To visit Ghent and not stop in at Etablissement Max, would be a culinary conundrum. In 1839, Max-Consael created two Flemish classics that even today, are considered some of the world’s best sweet treats. In fact, the Lonely Planet guide suggests that when you’re in Ghent, stop by Etablissement Max for a Belgian Waffle, as you might stop for gelato in Florence or Turkish Delight in Istanbul.
Five generations after the creation of the Belgian waffle and the appelbeignet or apple fritters, Yves Van Maldeghem, whose family started making these from a humble stall at local fairs, prepares the classics with attention to detail. Take a peek at this black and white silent video that recalls the family’s history and ongoing love affair with the Belgian waffle.
Enter today’s Etablissement Max, with its soft sage hued walls, beautiful art nouveau décor replete with gold leaf and old-world charm, and you know you’re in for something special. If the other-era ambience doesn’t transport you, the scent of hot, fresh waffles being made on the family’s original cast-iron moulds will. These use to be heated over a coal fire, now they’ve been “updated” to gas to produce golden, twenty-pocket perfect specimens of not-too-sweet, crisp shelled and soft interior waffled.
Traditionally served with a pat of butter and icing sugar, you can go local, or opt for a more fanciful creation including scoops of decadent ice cream, fruit slices and whipped cream; a dead giveaway that you’re not from Flanders. But that’s alright because a sweet indulgence is in everyone’s cultural vocabulary. Locals stick to the straight forward butter and sugar variety, with perhaps some fruit to accompany their cup of coffee or tea, while visitors enjoy the whipped cream, chocolate sauce and other tempting options.
Max’s also offers diners a Flemish café menu including the famous Flemish Stew and eels in a green sauce for those looking for a meal before dessert. And if you’d like to recreate the sweet flavours of Flanders at home, pick up a copy of Jan Gheysens’ book Belgian Waffles and other treats (2006) at the cafe, which contains Yves’ family recipes.
By: Mary Luz Mejia