When traveling to Belgium the first foods that usually come to mind are the delicious chocolates, fries, waffles and allll the delicious Belgian beer. Well beer isn’t technically a food group by itself but it does kind of qualify as one in Belgium! I lived in Belgium for two years in the city of Leuven while I completed my Master’s in Anthropology. Leuven is a gorgeous, old city located just outside the capital of Brussels. My experience as a vegan in Belgium will always hold a very special place in my heart because I also came into my own while living as a vegan in Belgium. I moved to Belgium as a new vegetarian and so naturally made the transition to veganism while living in my little student apartment and cooking for J and I in our tiny triangle apartment in Belgium.
This is a post from my Vegan European Travel series where I talk about…
- Eating Vegan in Italy;
- Eating Vegan in France;
- Eating Vegan in Belgium; and
- Eating Vegan in Amsterdam (still to come!).
While living in Belgium and discovering the environment around me as a vegan, I did pick up quite a few tips about living and traveling as a a vegan in Belgium, particularly, around navigating menus, restaurants and cultural food-related “norms” in the land of delicious chocolate and beer! Here goes.
Eating at vegan (and non-vegan) restaurants in Belgium
I’ve eaten at all kinds of vegan and non-vegan restaurants in Belgium and always try out new places when I return to visit J’s family and our friends. Eating at non-vegan restaurants in Belgium is also pretty simple with a few of the following tips to keep in mind.
Traditional Belgian fare is pretty meat-centric and typically not-so vegan in my experience – so at restaurants that cater to the more traditional Belgian food (i.e. steak, meat-based stews, etc.), I would recommend to check to see what vegan options are available before being seated. Checking the menu online or calling in advance are generally good ideas when eating at non vegan restaurants in Belgium to see if there are veggie-friendly dishes available. Generally, there will be at least one vegan friendly option on the menu.
One thing that surprised me in Belgium when eating out is that it is not as common to ask for modifications to the menu like it is in North America. So the chefs, in some places, might or might not make vegan modifications for you if there are not any veggie-friendly options already on the menu. Don’t be afraid to speak up and politely ask for modifications – like pasta without the cheese – but know that not all restaurants will be open to making changes to what is on the menu like they often do in Canada and the States.
When eating out, I typically find the option that is most likely to be vegan on the menu and ask the waiter if it can be made without any animal products (like butter, animal fats, fish or eggs) for me. Almost all the restaurants I’ve dined at in Belgium have been pleased to make these vegan accommodations for me.. or even create something off the menu when there isn’t any vegan fare is listed. Here’s a shot of a lovely “off-the-menu” saffron rice and veggie dish the chef specially prepared for me at one of our favourite spots in Leuven for my post-graduation celebration lunch!
Another time when dining with family in Bruges, the chef prepared a lovely curry for me with rice. The daughter of the family-owned restaurant came out and said that the chef was so excited to prepare their first ever vegan meal at their restaurant. The meal was so delicious and beautifully presented, the chef said he’d consider making it a permanent item on their menu! #veganwin
So you see, that with the right approach, many restaurants are able to make vegan accommodations – even when there is not something animal product free on the menu!
There are also more and more veggie-friendly options popping up on menus everywhere. This past Christmas we went out with my in laws for dinner and I was so happily surprised by the vegetarian section of the menu in a traditional Belgian resto in Ghent! Check out those amazing tofu kebabs on rice. Yum!
And… when in doubt, there is usually always a vegetarian pasta meal at almost every Belgian restaurant. If the pasta does have eggs, ask if the chef would be happy to prepare it for you on rice.
At non-traditional Belgian restaurants, there are often many veggie-friendly options to choose from. Veggie sushi, thin crust roasted vegetable pizza and tapas are all fun vegan options to try when seeking out dining options.
Seek out the vegan spots!
And of course, seek out allll the vegan restaurants when traveling as a vegan in Belgium! They are literally so many fun and tasty places to choose from during your travels. More and more vegan restaurants are popping up all over Belgium. Two new restaurants even opened up where I was living right before I finished my program in Leuven.
Or make something at home…
Belgian grocery stores – particularly the local organic shops have so many cool vegan options to choose from. Vegan croquettes, realllly good vegan cheese (bottom left) and even vegan tortellini! If you have a chance, try out some of the vegan products sold in Belgian grocery stores – they won’t disappoint. I may or may not have stocked up on the Monterey Jack Cheese and Tortellini to take home with me to Canada!
You cannot be in Belgium and not notice the infamous “frites” shops. These fry shops, specialize in… Fries (lol) and tons of… well… fried fare. Fries are naturally vegan, yes, but note that most fry shops (and often restaurants as well) use cow or pig fat to fry their food. I always double check that restaurants have indeed used veggie based oil to cook your food! My recommendation would be to seek out vegetarian Frites shops if you are looking to indulge in the Belgian tradition of fries and mayonnaise. We went to the new Loving Hut burger spot in Leuven and tried some veggie versions of Belgian favourites – like bitterballen (creamy fried vegetable balls).
Beer, beer, beer!
You can’t go to Belgium and not indulge in at least one of the thousands of local and artisanal Belgian beers (unless you don’t drink of course and in that case stick to the chocolate). From what I have researched, almost all Belgian beer is vegan and made without any animal products – you can always double check with a quick google search to be certain. One of my favorite things to do in Belgium is to sip on a flavorful beer over a pre-dinner apéritif. My favorite beer of all time is Hoegaarden. And if you are in Leuven, I’d recommend stopping by “The Capital” – a spot with literally thousands upon thousands of beers to try from.
Well chocolate is vegan…. both yes and no. Much of the dark chocolate sold in Belgium is made without any dairy products whatsoever. And the dark chocolate is darn amazing. I ate my fair share of dark chocolate while living in Belgium – believe you-me! I joke with J that he stole my heart through the delicious chocolate and beer Belgium has to offer. When we started dating, Jeroen used to bring me a piece of chocolate everyday. That’s love, lol!
The vegetarian capital of Belgium – Ghent
I couldn’t write this post without mentioning the famous medieval city of Ghent in Belgium. Ghent is simply such a beautiful and vegan friendly city. They even have a city wide meat-free day every Thursday. There are tons of hip and tasty vegetarian places to choose from when visiting this cozy and welcoming city and many restaurants have at least one vegan option on their menu. In the Summer, they have the vegan food festival – I’d love to get there one of these years!
And guys I would love to know – have you been to Belgium – or live in Belgium?!? I would love to know your thoughts, tips and tricks about being a vegan (or vegetarian!) in Belgium in the comments below! Bon voyage!