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Traveling to Belgium

Hi everyone, my girlfriend and I are going on a 3 month Eastern European trip this July. We are in the planning phase of how many days in each country (and city). This is our first trip to Belgium, so we really want to get to know the culture. We are both young Chefs that really would like to learn and experience the food culture. We plan on stopping in Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, and Ghent. Can anyone suggest how many days in each city would be enough to get to experience the culture and food scene.

Any other tips or insight would be amazing... we are also planning to spend some time in the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.

Thank you!!

Adam

Posted by
8889 posts

Adam (+important GF), Your question is a bit too vague. "how many days in each city", Europe is a big continent, you should investigate local cuisine more, otherwise it is impossible to answer your question. Cuisine is local, 50 or 100 miles away can be totally different. But, there is a lot to experience.

"Eastern European trip .... This is our first trip to Belgium" - Geography problem. Belgium is not Eastern Europe.

"3 month .... trip" - You have not filled in your profile, so I don't know your nationality. But, for most non-European nationalities you are limited to 90 days in any 180" for the Schengen area, which is most of Europe. 90 days is less than 3 months.

Posted by
20599 posts

I know, I know, - I am sure you have this covered but the longest you can stay is 90 days - not three months. In fact I would shorten to 85 days or so, just in case you need an extra day or day because of delays. It can be very expensive to stay an extra day. Also make sure you understand the difference between eastern and western Europe. You said you are going for three months in eastern Europe but all of the places you have mentioned are in western Europe. Maybe it would helpful for you to get a map of Europe and put some pins in it.

Posted by
1294 posts

If you plan to limit your time to the four cities you listed, you are better off picking one or two of them for a base, as they are all easily accessible via train. I personally think Ghent makes the best base for visiting the other three, as you can get direct trains from Ghent to each of the other three. It feels like an authentic place where people live and work. (You can only get from Antwerp to Bruges via Ghent or from Brussels to Bruges through Ghent.) If you want to select an additional base, any of the others would be fine, though Brussels and Antwerp are more accessible via train to international destinations.

I would say 5-6 days (7 at the most) out of a 3-month vacation would be good. If you want more time to sample the cuisine, you could stretch that, but it depends on what other activities you're interested in.

Posted by
5 posts

I apologize.. I met Western Europe.. and let me give a little more detail.. My girlfriend and I are going on birthright to Israel for 10 days. We extended our trip and have a return date Sept 9th. Our trip with the program ends the July 19th, so after we plan on exploring Europe. Our focus is on Belgium, Netherlands, Spain and Italy.

For it being our first time in Belgium, we plan on doing some of the touristy things, like museums and sightseeing, but want to experience the great food culture Belgium has to offer. I know my question was vague, but as this being my first time, I was hoping to get some insight from people that have been there before and have done what I would like to do. If there I have done my research and have read by food bloggers that Antwerp is the city to go to for foodies. I really have not found anything about smaller, more cultured cities, hence why I posted this post asking for insight.

Posted by
5 posts

Can anyone suggest other cities that I may have overlooked during my research. Are there more food cultured cities/towns that I should look into?

Posted by
1453 posts

Food culture is a very broad concept as it is not limited to restaurants, it is more the role as a whole food plays in daily life. I live a few km from Belgium so have an idea what Belgians keeps busy in general, but nevertheless still learning.

So if you only visit restaurants in cities I think you will not really get in touch enough with their food culture, it is just too limited, basically you can go to anywhere in Belgium. For Belgians in general most important is that the food and the whole eating experience “ambience” is good and pleasant. It doesn’t matter where that restaurant is, it can be in the middle of nowhere at the countryside or in lesser attractive parts of a place or a city, the popular places have a very loyal clientele and willing to travel a lot for enjoying their beloved dish. Like Philippine is a well known village for eating mussles and Belgians come from everywhere even if they can eat them as a matter of speaking next door. It is not uncommon bakeries welcome customers of other villages if their pastery is better, so resulting in intense competition and so enhancing quality.

Best to my opinion is to have or to make friends in Belgium who are willing to bring you to their favorite restaurant or “stammineeke” (cafe/eatery) and so getting introduced in the inner circle of their food culture. It is not only eating, but also enjoying the atmosphere, discussing food, how it is prepared, what to drink, favorite beers etc. Guess it is not the case now so you can try contacting tourists offices if they offer tours by locals who like to do that.

In Bruges just at the west side of the railway station is Ter Groene Poorte, one of the best and most prestigious schools for gastronomy in Belgium, it has several restaurants run by students and offer good value for the money meals around noon every schoolday. Good opportunity to get some tips and have a chat about food. E-mail: info@tergroenepoorte.be

Try housed in a former chapel the recently opened Holy Food Market in Ghent.

Good luck!

Posted by
4684 posts

I've been to Belgium a few times, and I wouldn't say that it's particularly known for fine dining. Their food is certainly better than the Netherlands, but how did you pick Belgium? Do you have a budget for dining out? I would have thought you'd concentrate on France or Spain or Italy.

I've found the food in Belgium to be ethnically diverse, depending on the background of the chef. The Great Recession has not entirely lifted from Europe, which affects dining patterns.

Posted by
5 posts

One of the reasons we are focusing on Belgium, is because one of the goals of this trip is to see if we want to move aboard. Our dream is to move to Europe of an extended period of time (5+ years) . After speaking with friends that lived aboard and speaking with old professors at Culinary School, we were suggested to look into the Dutch part of Europe. Specifically, Belgium. In Belgium, mostly everyone speaks English, they have a large fusion of cuisines, many open markets, and would make us feel the most comfortable living in another country.

Thoughts anyone?

Posted by
4684 posts

I guess it's less complex since the EU was formed, but wouldn't your ability to get residence and work permits figure into your selection of destinations to try out? You don't (?) currently have the right to take a job in Belgium or anywhere else. Maybe if you're just beginning your search, and you have the money put away for this trip, it's not so important yet. I'd repeat, do you have a dining-out budget, or are you on a shoestring? Thanks for providing the additional information - I wonder if it's wise to put all your eggs in the Belgium basket. How reliable is the advice you've collected.

If you've been to culinary school, I'm sure you have a realistic perspective on beginning a career in the kitchen. I would observe that, for better or worse, English is much more prevalent all over Europe than it was twenty years ago. Now, if you meet a 60-year old chef, he may speak a little English, and that grudgingly. But people under 35 speak quite a lot of English. (Are you aware of the Dutch/French political split in Belgium ... ?) As in the U.S., there are jobs that require less education, like bus driving and train ticket sales, and you can encounter people who don't speak English doing those jobs. But if you are going to be a success in a European country, you should plan to, over time, become comfortable, if not proficient, in the local language. It's a question of individual ... credibility (?) BTW, I'd remind you that waiters in the U.S. can buy published books on "Kitchen Spanish".

Posted by
4637 posts

"In Belgium, mostly everyone speaks English."
This statement is correct but only in northern part of Belgium where they speak Dutch. In the southern part (south Brussels) where they speak French it's different - almost nobody speaks English.
How many days to each of your Belgium cities? I would start with two, if you like it you can afford to add days.

Posted by
23402 posts

There are two distinct countries in Belgium - the land of the Walloons and the land of the Flemish. You will hear much less English in the Walloon areas.

You shouldn't count on being able to get by and improve in just English - you need to learn the language where you will be living. Flemish and Dutch are very similar but distinctively different.

Posted by
1453 posts

Adamr927 you are pretty well informed by your friends and old professors. I have had in the meanwhile a chat with my nephew who learned the trade at Ter Groene Poorte in Bruges and is thanks to that nowadays a chef of a well visited middle class restaurant and he says that Belgium, more specifically Flanders is the place to go and well for the next reason.

So why Flanders? Maybe other countries like France are the iconic places for gastronomy, but it is more for their famous products like wines, cheeses etc. but they are also (a bit) chauvenistic, the focus is more on their own (ofcourse further excellent) kitchen. Belgium, actually more Flanders is not so well known for iconic products (ok their beers) but there strong point is that they have an open mind for European cuisine (and beyond) as a whole and are experts in combining the best of it and they belong to the very top how to prepair food, so they can cook actually without limitations, so with maximum room for creativity for getting the best result.

For instance the French can be proud about their Limousin meat, but the best steak comes from Germany and the Belgians prepair it for instance with the best (French) Bearnaise sauce, so combining the best of two nations just for getting the most tasty meal possible. So Belgians are not so much bothered by a biased approach and for that have in general the best knowledge / overview of the European kitchen.

If you draw a horizontal line on the Belgian map just a bit south of (bilingual) Brussels everything north is actually Dutch / Flemish speaking Flanders, everything south is French speaking Wallonia. From time to time there is a serious tension between the two because of the language.

Flanders is considerably richer and people there are in general better educated as in Wallonia and has definately a food culture. The Flemish are very well willing to fork out the cash for a tasty meal with lesser consideration about costs. Food has traditionally a serious place in daily family life and there is where culture begins. Aslo I am sure there is no real reason to be afraid of bad communication in English even with some elderly people, maybe not always without an accent or as polished as it should be, but good enough to explain how everything works. In Wallonia as said already way lesser people can speak decent English there, but is anyway not the region to recommend.

Dutch and Flemish language are very similar, but there are some differences that can lead to (sometimes funny) misunderstandings. Mentality is also different, the Dutch are more rational and have also a more moralistic approach to life and food traditionally must be in general functional, nutricious, not too expensive so no thrills. Belgians have a more Mediterranaen temperament, are more materialistic and food is part of their “Burgundian” lifestyle, you will learn what that means as soon as you know them better.

Many Michelin star chefs have had their education at Ter Groene Poorte, among several with 3 stars and the institute is even regularly hired in for catering the Royal Family.

It is not my intention to push you, but in short for learning the skills I would take Belgium / Flanders serious and I pm my nephews e-mail address to you, he can explains very well what to do without being biased and says is willing to help you further. Finally nowadays there must be Flemish restaurants in New York, so contact them and talk about what interests you for getting more insight and tips. So hopefully you can get a better idea how, where to start and to meet the right people to built up your network as it remains obviously a jump in the unknown.

Good luck!