Fast, fresh and affordable Flemish pasta
TEXT: THESSA LAGEMAN | PHOTOS © BOCCA
If you’re in Ghent or Bruges and you don’t want to spend hours in an expensive restaurant, deciding to go for a lunch in Bocca Pastabar is always a good idea.
While the name is Italian – bocca means mouth – don’t expect traditional Italian food here. “The pastas we’re serving aren’t like the ones you get in Italy,” says manager Jonathan Dewyspelaere, who runs the restaurant with his mother and stepfather. “We adjusted the taste to the Flemish market. For example, the Italians don’t like a lot of sauce and cheese on their pasta, while we love it.”
In Bocca’s logo is a smile and the number 15, meaning you can order and eat here in 15 minutes. “It’s not easy to find a restaurant where you can sit down for a quick — and fresh — lunch that will cost you so little,” says Dewyspelaere. Unlike in many other restaurants, the pastas and sauces are freshly prepared every day. Apart from eating at Bocca, you can also opt to take away the food or have it delivered to your home or office.
First, you choose the size of your box: small for five euros, medium for six euros, or large for seven euros. Next, do you want penne, fusilli or spaghetti? Then choose your sauce: veggie, smoked salmon, four cheeses, or a mixture of sauces, for example. And finally, a topping, such as parmesan, bacon or pine nuts to make the meal complete. Perhaps you would like to order a soup, salad or a dessert as well?
Pasta of the week
Each week, Bocca offers a different ‘pasta of the week’, adjusted to the season’s food. So for example, a cold pasta salad in summer and chicory or a minced meat, cheese and leek sauce in winter. Especially popular is the ‘Bocca’ sauce, which has been sold since 2007. It’s a spicy tomato sauce with cream, served with or without bacon, and with a very secret herb mix.
When the first Bocca pasta bar opened in Bruges 12 years ago, the majority of customers were students. “They were happy to find affordable pasta to eat for a change, instead of fries or a sandwich, during their lunch breaks,” Dewyspelaere explains enthusiastically. He was still a student himself back then and already worked part time in the pasta bar.
After a while, he saw the students bringing their parents as well. “At first, they looked critically at the carton boxes we serve the food in, which are more common for Asian noodles. Some people associate carton boxes with unhealthy fast-food, but once they taste the food, it’s clear we serve fresh food.” Next, he noticed the parents also started to come on their own and soon, they also took their parents. Right now, the pasta bar attracts customers from very young to very old.
Bocca is located right in the centre of Bruges and Ghent, near the main shopping streets. Shop assistants, therefore, also frequently find their way to the pasta bar for their lunch breaks. In Bruges, Bocca has one long table, with space for 22 people. “Many people come here on their own,” Dewyspelaere says. “You don’t feel uncomfortable here like in a regular restaurant where you sit alone at a table. There are newspapers and magazines and always a good atmosphere.”
The manager has noticed that sustainability has become more and more important for their customers. “We’re trying to limit our footprint by using eco-friendly boxes, for example, made of recycled carton, and by using local products as much as possible.” Bocca also makes use of the Too Good To Go app, which shows users when a restaurant, supermarket of hotel has food left over. Customers can take away the food in their own packaging for a third of the original price. “Since we use this app, around five portions per day are picked up and we hardly throw away any food anymore.”
Many tourists have also found their way to Bocca. Because they were passing by anyway, or because they have checked out websites like TripAdvisor and read positive reviews such as ‘Delicious pasta at an unbeatable price’ and ‘Great value for money’. “Tourists often tell us things like: I wish you would open a pasta bar in our country too,” smiles Dewyspelaere.
A third pasta bar will soon open in Ghent. Interest has come from Amsterdam and Rotterdam as well, to open a Bocca pasta bar as a franchise, so who knows if you’ll be able to eat a Bocca pasta in other parts of the Benelux in the future (soon, we hope). The pasta bar also serves food at events like weddings and company receptions. In summer, Bocca can also be found at food trucks at music festivals in Belgium.
Dweersstraat 13, 8000 Brugge
Mon-Fri: 11:30am – 8pm
Sat: 11:30am – 7pm
Recollettenlei 2, 9000 Gent
Mon-Sat: 11:30am – 10pm