Belgium Calls: To Avalon We Go (Gent)
Spending the latter part of summer in Belgium – land of chocolate, frites and beer – was necessary in order to recharge and escape the hot box of Cairo. While many can handle 40+ degree heat without blinking an eye, I’m not one of them. Moving between air conditioned indoors and “someone is shoving a hair dryer in my face on full blast” outdoors has its drawbacks, and I find it’s nice to be reminded that grey skies, puddles of rain and the need to wear a cardigan in the evenings isn’t all that bad.
For those who haven’t dined in Belgium it’s – by and large – a fantastic experience. Aside from being rightfully known for their beer and chocolate, Belgian cuisine is surprisingly refined and it’s the European country where I’ve had some of my best meals. I schlepped over to Flanders for two days to see Leonard Cohen in concert (finally!) and visit friends in the historically-rich and vibrant university town of Gent. There’s a couple places in Gent I’ve eaten at over the years where the food was so good I was close to tears, so I figured it was time to find some new spots to frequent. Before hopping on the train back to Brussels I came across a place I had never been to before by the name of Avalon, which is located on Geldmuntstraat just a few short minutes from the city centre.
My friends, who enjoy good food as much as the next person, were interested in giving it a try as it’s known for its organic + vegetarian dishes that are made with fresh, seasonal and locally sourced items. Avalon prides itself on having a kitchen where 95% of the ingredients are organic, cleaning products are environmentally friendly and sustainable eco-materials were used to decorate the restaurant’s rustic interior. Not only is the food organic, but a portion of the restaurant’s proceeds is given to local charities and organizations that support sustainable environmental and health practices in Gent and the surrounding area.
What’s that? Feeding my belly AND supporting the local economy? Total bang for my buck (er…Euro).
It was clearly a popular place on a sunny and warm afternoon, so we sat in the garden where clientele of all ages gathered to lunch with friends and family. We ordered juice, coffee and kombucha upon arrival, and enjoyed the intimate and friendly feel of the place. The wooden chairs, benches and tables made it feel as if you popped over to a friend’s backyard for a bite, and the greenery – down to the spices and herbs being cultivated for consumption that were fixed on the wall – was a perfect decorative touch.
I started with a perfectly-portioned miso soup (tasted as miso should, was 100% enjoyable) and went on to tuck into some homemade falafels accompanied by a plate full of greens that included a mix of broccoli, grilled vegetables, beets, couscous and a slightly astringent vinaigrette on the side. I pawned the couscous off to one of my friends in exchange for some radishes and differently prepared falafel. When our mains arrived we were became eerily quiet for a few minutes as we chose instead to focus on our food, which we raved about…to each other, to other patrons, to other friends (after we left the place of course). Though the vegetarian aspect might put off a Dukan Diet or hard-core meat eater, there’s enough items to choose from (soups, pasta, lasagne, salads and desserts) and given the quality of the food…it’s worth forgoing meat for one meal. The portion sizes are generous without being over the top and the staff is fantastic at helping with clarifying things that get lost in translation and pointing you in the right direction if what you ordered is loaded with allergens (this mainly applies to gluten since the kitchen is not big on using dairy).
What popped into my mind as we finished eating was how easy it is to forget how simple food can be totally awesome, and that it’s perfectly possible to still be creative in making food that looks and tastes good without using dietary staples such as dairy, wheat or excess sugars.
I wanted to order something else, but was completely full, so I backed down and instead whiled away the rest of the early afternoon in that garden with something sweet (latte, tea + espresso were served alongside a small bowl of vegan chocolate mousse…sinfully good) and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my face, the breeze on my back and the smell of more perfectly cooked falafels coming off of the kitchen stovetop.
Let me reiterate: total bang for my buck.