Brussels has plenty to offer tourists and locals alike, some of the most famous items being chocolate, beer and waffles. Whilst admittedly, it isn’t known for being particularly vegetarian or vegan friendly, in the past year the city has really stepped up into embracing a greener, healthier way of eating.
Where to eat
Although things have certainly improved in Brussels since I moved here, be warned that spontaneous visits to traditional Belgian eateries asking for vegan food will probably result in you being met with a rather confused waiter and told to go elsewhere. In fact, there are even restaurants that don’t have anything vegetarian. Although it is surprising and somewhat alarming that there are places which won’t accommodate alternative diets and lifestyles in 2016, do not be a feared dear reader, as I have put together a selection of vegan-friendly places that will welcome you and feed you until your heart is content!
Pizza Pronto does giant pizzas and the base is as a proper pizza base should be: animal product-free. It is also very reasonably priced for the absolute whopper that you get. NB – if you can’t finish it all, just ask and they’ll pop the remainder in a box for you to take away. I love the Vegetarianna – sans fromage of course.
55, Rue du Marché aux Poulets
Moonfood is 100% vegan, organic and gluten free, and a gentle stroll from Gare Centrale and the Grand Place. It’s a lovely, well-lit space where you can enjoy some of the buffet options or simply just a coffee and a newspaper.
58, Rue des Colonies
Toukoul is an extremely popular Ethiopian restaurant near the Saint Catherine district. If you’ve never tried this type of cuisine before, I can’t recommend it enough, however you really need to make sure you book in advance, especially on Friday/Saturday nights. If there’s two of you (and you’re hungry!) then ask for the platter, but to have all 5 as vegetarian options. Explain that you’re vegan and ask them to cook the vegetables in oil, not butter, and skip the cheese that comes as a side.
1, Rue du Marronnier
Dolma is a lovely vegetarian restaurant in the Ixelles area so if you’re staying in the centre, you’ll need to walk there or go via public transport. Again it’s an idea to book in advance to avoid disappointment because it gets full quickly. It’s buffet service and has plenty of vegan options that are clearly marked.
329, Chaussée d’Ixelles
The Sister is a relatively new eatery is just off the Grand Place and has several, rather delicious, vegan options, and soya milk too. The food is great, the chap who owns it is really friendly, and you can also find gluten-free beer here. Why not try a mini beer tasting for €10 and see which ones become your favourites?
3, Rue Chair et Pain
For a quick bite
Le Pain Quotidien is great if you’re looking for a quick nibble or want to have a coffee with soya milk. They do super tasty vegan muffins here, along with several breakfast, brunch and lunchtime options. The avocado toast really hits the spot!
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert; 11, Rue des Sablons; 124, Avenue Louise
Loving Hut Truck – Every Monday outside the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula there is a fantastic little van that parks up, full of vegan goodies! Plus, you might even run into me there too! Oh, and this is the place to get your vegan waffle fix – ask for it with agave syrup and prepare for some serious taste sensation. I also love the burger with tataar sauce –it’s huge and delicious.
Belgian chocolate – We all know that Belgium is famous for its chocolate, and, granted, a lot of the produce sold in the chocolatiers include milk as an ingredient, but you can still get your hands on some yummy dark chocolate treats. Head to Neuhaus and Mary’s which both have dark chocolate options. Laurent Gerbaud has some really fantastic chocs, with 90% of them suitable for vegans.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert; 2D, Rue Ravenstein
Bon – If you’re in need of something more healthy after a chocolate splurge, Bon has some great smoothies and juices, and also offers soya yogurt and milk too. There are several throughout the city.
Knees to Chin – With two locations in the city, this is one of my favourite places to pick up a delicious lunch or light dinner. Rice paper rolls are fantastic, and I recommend the two vegan options – caramelised tofu and caramelised peppers.
125 Rue de Livourne , 28 Rue de Flandre
Eating out at non-vegan places
As with many international towns and cities, you’ll be able to find vegan-friendly options at ethnic restaurants like Indian, Middle Eastern and Oriental places. The following places do serve meat but also have vegan options:
Fin de Siecle – A typically Belgian restaurant, with all the usual Belgian suspects on the menu, apart from the fact there’s a vegan moussaka! This place is perfect if you’re travelling with people who aren’t vegan and who want to try some local cuisine. Win-win for everyone!
9, Rue des Chartreux
AUP SVP – (pictured above) One of my absolute favourite restaurants in the city, although it is an omnivorous eatery, several times a year they do a Vegan Night, which sell out fast! If there isn’t one at the time of your trip, phone ahead to book a table, ask for Joris and say that you’re vegan – he’ll sort you out (tell him Rachida sent you).
36, Rue de l’Ecuyer
Da KAO II and Le Lotus Bleu – There are lots of Vietnamese restaurants in Brussels, and these are two of my favourites. Depending on your order, remember to ask for your meal without fish or eggs and get ready for a giant portion!
19, Rue Van Artevelde; 70, Rue du Midi
Belgium is officially trilingual, meaning that depending on which part of the country you are in, the local language will be either French, Flemish (similar to Dutch), or German. In Brussels, we speak French, however, as it is the capital of the Flanders Region, you will notice most menus and signs will be in French and Flemish. Naturally, the more touristic places will speak English, but as you wander into the more authentic areas in downtown Brussels, it’s best to be armed with your French vegan essentials, as the level of English varies, and they probably won’t know what ‘vegan’ is.
I am vegan – je suis végétalien/ végétalienne
I don’t eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy – je ne mange pas les viande, les poisson, les oeuf ou les produits laitiers
With soya milk please – avec du lait de soja s’il vous plaît
Please use olive oil and not butter – S’il vous plaît utiliser l’huile d’olive et non du beurre
Without milk – sans lait
Without cheese – sans fromage
Top 5 sites to visit
The Grand Place – In a word: stunning. This is the true, historical heart of Brussels, and it is utterly breath-taking. If you get chance to visit the city in the run up to Christmas, make sure you stroll down to watch the evening light show (usually every half hour until 10pm). Bring your camera!
Manneken Pis – One of the symbols of Brussels, this teeny statue of a weeing boy has over 900 little outfits, and if you’re lucky you might see him dressed up in one. He isn’t too far from the Grand Place, and is one of the things you must see when in town. Don’t forget to take a picture with him!
Sablon (Grand et Petit) – You can happily spend an afternoon here meandering between the antique shops, art galleries and people watching at chic cafés. There are usually weekend markets in the Sablon area, and you can often come away with a cheeky deal! There’s a really cool Italian fashion and art store which also offers a vegan menu too.
Atomium – Another symbol of Brussels, it is outside of the city centre, but easy to get to via public transport or tour buses. With fantastic views of the city, it was constructed for Expo 58, the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. A great day out for families.
Where to stay
Currently, there aren’t any vegan or vegetarian only hotels in Brussels yet, however, just a few weeks ago the first eco-friendly hotel opened up in the centre: Hotel Agora. Although they don’t offer breakfast (but you can head to Pain Quotidien a couple of minutes away!) the hotel uses rainwater for flushing the toilets, solar panels provide hot water and heating and all toiletries and cleaning products are eco-friendly too.
Getting to Brussels
To get to Brussels you can either fly or go on the Eurostar (which is my preferred method). It is usually cheaper to fly and if you head to Skycanner.net or Google Flights you can find some very reasonable flights to Charleroi Airport. Note, this airport is actually a 45-minute drive from Brussels, and you will need to arrange a transfer to the city centre. Book your shuttle ticket in advance from www.brussels-city-shuttle.com/en#/ and you’ll only spend €14 compared to over €20 if you pay on the day at the kiosk. You’ll be dropped off at Gare du Midi, and, assuming you’ll be staying in the historical centre of the city, you’ll need to get a train from here to Gare Centrale. The journey is only 5 minutes, and the trains run frequently. There is a more central Brussels airport, however typically flights from the UK into it are very expensive.
Although more pricey, the Eurostar does offer deals occasionally, and is especially good if you’re based in and around London, or wish to travel with a little more luggage than your flight will allow. It only takes 2 hours to get to Gare du Midi from London St Pancras, and if you travel to Gare Centrale your Eurostar ticket will cover your train journey.
This article, written by Rachida Brocklehurst, was first published in Vegan Food and Living Magazine.