Vacation time is not the time to think about diets. It’s time to enjoy life and splurge on calories. Flanders, the northern part of Belgium, is the perfect place to feast on real fool. You can dine, slurp and drown in butter, cream and farm fresh food.

Start by snacking on the memorable Belgian frites (friturs) served in a cone and popularly dipped in mayonnaise; they have a unique flavour, as they are fried in a special blend of beef and horse fat. Interestingly for the growing Muslim population, some fry stands have switched to vegetable oil, so make sure you are getting the vrai fries when you buy them.

The Flemish air is permeated with the aroma of chocolate, since every street sports a chocolate shop, and you won’t be able to resist for very long. Don’t worry about putting on any weight – the cities are beautiful and very walkable, so you will work off those calories all day long. We both lost about five pounds on our trip.

Flanders is small enough that you can hop on the train from city to city (Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent or Bruges) in an hour or so and be able to get a good taste of each one. We were able to eat well in all of these restaurants with a budget of 30 Euros per person for dinner.

Chez Leon is located on touristy rue des Bouchers in Brussels, with the Vanlancker family satisfying customers for 118 years. They have large shareable portions and do mussels 19 different ways, from buttery garlicky pizza-y topped ones to nutmeg or curry flavorings. You could try the authentic waterzooi (yummy stew) or rabbit or turkey made in frieke (raspberry beer).

The extensive and reasonably priced menu goes on to sea bream omelets or liege salad with beans potatoes and bacon. Wash it all down with Leon house beer.

We sampled half en half, a Brussels specialty made from half white wine and half champagne at the ornately gorgeous Taverne Cirio. You might want to try Cantillon Brewery’s lambic beers like kriek and gueuze, which are unchanged since the brewery was founded over a century ago. We both loved the Tripel Karmeliet from Buggenhoot, which has hints of banana, vanilla and bubblegum (sounds awful – tastes great). You’ll be torn deciding whether to sit inside and absorb the antiquity or savor the drinks on the patio. Beer drinking is so serious here that beers are served in their own signature glasses.

If you’re a serious beer drinker, then head for the Délirium Café ( located in an alley near the Jeanneke Pis (Mannekin Pis’ sister) statue, which has been listed in the Guinness World Records for serving 2,004 brands of beer from 60 countries. It’s hard to miss, since there are pink elephant symbols above the doorway.

A highlight was our pitstop at Laurent Gerbaud’s chocolate shop. Gerbaud was sent to the Shanghai World Expo to show off the sweet talents of Belgium. After arriving, he discovered that the Chinese were not used to so much sugar; he revised his recipes and started to work on tart and bitter tastes.

He mixes South African Barrrydale apricots, Persian cranberries, Turkish figs, pepper, spicy ginger or orange peel with dark dark 70 % chocolate from Madagascar and Ecuador. His salute to Belgians’ love for specoloos (gingerbread) is to roll a truffle in the crumbs. We see him as a chocolate “pusher”, for once you get addicted to his intense flavor combos; it is very hard to go back to sweetened chocolate.

When was the last time you ate in a restaurant in a building that was built in 1554? In De Groote Witte Arend ( in Antwerp, you can soak up the atmosphere of the old merchant house/ monastery/ school or eat in the secluded cool courtyard. Two brothers who run this spot offer a Belgium beer tasting menu, with each course paired with a beer. You can try baked eel, rabbit with Westmulle beer or the comfort food named stomp, made with ham, leeks and chopped egg in thick mashed potatoes. A yummy fish stew is made with a creamy dill broth with mushrooms, green beans, lima beans and sluimerwten (pea pods). A thick tart tatin a la mode would finish it all off quite nicely.

In Bruges, the elegant Flemish/French Maria van Bourgondie restaurant is housed in what had been a brewery and then a school supply store. It has the same owners as the fancy Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel, where the movie “In Bruges” was filmed.

Here we were introduced to the little grey shrimps popular in Belgium and the special tender Charolais Belgian breed of “white” steak. Flemish beef stew is made here with Rodenbach beer, or you can eat lighter on fish, mussels, or lobster. French influences abound, with foie gras paté appetizers and crème brûlée finale.

Our favorite restaurant by far was in Ghent – the Michelin listed restaurant t’Pakhuis (, which takes the concept of farm right to table so seriously that they bought the farm – in Bresse, France. So now they breed and serve famous and flavourful Bresse chickens, guinea fowl, Hampshire down lambs and Bayeux pigs. From home in Belgium, they get special tomatoes, their herbs, and even “lost and forgotten” vegetables.

Located in a former ironworks factory with painted cast-iron pillars and a soaring wrought-iron balcony now filled with light from the huge roof skylight, the noisy chattering happy diners, both inside and out, might be enjoying the beers and fancy cocktails at the bar or on the large terrace.

And the food – my liver screamed for mercy, but my mouth was bathed in smiles. Though you could start with a lighter lobster soup or beef Carpaccio, if you dare, the foie gras plate had the most generous hunk of silky foie we have ever encountered, accompanied by sage apple cream and dates. Had I stopped there, it would have been a perfect dinner.

But we ventured on to the grilled duck breast in pea cream with baby veggies and mashies that were so smoothly whipped that they could have been served for a dessert sorbet. The asparagus risotto with lemon butter was so yummy that it alone could turn me into a vegetarian.
We might have ended the meal with a locally favorite flavor, gingerbread, in cheesecake with vanilla sauce or gone lightly with some sorbets, but we took it to the max with a silky crème brûlée. Sigh.

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