Ghent and the good life

Kalyani Prasher | Updated on January 19, 2018

Dressed to please: A dish at Naturell

The medieval Belgian city has a surprisingly modern palate

Ghent is beautiful. This I expected. Many of its 13th-century buildings still survive and you feel like you’ve walked straight into the set of a period film, complete with grand architecture, a medieval port, old and new boats and beautiful men. It is better than a film — it is all real and in front of you.

What I did not expect, however, was how much of this experience will be food: when I was not eating, I was buying food. Even sightseeing somehow came back to food, when, impressed by a medieval building in the most beautiful part of town, Graslei, the old port area, I was informed that I was actually staring at Belga Queen, one of Ghent’s top restaurants, housed in the 13th-century warehouse that I was admiring.

Perhaps it is an odd mix of being a medieval historic destination as well as a thriving university city that lends Ghent a unique charm — it is romantic but also cool; old but also hipster. Evidence of the latter was found at my lunch place, Naturell, where the minimal décor was as pleasing as the presentation of the food, which is modern and local. Belgian and self-taught, Chef Lieven Lootens’s restaurant is listed in the Michelin Guide for serving up dishes such as sea bream ceviche made with seasonal produce. (This also means that the menu changes every two months.) The food at Naturell is full of surprising flavours and textures: you wouldn’t expect bergamot to pop in your mouth as you eat lime yogurt, nor will you expect crunchy brandy snaps or a grainy white chocolate, but all of this is possible at this delightful little place.

I went for a walking tour after my meal and my guide pointed out a charming little house on the canal near Castle of the Counts, the last remaining wooden façade in the city centre of Ghent. As I leaned forward on the bridge to take in the prettiness of this yellow wooden house sitting on the water, my guide said: “It is now a popular bistro called Club Reserva.”

You cannot separate anything in Ghent from food. One of the most popular shops in the city is Tierenteyn, which is… a store full of mustard. Ghent is famous for this brand of mustard, which the locals usually eat with cheese. I loved the sharp kick and immediately bought a bottle. At €3 or €4 a bottle, and pretty packaging, both the grainy and smooth versions make excellent gifts. You can also buy the mustard and the cheese together at the Ohne food store located on Steendam 59. It also sells other organic products including a range of local seeds and grains.

When we were not eating, we were drinking. Gruut is the only microbrewery in Europe that makes beer without hop. I wasn’t as interested in the beer as young Julian who was showing me around, a dish in human form, but if you are a beer drinker then this a must-visit. Gruut’s blonde beer is one of the most refreshing brews I’ve tasted.

Walking about, I came upon Julie’s House, located in Kraanlei, right in the city centre. Julie’s is a fairly new addition to the home bakers-turned-pro cafes in town. Some of the prettiest cakes and small bites you’ll ever see here, as well as delicious, airy cupcakes. Right next to Julie’s is a building from mid-17th-century, its ornately carved façade depicting the five senses — you’d have guessed by now that this is a restaurant as well, a Thai one this time, called Nam Jai, and quite popular too. Temmerman next door is another popular store, where you can buy Ghent speciality sweets such as cuberdons (cone shaped gummy candy also called ‘noses’ because of the shape) and snowballs (melt-in-the-mouth sugary candy).

The Great Butcher’s Hall, or the meat market where you can stock up on sausages and cold cuts to take back home, is another lovely 15th-century building and even today you can see various meats hanging from the ceiling like in the old days. Its high wooden roof is something to marvel at, that is if you can take your eyes off the scandalous display of meat. The store inside is where you can try some of the woody, smoky local ham before you buy some.

My last dinner in Ghent was at the stylish Oude Vismijn, literally translating to the ‘old fish market’, because this was the site of the market in the 17th century. The distinctive gate at the entrance of the market still remains, though inside is a fine dining place full of Ghent’s fashionable people. The freshest seafood, a glass of fine wine, with a side of lovely views of the harbour is on offer — a perfect place to end your holiday.

Travel log

Getting there

Jet Airways flies directly to Brussels, the capital of Belgium, from where you can get to Ghent within an hour by road.


Ghent Marriott, centrally located and opens right onto the port area. http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/gnemc-ghent-marriott-hotel/


Organic food at: www.naturell-gent.be/

Mustard: www.tierenteyn-verlent.be/ and http://ohne.be/gent/

Drink beer: www.gruut.be/en

Cakes: www.julieshouse.be/en

Seafood: www.oudevismijn.be


Take a boat tour on the canal and see the city from the other side. Choose a tour from www.debootjesvangent.be/

Kalyani Prasher is a Delhi-based freelance writer

Published on February 12, 2016

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