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I’m half-Dutch and I was raised on several Dutch dishes made by my grandparents. Thus, I made it a point to find the best restaurants in Rotterdam when I visited.

Hutspot

The first dish to make the list is hutspot, my childhood favorite. It’s a simple dish made with potatoes, carrots and onions, and optional meat on the side. The simple recipe is to boil half a dozen potatoes for 25 minutes, while boiling 6 carrots and 4 onions in a separate pot for 20 minutes (you can use the same pot after the potatoes). Then mash them all together, flavor with a bit of salt and pepper…and that’s it. My granny used to serve it with hot dogs and ketchup on the side.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any restaurants in Rotterdam serving this dish. It’s not to say there aren’t any; I just didn’t find them. I did ask a few locals if they liked the dish. Some didn’t, saying it was “poor people’s food.” Others said they loved it. Either way, I got to make it a few times while living in the Netherlands, not to mention other places around the world. It certainly is a cheap dish to make.

Bitterballen, Kroketten and Frikkandel

The next three items are snacks more than dishes. Bitterballen consists of a thick stew that is refrigerated, rolled into balls, breaded and deep-fried. Similarly, kroketten (or croquettes as they’re also known), have a variety of fillings (potatoes, meat or vegetables) which are also breaded and deep-fried. Two or three bitterballen are the size of one kroketten, and I could easily eat half a dozen bitterballen at a time.

Most European countries have their own sausages – bratwurst and currywurst in Germany, kabanos and kielbasa in Poland, lorne and black pudding in Scotland, etc. In the Netherlands, it’s frikandel. These are very similar to an American hot dog, but without the skin and, you guessed it, they’re deep-fried.

The most traditional way to get these is from an automat like Snackbarcorner near the Beurs Metro Station. An automat is connected to a kitchen that puts individual items like krotetten, bitterballen or a kipburger (chicken sandwich) in large vending machines. I’m sure there are plenty of good restaurants in Rotterdam serving better bitterballen and kroketten, but I’m sure you’ll find them as good as I did at the automat.

Kroquette and Frikandel

A word of advice: if you do get bitterballen from a restaurant, wait a few minutes after they’re served before you bite in. Otherwise, you’ll have a mouthful of boiling hot, deep-fried stew. Believe me, it’s not pleasant. The first time I tried them was at the Hudson Bar and Kitchen, I scalded my mouth on the first one, and the second one too! Worth it!

Kapsalon – HAS Doner

This next one isn’t deep-fried…entirely. It’s worse! Coming in at as much as 1,800 calories, it’s certainly the most gluttonous item on this list.

There’s an interesting history to the kapsalon dish. The word actually means barbershop in Dutch. In 2003, a barber got tired of the menu at the El Aviva Kebab next to his barbershop and asked them to make something unique with all the ingredients he liked. The result was a layer of fries, a layer of melted cheese, a layer of shawarma, a layer of salad, and topped with kebab sauce. When others saw his meal, they wanted it. He sent them to the kebab and told them to get the “kapsalon,” and thus the meal was born.

Since then, the kapsalon has spread globally. I found street food stalls in the night markets of Thailand selling them, and they were just as good! While El Aviva was the first kebab in Rotterdam (and I agree theirs is quite good), I preferred the HAS Doner Kebab chain throughout Rotterdam. Their meat tasted much better than the other kebabs in town, and they were also a bit cheaper.

Kapsalon from HAS Doner Kebab

If you don’t eat meat, they have a vegetarian version. There are also several sizes, so you don’t have to get the large, 1,800-calorie monstrosity.

Frites – Frites Unique

Legend has it that frites, or fries, originated in Belgium. The misconception of them being French stems from World War I when American and British soldiers landed on the coast of Belgium where they were served the fries. Since the Belgian Army spoke French, the association was made and the dish was called french fries.

Whether that’s true or not, Belgians certainly do make the best fries in the world, but the Dutch make them just as good (served in the Belgian style). The reason Belgian fries are so good is that they’re double-fried. The first time makes them tender, and the second time makes them perfectly crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The most usual topping is mayonnaise (which I would never have put on my fries in the States, and now it’s my dipping sauce of choice). Other sauces include ketchup, andalouse (mayo, tomato paste and peppers), Joppiesaus (onion and garlic), peanut sauce (delicious!), and many more.

There are food trucks and cafes all around the city serving Belgian fries, and they’re all pretty comparable. My favorite (possibly because it was next to the hostel I was working in) was Frites Unique. A large portion only set me back $5, and their truffle mayonnaise was amazing! Safe to say, I was a regular customer of theirs.

Fries at Frites Unique

Kibbling – Blaak Markt

Now for my favorite Dutch dish. Think of kibbeling as deep-fried chicken nuggets, but made with fish, flavored with curry and served with a generous portion of aioli or tartar sauce. There’s hardly a town or village in the Netherlands that doesn’t have a fishmonger or street food cart selling these to a long line of customers each day. It’s also one of the cheaper meals in the country – sometimes for as little as $3 per serving (although I often went for a double).

Kibbling in Rotterdam

There are a few restaurants in Rotterdam that have kibbeling on their menu, but I found the best to be at Blaak Markt, the farmer’s market that sets up every Tuesday and Saturday in Blaak Square in front of the epic Markthal. There’s also a good food truck at the entrance of Kinderdijk if you happen to visit there (as you should).

Herring – Markthal

No list of Dutch dishes would be complete without mentioning herring. This one can be a snack or a meal in itself, and is often served at the same fishmongers selling kibbeling, or from its own street food cart. The herring is usually served with a thick sour cream sauce and onions, just the way my grandparents would buy it when I was a child. In fact, writing about herring made me crave it so much that I went out to purchase some today for my lunch!

If you’re not in Rotterdam on Tuesday or Saturday for the Blaak Markt, there’s a really good vendor in the Markthal (in the back) serving portions of herring. You can also order it plain (which I believe is how most of the locals eat it), but I like the sour cream and onions.

Surinamese Food – Wong’s Place

When Rotterdam was bombed in World War II, they called back their colonists from around the world to help rebuild the city, and many of those brought their new cultures and cuisines back with them. One of these was Suriname, a country on the northern coast of South America which used to be a Dutch colony. Surinamese cuisine had been influenced by countries around the world, including India, Indonesia, China and, of course, the Netherlands.

There aren’t a huge amount of Surinamese restaurants in Rotterdam, and some are better than others. On my first day in the city, my Couchsurfing host brought me to Wong’s Place. They happen to be one of the highest-rated Surinamese restaurants in the city, and I quickly found out why.

Surinamese Food in Rotterdam

Surinamese Food from Wong's Place

Sharida, who had Suriname ancestry, helped me order the mixed meat platter. It was massive! The stirfry noodles and vegetables were topped with generous portions of chicken, beef and pork, and different styles of each. I’m a big fan of Asian food, but this was better!

Sushi – Sumo

This one isn’t Dutch, but it’s my favorite food. Long before I made it to Rotterdam, a local said I needed to try the Sumo Sushi restaurant. I wasn’t going to say no.

Within a few days of arriving, I took myself out to the Sumo Sushi on Mauritzweg street near the Central Train Station. My first impression was that it was overpriced. Now, I should probably mention that so far, I’ve listed some fairly cheap options in this list. Unfortunately, the Netherlands is a rather expensive country when it comes to restaurants, and sushi is almost always an expensive meal. Sumo offers both a la carte, and an all-you-can-eat menu where you get five courses, each allowing you to choose five different items within 90 minutes. Lunch is about $22, and dinner is about $33.

At the time, I didn’t want to fork out $33 for my dinner, so I went a la carte, picking a couple of my favorite items. Sadly, the waiter was horribly rude, and when the food was brought, they haphazardly threw it onto the far side of the table. The fish was no better than the service, and I left quite disappointed.

Later on, I decided to give them a second chance, this time choosing the store in the Markthal. I went for dinner again and this time got the all-you-can-eat menu. There are nearly a hundred different options to choose from, all of which are quite small (a single piece of nigiri, two pieces of maki, a jumbo deep-fried prawn, a mini poke bowl, a small piece of grilled salmon, etc). It might seem that 25 items might not be that much, but I rarely make it into the fourth course.

Spread at Sumo Sushi

Thankfully, both the service and the quality of the food were fantastic this time. I had all of my favorites and also tried some new things, and by the end of the meal, I was happily satiated. I would certainly recommend them, but beware of ordering too much. I didn’t at Sumo, but later on at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant in Amsterdam, I accidentally doubled up the third course and had a rather hard time finishing everything on the table, even with another person accompanying me at the time. They will charge $1 for every uneaten item, and there are some stories of that really adding up.

Ijs – De IJssalon

Now it’s time for the desserts. Ijs is Dutch for ice and ice cream, and Rotterdam has some incredible ice cream parlors. As with many countries in Europe, the lines outside the parlors can fill up with dozens of people at a time in the summer months.

In 2000, Robin Alting opened the first IJssalon ice cream shop. Since then, the shop has gone on to win numerous awards and opened four more locations, including one in the Markthal. All of their ingredients are fresh and of the highest quality. I saw more unique flavors there than anywhere else I’ve been to in my travels. Some of my favorites were osmanli tulumba (a Turkish dessert), popcorn, and eggnog. If you want to get something traditional, order the stroopwafel flavor – made with the Netherlands’ signature caramel waffles. Suffice to say, I had many, many scoops at IJssalon in the weeks I spent in Rotterdam.

Osmanli Tulumba Ice Cream at IJssalon

Dutch Chocolate – Chocolate Company Cafe

I once wrote that Belgian chocolate was the best. Now I’m conflicted, as Dutch chocolate is pretty dang good too. One of my very first experiences in Rotterdam was a chocolate tasting at the Chocolate Company in the Markthal. Mario has spent years pushing the boundaries of perfection in his chocolate creations. His hot chocolate spoons (chocolate blocks at the end of a wooden spoon you can stir into hot milk) are available in dozens and dozens of flavors. The Chocolate Company also offers iced chocolates, numerous flavors of chocolate fondue, and the most decadent chocolate brownie you’ve ever tried.

Killer Brownie with Chocolate Company

If you’re looking for a good place to get some work done, I can’t recommend enough the Chocolate Company Cafe on the Oude Binnenweg walking street. Aside from chocolate products, they also have smoothies, salads and sandwiches available. The internet is quite fast (a luxury in Rotterdam), the ambiance is nice, and the chairs are comfortable. I spent more time working there than anywhere else during my stay in Rotterdam.

Read my full review of the Chocolate Company tasting

Poffertjes – Poffertjessalon Seth

While Belgium is known for its waffles, the Netherlands have their pancakes. No, not Dutch baby pancakes – those originated in the USA. Dutch pancakes are known as poffertjes and are like American silver dollar pancakes, but much more delicious. At Poffertjessalon, you can order a small, regular or large, depending on whether you want to eat one, two or three dozen pancakes! The toppings range from whipped cream and strawberries to warm cherries or malibu liqueur.

Poffertjes in Rotterdam

If you’re like me and don’t have a massive sweet tooth, a small portion will be more than enough. Otherwise, take a big group of friends and split a large. If you happen to be visiting the Efteling amusement park, you’ll find a good stand there serving poffertjes as well.

Bagels and Beans

While I loved the Chocolate Company, I also spent quite a bit of time at the two Bagels and Beans locations near the hostel I was working at. Their mission statement is all about healthy and organic products from small, fairtrade farms and companies. Their list of bagels makes my mouth water just writing about them – wild salmon, BLT, avocado and cream cheese, tuna melt, and many more. Several of their choices are vegetarian or vegan friendly.

BLT Bagel at Bagels and Beans in Rotterdam

Their drinks are just as good as their bagels. As their name implies – Beans – they serve some amazing third-wave coffee. Even better were their cold drinks – fresh-pressed juices, ginger lemonade and, my personal favorite, chai tea. This was the other cafe where I found great WiFi, although they didn’t stay open as late as the Chocolate Company.

Bazar

Finally, I have to mention Bazar. Rotterdam is one of the top multi-cultural cities in the world. In the late 90s, an immigrant dishwasher realized there weren’t any great Mediterranean restaurants in town. He opened the restaurant Bazar on the then undeveloped Witte de With street, which has since become the top hip street in town.

The menu is a mix of Greek, Moroccan, Turkish and other cuisines – basically Mediterranean. In the half-dozen times I went, I tried numerous dishes on their menu. Not one of them wasn’t superb. If you’re a fan of Mediterranean food, this is the best restaurant in Rotterdam you could end up at.

Dish at Bazar in Rotterdam #1

Dish at Bazar in Rotterdam #2

A Note About Dutch Deep-fried Dishes

One thing you might have noticed from this list is how much the Dutch like deep-fried food. I do too, but too often I feel really bad from all the grease. Somehow, I never felt that way with the above Dutch snacks and dishes. I honestly don’t know if it’s the type of oil they use or how it’s prepared, but I think it’s safe to say that their deep-fried food is healthier. They certainly don’t have as many overweight people walking around, as you do in other countries that love deep-frying (looking at you, America and Scotland).

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Dishes and Restaurants in Rotterdam Pin

Further Reading

In case you missed them, here are all the links to my other articles concerning Rotterdam.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

One of my main reasons for traveling the world is trying different dishes, and discovering beautiful cafes and restaurants. Although I’m usually a big fan of the food in SE Asia, there have been a few places where I struggled to find a dish that I liked, or quality food that I didn’t think would give me a bad stomach. What’s more, I’ve never been a big fan of Vietnamese food. At the beginning of the year, I spent a week in Vietnam and was silly to wait until the end of my trip to take a food tour. However, I did find some really nice meals and restaurants in Hanoi (the Capital only city I’ve been to so far in northern Vietnam) during that week. If you’re considering a Vietnam trip, use this guide as a reference for taking a food tour.

A Basic Guide for Vietnamese Cuisine

Bánh Rán Mặn

The first meal I had in Hanoi was bánh rán mặn which translates to savory donuts but is known as Vietnamese meat buns (not to be confused with the famous steam buns). Basic bánh rán are donuts made with rice flour and flavored with sesame seeds. The mặn variant has pork or beef inside. They are triple deep-fried before cut up into a bowl and mixed with pickled vegetables and sweet chili sauce.

Bánh Rán Mặn Breakfast

Bánh Mì

The next meal I discovered was bánh mì, a.k.a. the Vietnamese baguette. They’re a remanent of the French occupation of Vietnam, but with their own twist using local ingredients. One of the most common flavors is egg and pâté, although my personal favorite was the spicy chicken (not too spicy). Other common ingredients include pickled carrots and cucumbers, lots of cilantro, black pepper and other spices. Vietnamese usually eat bánh mì for breakfast. I found a great restaurant across the street from my hostel and ended up getting one each morning, and for a late night meal a couple of times too.

Banh Mi on Street Food Tour in Hanoi

Cà Phê Trứng

While the Vietnamese name for this drink might not mean much to you, it’s usually advertised in English – egg coffee! The first time I saw a cafe offering it, there was a small part of me that was slightly repulsed but, as I mentioned at the beginning, I always like trying new things. So I figured I’d give it a go. My god, it was delicious!!!! It’s not just a raw egg stirred into a coffee, as you might have imagined (as I did), but rather a custard (egg) topped espresso. Some places definitely make it better than others. I was fortunate enough, while on the street food tour in Hanoi, to be shown the original cafe whose owner invented it. Theirs was unquestionably the best.

Vietnamese Egg Coffee

Bún Riêu Cua

Bun is round rice noodles (also known as Thai or vermicelli noodles), as opposed to phở which is flat rice noodles. Both usually refer to the soup made with their respective noodles. On my fifth night in Hanoi, I stumbled upon a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant selling a single dish – bún riêu cua. The lady didn’t speak any English, and it wasn’t until later that I found out the meaning of the soup and how it was made with crab paste, minced meat, grilled fish, vegetables and spices. Yet not knowing what it was didn’t make it any less delicious.

Bún Riêu Cuan Soup

Bánh Cuốn

I didn’t discover this dish until the food tour and I wrote about it in that article, but I have to mention it here too. Bánh cuốn is defined as steamed rice rolls…but that’s a complete misnomer since it’s not really a roll. Rather, it’s a soft sheet made of rice batter and loosely filled with ground pork, onions and mushrooms. It’s dipped into a fish sauce (more like a broth) called nước mắm pha to which you can add cilantro, pepper and other ingredients to your liking. I didn’t just like it…I loved it!!!

Bánh Cuốn in Hanoi

Phở

Obviously, I can’t give a list of basic Vietnamese dishes without mentioning the most common – phở, pronounced “fah.” There are two versions of phở: phở bò and phở gà, which just mean beef or chicken respectively. As my tour guide Lan pointed out on the street food tour, the best restaurants only serve beef or chicken, not both. (Don’t tell her I told you as you should take her tour to get all the insider tips.) A lot of people have told me that they’ve had better phở outside Vietnam, but it was an inferior bowl of phở in the USA that put me off enjoying Vietnamese food several years ago. Sure, there are some restaurants in Hanoi that don’t serve great phở. But if you find a good one, it really is delicious.

Pho on the Street Food Tour in Hanoi

My Favorite Restaurants in Hanoi

Phở restaurants aren’t the only places which are best if they specialize in a single dish. On my own, I discovered that my favorite restaurants in Hanoi only served one or perhaps two dishes. As you’ll see, some didn’t even have a name and were simply called by the name of the dish that they served. It would be silly to say these are the best in the city, as that’s relative to everyone’s taste. These are simply the best ones that I found; a couple of which were with the help of Lan on the street food tour.

Bánh Rán Mặn Fried Vietnamese Meat Buns

This one wasn’t anywhere near the center of town but was around the corner from the first hostel I stayed at in Hanoi. It wasn’t a restaurant, but rather a spot down an alley where a couple guys set up a stand to prepare and serve bánh rán mặn. There’s no official name for the stall beyond the name of the food they specialize in. Google Maps advertises them as open from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., but I went twice during those times and only found a couple grease marks on the ground where the pots usually are.

The set up is really interesting. To the side, a couple of women make the savory donuts from scratch and place them in the first pot of hot oil. The guy then moves them through the three pots of increasingly hot oil before putting them in a sieve to drain off and cool down. The regular bánh rán is also available, which is the sweet variation filled with sesame paste. Set up around the pots are a couple dozen child’s chairs you can sit on to eat a bowl of bánh rán mặn, usually two at a time cut up and mixed with pickled vegetables and sweet chili sauce.

Bánh Rán Mặn Fried Vietnamese Meat Buns

Price per bánh rán: mặn (savory) – 8,000 dong ($0.35); ngot (sweet) – 7,000 dong ($0.30)
Location: Ngõ 242 Lạc Long Quân, Bưởi, Tây Hồ, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Banh Mi Hoi An

Across from my second hostel was my next favorite restaurant. I had already tried a couple bánh mì sandwiches around town, but the ones at Banh Mi Hoi An were particularly good. They only had four options to choose from: roast chicken, roast pork, egg and pâté, and the Hoi An special (a proprietary mix of meats that differs between vendors). My favorite was the roasted chicken. It was spicy enough to get my tastebuds going without blowing my head off.

Banh Mi Hoi An Restaurant

Lan later showed me a much better bánh mì shop – perhaps the best in town – called Banh Mi 25. They are so popular, they’ve taken over two additional buildings to provide more spaces to sit at. There are quite a few options to choose from at Banh Mi 25, but their own Bánh Mì Dặc Biệt (house special) was certainly the best. However, that restaurant belongs with the post about the street food tour, so I’m mentioning Banh Mi Hoi An here as an alternative and cheaper option.

Price per bánh mi: egg/pâté – 15,000 dong ($0.65); all others – 25,000 dong ($1.08)
Location: 98 Hàng Bạc, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Bún Riêu Cua Phố Cổ

Halfway through my week in Hanoi, I set off in search of a cheap place to eat a late dinner near the hostel. I still didn’t know most of the different dishes, and not all the photos shown by the restaurants gave me an idea of what to expect. Just around the corner from the hostel, I saw a sign that said something in Vietnamese, followed by the word “crab.” I like crab, so I sat down on one of the few chairs available. The bowl that was handed me a moment later didn’t actually have any crab in it that I could see. I later learned from Lan that it’s made with crab paste, not crab meat chunks. She also said the lady has been serving bún riêu cua there for decades. As mentioned, the best establishments are those serving just one or two items. One thing that makes them even better is longevity, and this place was the best.

Bún Riêu Cuan Restaurant in Hanoi

Price per bún riêu cua: crab – 25,000 dong ($1.08); veggie – 20,000 dong ($0.86)
Location: Ngõ Trung Yên, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Banh Cuon Nong

This establishment shows up every night in the motorcycle parking lot of a local business. They mainly just serve their namesake – bánh cuốn, the steamed rice rolls mentioned above. Once again, the same lady has been running this establishment for decades. I watched her for several minutes making one rice sheet after another, sometimes barely even looking at what she was doing. Just an endless machine pumping out Vietnamese delights. I’m actually bummed that I only ate there while on the food tour, as we had small portions at each of our eight stops (except for the phở)I could easily have enjoyed a full meal of bánh cuốn.

Price per bún riêu cua: crab – 25,000 dong ($1.08); veggie – 20,000 dong ($0.86)
Location: 73 Hàng Bồ, Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Chops Old Quarter

As much as I enjoy Asian food, I need my western fix every now and then. In Hanoi, that came in the form of a delicious bacon cheeseburger at Chops. That Western restaurant was just down the street from my hostel. Since 2015, Chops has been serving some pretty impressive food in the heart of Hanoi. They make their hamburger buns fresh every morning and even import their beefsteak daily from Australia which they then mince themselves. I had their all-day breakfast burger which included a beef patty (something I was dearly missing in Thailand where cows are sacred), cheddar cheese, a hashbrown, smoked bacon and a fried egg. On the side was a delicious serving of triple-fried fat fries, just like they make them in Belgium.

Chops Old Quarter Breakfast Burger

The menu isn’t entirely budget-friendly, although it’s still cheaper than you’d be spending in most Western countries. However, from noon to 2 p.m. on weekdays, you can get the lunch special – a burger or salad, a side and a drink for only 170,000k dong ($7.35). The brunch menu, served from 8 a.m. until noon on weekdays and until 3 p.m. on weekends, includes several other amazing creations such as French toast and breakfast burritos. I also got to try the smashed avocado and poached eggs on sourdough toast from that menu. Vegetarian options are available on many of their menu items.

Chops Old Quarter Egg and Avocado Sandwich

Prices: starters – 95k-155k dong ($4.10-$6.70); burgers – 135k-200k dong ($5.80-$8.60); sides – 40k-65k ($1.70-$2.80)
Location: 12 Hàng Bạc, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

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Restaurants in Hanoi

Further Reading

Headed to Vietnam? Here are my other articles for things to do in Hanoi, what to eat…and why you shouldn’t visit for New Year’s.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Ghent was one of the first cities I visited in my travels. Dozens of countries and hundreds of cities later, I went back to see if it was as magical as I remembered. Here’s how my opinion of Ghent changed over the years.

I arrived in Ghent with Dee shortly before sunset on a bus from Rotterdam. We were headed to London, but Flixbus tickets were the same price with a stop in Ghent as they were direct. To keep our costs down, I found a Couchsurfing host, the same as I had done during my original trip to the city three and a half years earlier. After a small hitch learning how to pay for the bus system (it’s €3 ($3.45) on the bus and €1.80 if you download and pay through the app), we made it down to our host just as his other three guests were arriving.

Couchsurfing in Ghent

Yep, you head that right. Michael, our charismatic, comical and caring host had five guests at one time. Unfortunately, that didn’t come close to breaking his record of nine, which he does plan to do someday. The three girls called dibs on the couches in the living room, while Dee and I had the single bed and air mattress in the spare bedroom. As soon as we arrived and dropped off our bags, Michael took us back out to Stephano’s Place, the best Vlaams friteshuis (Flemish Fries House) in town. We all had a meal of viandel (Dutch sausage with a crunchy coating), fries, saté spices, mayonnaise, and julientje (a meat stew sauce named after the late owner of the famous friteshuis Gouden Saté). One portion was way too much for one person, and we quickly realized we both should have shared one.

Viandel and Frites in Ghent

Among Michael’s many adventures and accomplishments, he was once a comedian in Japan! Calling him comical is a tragic understatement. I couldn’t believe how quickly he could come up with witty remarks and responses, some of which I’m still chuckling over.

Michael really takes care of his guests. When he said he got some drinks for us, he wasn’t kidding. There was hardly any room in his fridge left for food. The next morning’s breakfast was equally impressive with a huge selection of cereals, pastries, yogurts, drinks, cheeses, etc. We were certainly stuffed by the time we went off to explore the town.

That evening, Michael met up with us in the center to give a private guided tour. He was really knowledgeable about the history and facts of Ghent. I was reminded of many things I’d learned the first time I visited the city and picked up many new tidbits. One fact that really stands out is that Ghent was once the second-most prosperous city in Europe, with only Paris superior to it. You can still see that in the grandeur of the city, even if it doesn’t currently show up on most modern “Best Cities in Europe” lists.

Before leaving, I was glad I could contribute to Michael’s “Couchsurfing shelf” where he receives gifts and trinkets from guests all over the world.

Michael's Couchsurfing Shelf

The first time I visited Ghent, I had two different Couchsurfing hosts. The first was Nele. She had a beautiful little studio overlooking one of the canals. She also took me on a wonderful guided tour around town on the night that I arrived and even treated me to a dinner at the Mosquito Coast restaurant. I had the Mac Marrakesh lamb burger there which I still fondly remember as one of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life. We’ve stayed in touch ever since my visit, and recently I’ve had the joy of seeing photos of her new child growing up.

My next host was Lien. She brought me out to a “house leaving” party in the center of town. There was one really funny incident I remember with her. We were riding bikes to the party, but my bike was really hard to pedal. The wind was so strong that there were times when I was pushed nearly to a standstill. On the way back from the party, I rode the bike off a curb and there was a snap within the gears. After that, the bike worked perfectly.

Overall, I have to say Ghent is a wonderful city to Couchsurf in. There are a ton of options. Of course, it might be hard to find a host in the height of summer, but you can always follow my tips to getting a host in my article on Couchsurfing.

Revisiting my Favorite Restaurants

Mosquito Coast

Some of my fondest memories of Ghent were in the restaurants there. The first was the incredible meal I had at the Mosquito Coast. I know it’s trite and possibly even exaggerated to say the burger there was the best I ever had, but it certainly seems that way, even to this day. The two owners of the cafe had traveled the world before opening up the restaurant back in 2006, offering some of their favorite meals from their journeys. Dee and I spent some time in their lounge charging our phones and enjoying a hot drink. We considered having dinner there, but unfortunately Mosquito Coast is one of the more high-end restaurants in Ghent, and their meals aren’t cheap. As much as I wanted to try the Mac Marrakesh again and see if it was as good as I remembered, we went off in search of cheaper fare.

Souplounge

The first meal Dee and I had in town (after breakfast at Michael’s), was at Souplounge. When I found the restaurant during my first visit to Ghent, I was elated. Then as now, I was on a tight budget. The four homemade soups they serve are exceptionally good, and come with two rolls and an apple. The portions are massive. A large takeaway is just €5 ($5.75). This time I had the mushroom soup, and we sat at the tables down by the canal (which wasn’t really an option in the near-freezing February temperatures the last time I visited).

Chocolato and Cafe Barista

I strongly believe that Belgian chocolate is the best chocolate in the world. The last time I was in Ghent, I found Chocolato, a cafe by Saint Michael’s Bridge serving true Belgian hot chocolate where they heat up the milk and stir in a large cube of chocolate until it melts. They even served a small glass of water to cleanse the palate before the hot chocolate, and some small chocolate nibs to seal in the flavor at the end. Sadly, Chocolato has since closed, so I had to find a new cafe to sit at for a couple hours to get some work done. After scouring the streets, I ended up at Cafe Barista. With a view of Dulle Griet (the six-largest cannon ever cast) outside the window, I enjoyed a hot chocolate properly made with Belgian chocolate buttons stirred into hot milk.

‘t Velootje Bar Peculiar

Finally, I had to see if ‘t Velootje was still open. I asked the tourism board about the place but they thought it was closed. When I went to see for myself, it certainly appeared to be. The door was locked, but I knocked away. A couple minutes later, the proprietor opened up. I had awoken him, but he was still willing to serve us. Unfortunately, the prices his of drinks are extortionate. What you’re paying for is the experience, which isn’t for everyone. Small bicycles hang from the ceiling, religious artifacts cover the walls and random other items are everywhere else. The first time I visited, there were only four seats available, squeezed in against the window. Since then, he has cleared out room for several more seats, but it still wasn’t clear that the place was officially open. I know he’s lost his license more than once in the past. I believe the basic idea now is that you’re joining him for a drink in his house, and giving him a payment for the drink, rather than visiting a real establishment. Either way, it was cool to see again and he allowed me to take some photos of the current set-up.

Exploring the Architecture

Perhaps the key factor in my opinion of Ghent relates to the architecture. When I first visited, I thought the town was right out of a fairytale. I don’t have entirely the same viewpoint this time. As I started to walk around town, I honestly thought I wasn’t in the same city. Modern buildings interspersed with a rather drab setting. Luckily, things got better as I neared the center. Apparently, Flixbus uses the bus stop on the far side of town, in a neighborhood that’s a little more rundown. The real gems are in the city center.

The highlight of Ghent is the three towers. Standing from Saint Michael’s Bridge, you have the best view of Saint Nicholas’ Church, The Belfry of Ghent and Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. From the same position, you have Saint Michael’s Church behind you, the Old Post Office (now a luxury shopping center) on your left, and more beautiful buildings up the river Leie. At night, the scene is even more beautiful with all the towers and bridges lit up against a black background.

Three Towers of Ghent at Night

The churches and belfry are beautiful and worth exploring inside. At the time of our visit, there was an art exhibit in Saint Nicholas’ Church. Tickets to the top of the Ghent Belfry are €8 which was out of our budget, although I believe the Ghent CityCard for €20 is worth it if you’re planning to visit all the attractions in town. Bavo’s Cathedral is the Crème de la Crème. It’s massive and has a huge crypt full of old relics, bishop uniforms, and tombs to explore. This is also where you can see the Ghent Altarpiece (for €4). Also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the altarpiece dates back to the 15th century and is one of the most valuable pieces of art in the world. As such, it’s also the most stolen artwork in the world! It was highlighted in George Clooney’s movie The Monument’s Men, wherein you can see how close we were to losing the twelve panels forever.

Bavo's Cathedral Interior in Ghent

On the north end of the town is a district called Patershol. This is the medieval heart of Ghent. If I remember correctly, it used to be where the servants lived, but I’ll probably get corrected on that. Now it’s the posh part of town. I actually didn’t recognize it as I walked through this time. I realized most of the district had been under renovations in 2015, with boardwalk platforms on the streets and construction fences everywhere. This is where ‘t Velootje and the Amadeus Ribs Restaurant can be found. I didn’t revisit the latter as Dee isn’t a fan of ribs, although we did see their second location in the center of town.

Another prominent location we visited was Graffiti Alley. I learned from the tourism board that there are now two alleys in town; the other out beyond Patershol. On my first trip, I was told that the alley was continually updated every night with current events. I no longer believe that to be the case, but the alley still has some really amazing pieces.

Ghent has its own castle too. Gravensteen is located right in the center of town. Dating back to the 12th century, it has a really colorful history. We learned mostly about it from Michael on our tour. Tickets for the castle are €10, which is another reason we could have gotten the Ghent CityCard.

Last but not least is the waterfront on the River Leie. It’s one of the most popular spots in town, especially with many of the 80,000 local university students lining the banks while drinking, smoking and chatting. There are some really interesting buildings, such as one which looks like it’s going to collapse at any moment, next to another tiny building which used to be the tax office. On the other side of the river is the Marriott Hotel, formerly a high-end brothel. On that building are two golden swans facing apart. Two swans facing each other would form a heart with their necks. When they face away, they allude to a brothel. Personally, I find it really fun to walk into the Marriott. The facade is the same from the old brothel, while the interior is a giant, glass-enclosed modern hotel.

Kayaking on the Rivers of Ghent

Perhaps the best way to get an idea of the beauty of Ghent is by water. There are dozens of boat tours leaving each day from the center, just up from Saint Michael’s Bridge. They’re very reasonably priced and last up to an hour, depending on the tour you choose.

Another option is to go kayaking on the rivers and canals. Hostel Uppelink is located right beside St. Michael’s Bridge. In addition to being an amazing hostel, they have free walking tours of Ghent, as well as kayaks to rent. Dee and I got a double kayak for three hours. With that much time, we were able to go up and down every waterway in the town center. We went around the Gravensteen Castle, dodged overhanging trees and went under a long tunnel on the other side of town. There used to be two long tunnels, but the second was restored to the open air in the same week we visited!

My Opinion of Ghent

Alright. So my opinion of Ghent might not be from the same starry-eyed viewpoint I had at the beginning of my travels. However, I still think the city is gorgeous. I’m already looking forward to my next visit, which hopefully will coincide with the Festival of Ghent, one of the largest festivals in Europe. For other travelers, I would definitely recommend a visit. After all, it’s only an hour away from Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges – in other words, in a perfect location.

Famous Street Art in Ghent

River Leie at Night in Ghent

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How Three Years of Traveling Changed My Opinion of Ghent Pin

Further Reading

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?

Eating out at restaurants in Edinburgh isn’t always part of my budget, especially when it’s the second most expensive city in the country (after London). Yet cooking every meal for myself in my flat gets dull and sometimes I need a meal out. Here are my favorite cafes and restaurants to visit near my home.

My Favorite Cafes

Castello Coffee

My second home. Castello Coffee is just around the corner from me on the side of Bruntsfield Links. Their main location is in Edinburgh’s new town. Last year they took over the premises originally occupied by Black Medicine Coffee. The owner is a tattooed bad-ass who serves up some of the best-tasting cafe food around. Better yet, they use single-origin roasts from Allpress Espresso. They are up there with Brew Lab, Artisan Roast and Lovecrumbs (which use Steampunk roasts) as one of the best coffee houses in town. Some of their tables are a little low to be comfortable with the laptop, and the internet isn’t always the best, but otherwise they are a wonderfully comfortable cafe with the best view.

As to their meals, all their food is homemade, often cooked by the owner himself. In addition to their daily homemade soups, the menu includes poached eggs on sourdough (with optional avocado and salmon toppings), Greek yogurt with granola and berries parfait, bean and cheese quesadillas, and a full range of sandwiches. On the weekend, their menu expands to include items like French toast topped with strawberries, caramelized chocolate, lemon and maple syrup. My personal favorite was the sweetcorn fritters with avocado, poached eggs, lime and sriracha.

Update: Just in time for the 2018 Easter holidays, Castello has updated their menu. Several new items are now available. The french toast has upgraded to a churro french toast with chocolate stuffing, cinnamon sugar and maple glaze. I’ll have to try that one! The sweetcorn fritters have been replaced with huevos rancheros, and the granola parfait is now a banana split made with cinnamon granola, yogurt and fresh berries. They’ve also added an omelet and a curried “bubble n’ squeak” to the menu. That last one is a cabbage and potato cake with wilted spinach, feta and a poached egg. The Monday-Wednesday menu is a shorter version of this, but the same great quality.

Lattes are £2.50 for a regular and £2.90 for a large. Meals range from £4 to £7. Hours are Mon-Fri 7:30-5, and Sat-Sun 8:30-5. Location: 7-8 Barclay Terrace, Edinburgh EH10 4HP.

Cafe Class

Update: In 2019, Cafe Class changed its name to Seven, but it’s still the same great cafe, the same menu and the same superb food.

The Scottish breakfast is my favorite morning food in the world (just above the Khai Jiew). In addition to the poached egg and British bacon (chewier than the crispy American variety), the breakfast comes with baked beans, sausage links, tomatoes, mushrooms, tattie scone (think potato pancake) and usually either black pudding or haggis (sometimes both).

So far, the best Scottish breakfast I’ve found in Edinburgh is at Cafe Class. They serve the works, sans the tomatoes, and include a patty of high-quality haggis. On the side is a thick slice of homemade bread and butter. Coupled with a latte made with Artisan roast beans, it’s damn near perfect. If you’re not a big fan of meat, you can get the vegetarian or even the vegan options, both of which feature vegetarian haggis, and have items like hummus, avocado and various veggies.

Some of the other dishes available are avocado or salmon bagels, homemade soups and several paninis, all made with high-quality ingredients. They also have a dozen homemade cakes and pastries available each day.

Yes, it was their use of my name that attracted me the first time. I’ve been going back ever since.

The full breakfast is £7.20. Maybe a little pricey for a budget traveler, but totally worth it and actually one of the cheaper places in town. There are only a handful of seats and reservations aren’t available. The best idea is to get there shortly after they open, especially if you’re going with a group. Hours are Mon-Sat 9-5 and Sunday 10-5. Location: 7 Home St, Edinburgh EH3 9JR.

Union of Genius

I found Union of Genius shortly after my first arrival to Edinburgh back in 2015. It’s been one of my favorites ever since. They serve the best soup in town, and their prices are really good. They also went through a full makeover last year, doubling their seating.

I love the layout of their menu. Each day, they serve six soups – two with meat, two vegetarian and two vegan. You can get a medium or a large (I always get the large). Nearly all their soups are gluten-free, and many are dairy-free (all of which are clearly displayed on the menu). They make their soup fresh each day from scratch, and once the soup runs out, there’s no more. Three of the soups will be the same all week, and three change daily.

There are also a few other options, such as salads and chillis. Along the wall are several gluten-free pastries and health food bars. They even have a picnic box available if you want to eat in the Meadows.

Read the full article I wrote about why It’s Smart to Eat at Union of Genius in Edinburgh!

New Union of Genius Look

A regular soup is £4 and the large is £4.60. Hours are 10-4 Mon-Sat, although they might run out of soup before 4 and will close if they do. Closed Sunday. Location: 8 Forrest Rd, Edinburgh EH1 2QN.

Artisan Roast…or Fortitude…or Wellington…Or…

Edinburgh is one of the best cities I’ve ever been to when it comes to third-wave coffee, and there are too many cafes to choose from that make their own specialty roast beans.

My Favorite Restaurants

MUM’s Great Comfort Food

When it comes to authentic Scottish food, there are quite a few good restaurants in Edinburgh. Three are particularly good and I enjoy visiting when I can afford them, although I guess that technically makes this list 7 long.

Each of these three has their specialties. MUM’s has a great selection of sausages for their bangers and mash, and their steak and ale pie is absolutely massive. Most of their servings can easily be shared between two people.

Beehive Inn

I mentioned Beehive in my article about the Edinburgh Food Tour, which was the first time I visited. I’ve since been back several times for their Cullin Skink (smoked haddock, potatoes and leeks in a cream sauce base). Theirs just might be the best in town. Both Beehive and MUM’s have a great haggis, neeps and tatties starter if you need to try it for your first time. Update: I’ve learned that Beehive changes their menu every six months, and both the cullin skink and the haggis, neeps and tatties are no longer available, or at least not at this time. Here’s hoping they bring them back onto their menu soon!

City Restaurant

Finally, there’s City Restaurant, which is renowned for its fish and chips. You can either get a flaky or a crispy coating. My dad loves to get their salmon steak, which is easy for him to eat without his teeth.

All three restaurants have plenty of other options including burgers, soups and full haggis dinners. City Restaurant also has a selection of pizzas and pasta. I’ve never had them so I can’t comment.

Thailander

I love Thai food. When I lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand for four months in 2017, I ate nearly every breakfast and lunch in the small hole in the wall restaurant behind my condo. The Khai Jiew (Thai omelet) was one of my favorite meals, and I’ll never get tired of Pad Thai. When I found a Thai restaurant just down the street from my flat, I couldn’t resist visiting, even if the prices are considerably more than the few pence I would pay in Thailand.

Thailander is run by Joe, his partner Somruedee and her son Game. Somruedee and Game are from Chiang Mai themselves and have brought their cooking skills to Edinburgh. While the ingredients in Edinburgh might not be identical to Thailand, there is a Thai market not far away where they get their spices, teas and other products. They also use Thai cooking implements like the big cast-iron woks over gas flames.

Obviously, my first dish there was Pad Thai, and I’ve returned several times to get it again. I’ve also tried their Pad Khao (with rice instead of noodles), satay, deep-fried prawns and even their mango sticky rice. Everything was delicious and reminiscent of Thailand. Sadly, I have to say the mangoes in the UK just aren’t the same as Thailand where they are so much softer and juicier. I’ve had a few cups of their Thai tea as well which prompted me to get my own bag from the market and learn how to perfect it at home.

Although advertising as a takeaway, Thailander is also a restaurant with three tables available. These do fill up so reservations are a good idea. Starters are £4.25 or £4.75, and meals range from £6 to £9. Hours are Tues-Fri 12-3 and 5-9:30 and on Saturday 5-10. Closed Sunday and Monday. Location: 25 Brougham St, Edinburgh EH3 9JT.

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Restaurants in Edinburgh Pin

Further Reading

For more budget options and restaurants in Edinburgh, here’s some further reading:

For other activities in Edinburgh:

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Usually I tell people to avoid the Royal Mile when looking for a good restaurant to eat at in Edinburgh. Through the Book a Table website I found Zizzi, which technically is off the Mile, and had an absolutely delicious Italian dinner from their Super Frizzante Christmas Menu. Here’s how my night started with prosecco and ended in decadence.

Beetroot Cured Salmon Gravadlax and Butterflied King Prawns

I invited my friend Nancy out to enjoy Zizzi with me. Eating solo is not my favorite part of traveling solo, and it was also a great way to try a couple different items on the menu. There are two festive menus to choose from, the Classico and the Super Frizzante. A glass of prosecco is £2 for the former and included in the latter. We chose the Super Frizzante menu, as there were more options that we wanted to try, and thus received our glasses of prosecco shortly after arriving. Yeah, two glasses each, as there was a miss-pour and the second two were on the house!

Among half a dozen starters to choose from, including vegetarian and vegan options, we selected the salmon and prawns. The salmon was listed as the “festive special,” which means it’s only available for December. We were a little surprised when it arrived with a dark red color, and it wasn’t until later when I realized this was from the beetroots they used to cure it. The fish was slightly chewy with a wee kick from the black pepper, balanced by the creamy mascarpone. It also took a second to figure out what the small vial of yellow liquid was, sticking into the cheese. What a creative way to serve the lemon juice!

Salmon at Zizzi

The butterflied prawns were a particularly yummy dish, smoky with their pepper pesto and white wine sauce – certainly not your usual prawn sauce. Well cooked and tasty. It was my first time eating prawns cooked in the butterfly style, and I almost missed having to pull off the whole shell.

King Prawns at Zizzi

Roast Duck Festivo and Squid Ink Lobster Tortelloni

For our main courses, we chose both of the “festive special” options on the menu. She picked the roast duck while I had the squid ink lobster tortelloni. This was my introduction to tortelloni, which is a bigger version of tortellini. It’s a good thing too, as there weren’t many pieces on the plate, but their size made up for it. I was already familiar with squid ink pasta, which I’d eaten in Venice. I couldn’t quite discern a notable flavor in the pasta from the ink, but the lobster, crayfish and ricotta filling was delicious. I had a bit of a surprise at how spicy the chili threads were.

Squid Ink Lobster Tortelloni at Zizzi

Nancy devoured her roast duck, which was served with an herby pork sausage, pancetta and mushroom filled bean stew, green cabbage, and roasted winter root salad. Personally I’m not the biggest fan of duck, but this one was seasoned well, although still a little too chewy for my taste.

Clementine Sticky Toffee Pudding, and Sticky Chocolate & Praline Torte

Finally it was time for desserts. I had the sticky toffee pudding and Nancy ordered the torte. My god were they decadent! The desserts weren’t the biggest portions, which I was more than happy with considering how sweet they were. I try not to eat a toffee pudding too often simply because it is so much sugar, and I have to say I felt a little sick to my stomach after eating it so fast. Guess I can’t hold my sugar like I used to.

Torte Dessert at Zizzi

Selfie with Dessert at Zizzi

Yeah, I think the sugar got to us. We just might have licked our plates clean. Good thing we were the last ones in the restaurant!

Licking Plates at Zizzi

Eating at Zizzi

There are 140 Zizzi locations across the UK, and four of them are in Edinburgh. I ate at the “Roxbury Place” venue, which is behind the Mary King’s Close attraction. It’s built into the old town medieval buildings, yet designed with a modern flair. It’s on the hill overlooking Waverley train station, but buildings behind the restaurant limit the view. I would definitely call the place cozy, although it’s possible there will be some louder Scottish groups enjoying dinner there.

Zizzi Restaurant

You’ll have to get there before the end of the month to try their festive menu, but the rest of their food looks equally delicious. I look forward to returning and trying one of their giant wood-oven rustic pizzas. The Classico Menu is £19.95 for three courses (plus £2 for prosecco), while the Super Frizzante Menu, which includes the festive dishes, is £25.95 for three courses (including prosecco). Opening hours are noon to 11 p.m., with the last seating available at 10:30 p.m. Reservations aren’t required, but it’s a good idea to secure a seat through Book a Table.

Planning to Visit Scotland?

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