Saturday, April 28, 2012

Waterzooi in Ghent

On a clear winter day, the tips of the medieval spires and gables of Ghent glint under the sun’s low rays and the gilded skyline is freeze-framed in the mirror-still waters of the canals and rivers. Shoppers bustle among the busy streets and market squares, pausing at lunchtime for a warming dish of waterzooi, a creamy white stew that’s Belgium’s comfort food par excellence.

The Leie River forms a picturesque mini-port at the heart of medieval Ghent, surrounded by grand buildings that demonstrate the city’s historic importance as a center of crafts and manufacturing. The soaring town belfry, muscular Gravensteen Castle, and grave Gothic churches give way at the riverside to the imposing guildhouses, magnificent examples of Renaissance architecture.
Tucked away in the 14th-century St-Baafskathedraal lies one of the great masterpieces of northern European art – The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a huge, multi-paneled altarpiece painted in around 1432 by Jan van Eyck and his brother Hubrecht.

The “old town” quarter of Patershol offers some of the best options for eating and drinking in Ghent
But Ghent also has a newer face. It was the first Belgian city to industrialize, initially around the textile trade. The beguiling Patershol district was the old Left Historic guildhouses of Graslei Street, on the banks of the Leie weavers’ quarter, but once industrialization got under way, Ghent began to acquire the grander adornments of a successful European city, with theaters, a fine opera house, and a respected university.
River links to the North Sea made Ghent into a prosperous trading city during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the ingredients of its signature dish, waterzooi, reflect this history. This creamy stew uses the produce of the surrounding rural landscape, but its spices and wine were classic trading goods of the Middle Ages. Pieces of fish or chicken are poached gently in a cream-laden broth flavored with julienned leeks, shallots, carrots, celery, and white wine, and scented with parsley, saffron, pepper, and bay leaves. Waterzooi was originally cooked with river fish, but today it is usually made with fish from the North Sea, such as cod, turbot, monkfish, halibut, scallops, or shrimp.
Waterzooi is essentially simple and unpretentious; the name itself brings together the word “water” and a derivative of kooksel, “something cooked.” But quality ingredients and the deft skills of the cook can also bring to it a smooth elegance. Said to have been the favorite dish of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor born here in 1500, it is – like the city itself – both down-to-earth and sophisticated; a heartwarming dish that has long been a favorite of peasants and kings.
Best Places toEat Waterzooi

Creamy-white waterzooi fish stew includes delicate spices traded in Ghent since the Middle Ages 
Bij den Wijzen en den Zot
Waterzooi is treasured as a home-cooked dish, often made to grandmother’s cherished recipe, so it is not easy to find in restaurants, even in Ghent. You have to seek out the kind of welcoming, unpretentious restaurants that take pride in specializing in traditional Flemish dishes, such as Bij den Wijzen en den Zot. As suggested by its curious name – “At the House of the Wise Man and the Fool” – this is a restaurant full of character. It is set in the folksy Patershol area and occupies a beautiful 16th-century, step-gabled building that was formerly the guildhouse of the leatherworkers. The food is traditional Flemish cuisine, with dishes such as gentse stoverij (Ghent beef stew) made with Westmalle beer. They serve an award-winning waterzooi here, embellished with other seafood such as mussels and Dublin Bay prawns.
Hertogstraat 42, Ghent; open noon–1:30 PM and 6:30–9:30 PM Tue–Sat;
Also in Ghent
Two other restaurants in Ghent regularly have waterzooi on the menu. ’t Klokhuys (www.; inexpensive), also in the Patershol district, is a charming, brasserie-style restaurant with wooden tables set out beneath exposed beams. Brasserie ’t Stropke (www.; inexpensive), lying close to the Gravensteen Castle, is in a similar mold.
Also in Belgium
To find waterzooi elsewhere in Belgium, you need to look for restaurants that are not ashamed of presenting “home-cooked” dishes. In Brussels, Aux Armes de Bruxelles (; expensive) is unusual for being a first-class, traditional Belgian restaurant in the Rue des Bouchers, where most restaurants are touristy and to be avoided. In Bruges, try the Gran Kaffee de Passage (; inexpensive), a wonderfully atmospheric, candlelit restaurant that serves well-priced traditional Belgian dishes.
Around the World
The Belga Café (; moderate) in Washington, DC, prides itself on its authentic Belgian flavors and atmosphere. In New York, Waterzooi Belgian Bistro (www.; moderate) enriches its signature dish with lobster, mussels, and clams.
It’s a similar seafood bonanza at the Leuven Belgian Beer Café (; moderate) in Wellington, New Zealand.
A Day in Ghent
All the main sights are within easy walking distance of the historic downtown, but the main art museums are in the Citadelpark in the south of the city, a tram-ride away.
 Start with St-Baafskathedraal and a pilgrimage to Jan van Eyck’s glorious painting, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. A short walk past the Belfort (belfry) and Gothic St-Niklaaskerk will lead you to the Graslei and Korenlei, where medieval and Renaissance guildhouses line the old river port. The Groot Vleeshuis, a medieval butcher’s hall, showcases regional food specialties.
Head for the cutting-edge museum of contemporary art, SMAK, or the nearby Museum voor Schone Kunsten, which has an impressive collection of pre-20th-century art.
 For tickets at the Vlaamse Opera in the evening, you have to book well in advance; if this is impossible, head back to the old downtown for a stroll in Patershol district and a supper of waterzooi.

What to Drink
Belgium is famous for the quality of its beer, with dozens of small, traditional breweries, numerous brands and labels, and a huge range of flavors and alcoholic strengths. The most celebrated beers are made by five Trappist monasteries, including Chimay and Westmalle. One good place to sample the range is the pub called Dulle Griet (, which is packed with character and beer memorabilia, and serves over 250 kinds of Belgian beer. Less well-known is Belgian jenever, a traditional and well-crafted form of gin, drunk straight or in its many flavored versions – lemon, apple, vanilla, hazelnut, and more. Try this at ’t Dreupelkot (www.dreupelkot. be), a cherished institution that offers 200 different flavors.

Getting to Ghent
The nearest international airport is Brussels (Zaventem), 37 miles (60 km) away. Ghent’s main train station, Sint-Pieters, is near the Citadelpark, a tram-ride from downtown. The city has an excellent tram and bus network.
Where to stay in Ghent
Flandria (inexpensive) is a small, family-oriented central hotel.
Erasmus (moderate) is a delightful small hotel in a 16th-century house filled with antiques.
NH Gent Belfort (expensive) offers elegant, international-style comfort downtown.

No comments:

Post a Comment