If you’re new to Ghent then you’ll want to get stuck into some of the delicious local cuisine with a night out in a typical Belgian restaurant. Getting your lips around some of the words on the menu might be easier said than done. And – like anywhere in the world – there are some do’s and don’t’s that you should be aware of before you sit down. Read on for our guide to dining out in Ghent.
‘Belgian’ food takes a fair amount of influence from both French and Dutch cuisine, and it’s not just about steak and mussels, as most travel guides might lead you to believe. Here are some of the other things you might expect to see on a menu in Ghent:
- Typical starters can include cheese or prawn croquettes, or Gentse kop – a local speciality made from pig’s head.
- For mains you’ll probably come across things like stoverij (beef slowly stewed in beer), vol-au-vent (chicken in a creamy sauce with puff pastry), Gentse waterzooi (a creamy chicken or fish broth that’s actually from the city) or balletjes (meatballs) in tomato sauce.
- Witloof (endive) – often baked in the oven – and asperges (asparagus, typically white rather than green) are common accompaniments, but most heavier dishes come with a side salad.
- A typical dessert menu might feature moelleux (a hot chocolate pudding with a molten centre) as well as a range of ice cream-related desserts (often preceded by the French ‘coupe’ on the menu).
If you’re getting a side of frieten (fries), expect a large bowl to arrive for the whole table, rather than individual portions on your plate. Sometimes you might have to ask for mayonnaise if you’ve already opted for a ‘saucy’ dish. But best of all, even if you haven’t finished the bowl (but they’ve gone a bit cold), most restaurants will bring you free refills. While we’re on the topic of frieten, avoid using the term French fries. If you do, be prepared for a history lesson from your Belgian friends: ‘French fries’ was actually coined by American soldiers stationed in Belgium during the First World War (when the official language was French).
- Dining in Belgium can be a long affair compared to other countries. Don’t be surprised if you’re only asking for the bill at 10 or 11pm.
- Many restaurants are closed in the afternoons, to save costs and let one chef work the lunch and dinner in the same day, so don’t leave lunch until too late!
- Even in Ghent, you should still consider booking a few days in advance for weekend dining. Eating out with friends and family is almost considered a sport here.
- As a lot of restaurants in Ghent are family run, don’t expect them to open all year round. Many restaurants take a week or two off both after the Gentse Feesten in the summer, and after New Year.
- Some smaller restaurants don’t accept cards, so always have cash on you. Conversely, some of Ghent’s newest (read: trendiest) restaurants won’t accept cash.
- While lots of restaurants will bring you the chip and PIN machine to your table now, they’re still not very keen on taking a transaction per person as is now customary in other European countries. Look out for ‘één rekening per tafel’ (one bill per table) on some of the bigger, busier restaurants’ websites/menus.
- Tipping isn’t required in Ghent. It’s nice to round up if you’ve been especially impressed, but the common 10-15% rule does not apply here. In fact, if you are in a big group, it can sometimes be considered a bit showy to casually drop an extra 50 euros on the table.
Good to know
- It’s custom on a Friday or Saturday night to have an aperitif first. Often restaurants offer a ‘house aperitif’.
- Set menus are very popular in the traditional restaurants (as opposed to international dining). They tend to be updated every month with whatever is in season, and include 3 or 4 courses. Often you can also add accompanying wines where you get to try a different wine per course.
- Asking for tap/iced water isn’t really the done thing. Unfortunately you’ll need to pay for bottled water in most restaurants and it can be pricey – around 7 euros for a large bottle.
- A lot of the fine dining restaurants will start you off with an amuse-bouche – there is no extra charge for this small appetizer.
- ‘A volonté’ is a common phrase – it means ‘all you can eat’, and yes – it can get competitive. Ribs and Sunday brunches tend to be à volonté, but you’ll see it for other things too.
- Don’t ever snap your fingers to get the attention of a waiter or waitress. They consider it extremely rude, and will be extremely rude back…
- If you’re into your fine dining then on the Resto.be website you can search for a list of Michelin-star restaurants in East Flanders.
- For more information on dining out in Ghent, take a look at the Ghent Foodie Tour from Visit Gent.
Have you experienced anything different about dining out in Ghent compared to other countries you’ve lived in? Let us know in the comments section below so that we can share here.
Last updated: September, 2018