that we have ever been to (and we’ve been to a lot).  It has absolutely stunning historic architecture with beautiful canals running through the center.  It is a hub of arts and culture and there are interesting, independent shops catering to every taste.  Even the suburbs are clean and have some wonderful 20th century residential architecture that really outs Britain’s clone suburbs to shame.  There are a range of museums, a castle and several lovely parks.  And then there are the people, who seemed to be one of the most friendly, warm and welcoming populations of any city we have been to, not to mention the fact that many people speak English so well that you actually think they are English.

Whatever you happen to be into, it would be hard to not have a good time in Gent.  In fact, if you go to their state of the art tourist office you will find a city map for almost every interest you can imagine, including in our case an eco-map, a veggie food map and a local food map.

And food is really a highlight in Gent.  Belgium is well know for it’s food in general, but there are three things that make the food in Gent stand out:

  1. It is extremely international, which excellent restaurants offering almost any cuisine you could imagine
  2. It is not too touristy, so most restaurants are really good quality and not the tourist traps you often find in other cities
  3. It actually is the vegetarian capital of Belgium

Don’t ask me why vegetarian food is so popular in Gent, but word on the street is that it is basically because the city has a culture of being creative and forward thinking, so to some extent it is a natural side effect.  To give you an example of how they earn this unofficial title, here are a few key facts:

  • The city council declared Thursdays meat free days, and all schools and public service canteens only serve vegetarian food
  • The city has a vegetarian food map (VeggiePlan) to help promote businesses serving vegetarian food
  • The city has no less than 16 dedicated vegetarian restaurants and cafes

The VeggiePlan not only lists establishments serving vegetarian food in Gent, but also has some interesting facts about veggie food, health, the environment and Belgium.  Here are a few of my favourites:

In Belgium we eat an average of about 1,800 animals during our lifetime: 891 chickens, 42 pigs, 5 cows, 789 fi sh, 7 sheep, 43 turkeys and 24 rabbits and other game. With one veggie day a week you can save 250 animals in the course of your lifetime!

Global meat consumption requires about 30,000 square kilometres of deforestedland a year! That’s an area the size of Belgium

If all Europeans had one meatless day a week, the amount of greenhouse gases saved would equal that of taking 35 million cars off European roads for an entire year.

We enjoyed a lot of great food in Gent, much of which was not even featured on the VeggiePlan, but a couple of very relaxed, informal places that we enjoyed were Greenway, Il Cortile and Lekker.

The bottom line is that Gent is an amazing place with something for everyone.  It hasn’t yet been spoiled by tourists so go there before it is too late, but as they say in Gent “Try to act like a local and everyone will be happy”.

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