Living and travelling gluten free in the UK, Australia & around the world!

Bruges Christmas markets – tricky for a coeliac

By on December 20, 2014 in Travel Restaurant Reviews with 4 Comments

Bruges / Brugge is a lovely medieval town, one hour from Brussels by train.   There are two smallish Christmas markets there – one primarily food & drink, and one primarily gifts and clothes.   The atmosphere is lovely, particularly at night, with the lights on the beautiful buildings and the ice skating in Grote Markt (market square).

Bruges ice skating_opt

The centre is full of restaurants, but overall I think gluten free awareness is fairly low in Belgium.  A Google search on “Bruges gluten free” does not yield many results, but I did find about ten recommendations which are compiled on the Restaurant Lists page.   You will not starve, but you will struggle to find gluten free marked up on menus or advertised out the front.   I found many of the menus to be very similar – you will always be able to get an omelette!

Bruges market tartiflette_optThe only meal that looked safe at the Christmas market was a tartiflette, which is a French dish of potato, cheese, cream, bacon and onion. I have had this before in France and have even made it myself so was confident of the ingredients (just remember to ask them to leave off the bread!).  I ended up having this as my meal two nights in a row.

There was also a stall selling fruit dipped in chocolate which possibly could be gluten free, but you would need find out if there was barley malt in the chocolate!

There were several stalls selling the famous Belgian frites, but they all looked as though they were also frying breaded items, so I decided to pass on them (and had more than enough potato in the tartiflette!).   I had read on another blog that the frites were OK at the Frites Museum, so I was eagerly looking forward to those, but it also looked like they were frying breaded items.  I could have asked (everyone seems to speak English), but didn’t want to queue to do this.

Bruges Room service_optWe stayed at Hotel Dukes’ Palace which is a lovely 5 star hotel, tucked away down a side street.  It is the quietest hotel we have ever stayed in and we slept so well!  We did not eat there, apart from room service on the first night.  The room service menu is very limited, but the cheese plate was lovely (with my own biscuits from home) and the smoked salmon was a generous serve.  I did ask for any bread to come separately, but as is often the case, the bread was sitting on top of the salmon.  Luckily there was enough uncontaminated salmon that I could salvage.  This ‘meal’, cost £38, including the €6 delivery charge (I did say it was a 5* hotel!)

Our only restaurant meal was at Bhavani Indian restaurant, which is on Simon Stevenplein where the smaller Christmas market is held.  I felt that Indian was the best option for low cross contamination problems (even more important when feeling under the weather with a cold) and I was also looking for some nice flavours after fairly bland snacks since arriving in Bruges.   I was glad I had been aware of Bhavani from my research as there was no indication from the menu outside that the menu is actually marked up with “GL” (contains gluten), as well as vegetarian and dairy free options.

After ordering, we were presented with an amuse-bouche of chicken mousse with a curry sauce which was a lovely surprise.   For my starter I ordered rice cakes with a lentil sauce, which apparently is a common breakfast in India.

Bruges Bhavani2_opt Bruges Bhavani3_opt

To my husband’s surprise I ordered the chicken madras for my main (I like medium heat), but it was extremely mild.  Along with two styles of rice (plain and lemon & peanut), a sweet potato raita and a small salad, the meal was lovely.   If you are not gluten free, you also get naan bread with your meal.

Bruges Bhavani 1_opt

Bruges supermarket_opt I would describe it as ‘posh’ Indian (but we were fine to go in with our jeans and casual day wear), and although it wasn’t cheap, it was worth it.  At lunch time there is a set menu option (2 courses) for €19, or the a la carte menu which is €40 (2 meat courses, €5 less for vegetarian option).  We chose the a la carte because we preferred the options on that menu.

If you want to self cater, there are two Carre Four convenience stores and a couple of other slightly bigger supermarkets in the city centre.   In one Carre Four I bought some cheese and salami for a make–shift dinner along with some nuts and Proper Corn popcorn (UK brand).  Food labels in Europe usually have three or four languages on them (but never English in my experience), so it is a good idea to have a dictionary on your phone if you need to look something up.  On Noorgzang Straat (the main road closest to our hotel) there is a Delhaize Proxy supermarket which was the only one that had any gluten free supplies.  It had a selection of boxes of six small cakes, as well as some crackers that looked like the DS Crispbreads you can buy in the UK.

Many people arrive in Bruges by train, often getting the Eurostar from London.  As we flew into Brussels, we got the train from the airport (luchthaven).  The train platforms do not have any signs in English so it is worth planning ahead and knowing which direction you need to be travelling.  To get to Bruges you need to change at  Brussels North, Central or Midi (it doesn’t really matter which route you take), or you can also change at Gent.  The Belgian rail website has a great tool where you can download timetables for your specific time frame and it gives platform numbers which is invaluable.  The tickets all seem to be flexible on time, just fixed for the date.  Make sure you pay for the Diablo fee (airport tax) when you buy your ticket or you will have to pay this on the train.  A return ticket costs €41.20, which is around £32.

Bruges train ticket_opt

You will find very little gluten free on offer at train stations as everything is bread based (remind anyone of France?).  At best you will find a basic salad, at worst a chocolate bar or packet of crisps.  You are best off taking supplies with you from home if at all possible.  My lunch was a salad – it was mainly lettuce and very dull!

Brussels station salad_opt

I enjoyed my trip to Bruges, but I was really happy to get back to London and have a proper meal after four days and only one ‘normal’ meal.  This wasn’t all Bruges fault as we were both suffering with bad colds and didn’t want big meals (set menus of 2-3 courses are very common) and the prospect of asking about gluten free in a foreign country is that much harder when you aren’t feeling well!  Please see the Restaurant List page for more ideas for eating out in Bruges and let me know your experiences!

Bruge_house BT_opt

Bruges Xmas shop_opt

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About the Author

About the Author: Caroline was diagnosed with Coeliac disease in 2006 and likes to share her gluten free finds around the UK, Australia and the rest of the world! See more on her in the 'About' page. .

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  1. Kelly says:

    The German Christmas Markets are even worse, all you have are chips, chocolate covered fruit and candy floss. Still love the markets though x

    • The Coeliac Plate says:

      I actually had more success in Germany (Munich) as with a German speaker who checked the sausages were gluten free, so I got to have a treat (no bread, of course!). It was nice to join in with everyone else eating instead of just watching 🙂

  2. DavidMc says:

    Continental markets in the UK are usually very similar. I went to the one in Belfast in November and it was bursting with great food outlets. Like you the safest option was the tartaflette and the stall had the ingredients on a board so I felt relatively safe. Fortunately I had already eaten a lovely GF meal in the Potted Hen restaurant in St Anne’s Square but I still shared a small portion of it. Great, knowledgable staff in the Potted Hen and proactive in assisting me. They even had four desserts that I could eat, all delicious and inventive.

    • The Coeliac Plate says:

      I had a similar experience in Manchester a few years ago – lovely market, but nothing to gluten free to eat. Luckily these markets are usually in towns where there are plenty of other options!

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