There’s no tradition of BYOB (bring your own beverage) in Belgian restaurants. It’s not done.
All restaurants serve alcohol (I know only one in Belgium which doesn’t and that’s the Loving Hut in Leuven).
It’s hard to find wines or beers labelled with a vegan logo. You may find some in the organic shops. If you really want to be sure you won’t be drinking a glass of wine that’s been filtered with animal products, just don’t drink any alcohol or check out the brand on barnivore.com.
These beers are commonly served in Belgian pubs and are vegan (as we last checked on barnivore, so don’t shoot us if it would have changed meanwhile!) :
– stella, maes, cristal, de coninck, palm, hoegaarden, vedett, leffe, liefmans fruit beers
– brugse zot, duvel, omer, la chouffe
– westmalle, west-vleteren, chimay, la trappe, orval
Being vegan, of course you know that animal epxloitation is all around you: food in restaurants and shops, fur and leather for clothing, animal ingredients in cosmetics and so on. There’s no escaping being confronted with those.
Bruges also has these specific tourist attractions that exploit animals:
- Boudewijn Seapark: shows with dolphins, seals and also birds of prey, located just outside the city center. Animal rights organisation Bite Back holds regular protest action demaning the closure of this park. Check out the facebookpage of Bite Back if you want to see when the next scheduled protest action will be held.
- Horse carriages in the streets: departure at the market or the Burg, to take tourists around to see the highlights of Bruges. Bruges is famous for its medieval architecture, but we sure wish this medieval practice would be religated to history.
Be aware that feeding the birds and other wild animals in Bruges is prohibited. So you can be fined for feeding the geese and ducks in the canals, the doves, sparrows, and also stray cats. Even when hell has frozen over and they have nothing to eat.
French fries are actually BELGIAN Fries! Belgian Fries are part of Belgian culinary and cultural heritage. Maybe you think you are safe with frites, because they are just fried potatoe pieces, right? Fail! Traditionally, in Belgium frites are baked in ox-fat (beef fat). So nothing vegan about it. It’s a traditional, cultural thing. In the neighbouring Netherlands for example, frites are most often fried in vegetable oil. Some restos or frietkoten (outdoor stalls selling Fries and snacks) do bake in vegetable oil. Check before ordering to be sure.
- Animal rights organisation Bite Back sometimes organises activities in Bruges, for example asking for the closure of Boudewijn Seapark. See Bite Back’s facebook page for upcoming activities.
- EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative) has a local branch in Bruges, and holds potlucks, picnics, and informative activities. See the Facebookpage of EVA Brugge for upcoming activities. Note that potlucks & picnics are not fully vegan but mixed vegetarian and vegan.
- Brugs Alternatief Forum offers a platform for anyone interested in offering an alternative for current day society. Main principles are respect, equality, solidarity and freedom.
- W2 has a ‘give away shop’ and organise different activities. W2 offers vegan ‘volkskeukens’ every 3rd Saturday of the month, on two locations. 3€ pp.
- Uitgezonderd organises vegan people’s kitchens every 1st Saturday of the month at Koersepeerd or Zandberg, with a screening of a documentary or another activity (3€ or 5€).
Bruges is situated in the Flemish part of Belgium, so most people speak Flemish (a kind of Dutch). Although restaurants and hotels will of course try to reply to you in any language if they can, speaking French will not be appreciated by some people. It’s a historical/political thing which is far to complicated to explain here! (but then again of course some people will not mind if you speak French).
Most staff in restaurants, hotels, pubs speak or at least understand English very well. So sticking to English is probably the safest and easiest way to go. Or you can also try to learn some Flemish. Oe ist? (how are you doing?), ik ben veganist (I am vegan), a pintje astenbleef (a pint please), de rekening astenbleef (the bill please), a bottle water (a bottle of water) will already put you on track!
It’s safest to make a reservation, especially in the weekend. Some restaurants have some standard vegan options, but others want to know in advance. Anyway, its always safest to explictly state that you request a vegan menu upon making the reservation, and spell out what that means.
Some restaurants – especially the more ‘upclass’ ones, for example with Michelin stars – only serve one specific menu on Saturday evening. So it could be that although they are willing to serve a vegan menu on other moments, vegans are not catered for on Saturday evening.
Again, it’s safest to call in advance and inquire about it. These are the typs of restaurants that you need to make a reservation for in advance anyway.
Smoking is not allowed inside restaurants, pubs, public buildings, … But it is still allowed on the outer terrace of restaurants and pubs. Many places now have ‘roofed’ and sheltered terraces, often with high energy consuming heaters in Winter time. Is it inside or outside? It’s a thin line. But just so you know, when taking place on a terrace to take in that extra bit of vitamine D from the sun, you could have to endure the fumes of your smoking neighbour. Or maybe you are precisely thrilled to find out that you can still have puff on terraces whil enjoying your meal!
Most restaurants in Belgium don’t offer tapwater. In the US, it’s standard practice to get a glass of (iced) tap water for free. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen in Belgian restaurants. Asking for a glass of water means you are ordering bottled water, and the price is about the same as lemonade or other non-alcoholic beverages. In most restaurants, you can also order a larger bottle of water (50 or 7C cl), sparkling or non-sparkling.
You could try to ask for tap water, but – together with the fact that you are ordering a vegan menu, that would mean they totally think you come from another planet! Planet Veganus!
In bars, cafes, pubs and restaurants in Belgium, service and taxes are included in listed prices. You do not have to tip the staff, but a small fee is of course appreciated. Tipping is rather unusual if you have only ordered a drink in a pub or tea-room. Some people do leave a tip for the waiting staff in restaurants, but not in the same amounts as in countries where staff depend on fees for a living (meaning, far less than 10 to 15% of the total fee). Depending on the total amount, you could leave 1-2 euro. But again, you can also just pay the listed fee and not leave a tip and that’s okay.
Is it possible that some restaurants ‘cheat’ on you and knowingly sneak in animal ingredients in your meals? Or despite our questions and statements about what vegans do and don’t eat, they ‘forget’ that gelatine comes from an animal and put some honey in the sauce?
Of course we hope not, but we cannot rule it out. Just saying that it’s not because we have had a good experience in a restaurant, it is absolutely 100% vegan proof. You can never rule out honest mistakes or deliberate cheating. When dining out, it all comes down to trust and confidence, vegan or not vegan.
If you have any bad experiences in any of the restaurants we have listed or visited, please also post on our blog, so other are also aware of them. And we can confront them with this info upon our next visit! Of course we also would love to hear your positive experiences!
Having a drink on the terraces on the market place (at the Belfry). Really. We did it once and paid more than we paid in some cafés in Paris for drinks. But if you think the view and the atmosphere on the market place are worth it, of course you can go for it!