City Gives up Meat for One Day a Week

I always tell people going to Belgium to get right on the train from Brussels and head for Ghent, a city I find as truly magical as others find Bruges, because Bruges intends that they be enchanted (and, to be fair, the fairy-tale architecture does lend itself to enchantment.).

But Ghent, as I wrote in an Atlantic travel piece, has that fairy-tale architecture, waffles and beer, and something more: a truly Bohemian free spirit, likely the result of its being a university city.

Now it's showing that spirit with its widely reported, and probably ridiculed, decision to encourage vegetarian eating once a week, with the city's elected leaders making the first sacrifice, er, leading gesture. The noble experiment, with the possibly too adorable name veggiedag, is to be Thursday, and today is Veggiedag One. I have no doubt the city's restaurants will be ready to help everyone wanting to follow suit:

The Tap & Tepel is just one of several restaurants that reflect both the history and the bohemian side of Ghent. Max, a posh tearoom decorated with Art Nouveau woodwork and glass from the kiosks the company long put up at Belgian fairs, serves the only waffles I've ever liked in Belgium--yeasty, slightly sour, and very light, unlike the usual Liège-style buttery ingots. At De Geschoeide Karmelied, a serene restaurant around a bamboo garden (planted by the previous owners, who had a Japanese restaurant), an ambitious twenty-five-year-old chef named Eli De Heem offers local "grandmother's" specialties, many of them beer-based stews.

Kitsch seems to be a deliberate decorative theme in Belgium--just one expression of the subversive humor that is a national trait. This is particularly overt at Pink Flamingo, a bar with a multi-tiered chandelier made entirely of Barbie dolls and walls covered with 1960s record-album sleeves and movie posters; unbelievably, it isn't a gay bar. The Koningshuis is perhaps as popular for its campy décor on the theme of the crowned heads of Europe, especially those of Belgium, as for its nice food (I had clear wild-mushroom soup full of sweet, thumbnail-sized cold-water shrimp).

The Dulle Griet tavern, on one of the city's largest squares, has all the beer-related paraphernalia any fanatic could want. More important, it serves all five of the authentic, dark and powerful Trappist beers (as opposed to the dozens of "abbey-style" imitators) that are still made in Belgium. Try Westmalle, from a beautiful working abbey ten miles away, on tap--a rare treat even in Belgium. In the back of the low-lit tavern is a brightly lit atrium with a second-floor tableau of an eighteenth-century dandy looking out a window while an elegantly dressed woman slumps in exhaustion over a sewing machine behind him. What does it mean? Ghenters seem to expect a bit of surrealism in their daily life, along with superb beer.

I'll be curious to see if other cities follow, or just make fun, of Ghent--but I know our Max will be watching! And is maybe organizing Washington now as I write.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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