The many local specialities, including the Antwerp ‘handjes’, the ‘Bolleke’ beer and the ‘Elixir d’Anvers’ liqueur all bear testimony to the city’s rich culinary tradition.
Antwerpse Handjes have been a local culinary speciality since 1934. These chocolates or biscuits, with or without marzipan filling dipped in Elixir d’Anvers, are made in the shape of a hand and refer to the legend of Silvius Brabo and the giant Druoon Antigoon.
The confectionery shop Confiserie Roodthooft was founded in 1925 and makes its products in the heart of Antwerp. The best-known of these is the Mokatine, a hard coffee sweet that was developed in 1934. The distinctive packaging shape and the wrapper with an image of an Arab with a striped cloak are iconic features.
Fries are an integral part of Belgium’s gastronomic heritage. Belgian fries are often called the world’s finest. Traditionally, they are sold in a paper cone or a cardboard tray with a large dollop of sauce on top. Vendors offer a very wide range of sauces and meat products. Antwerp also has a ‘fries stand museum’ on the Groenplaats above the famous Max fries shop.
Belgian chocolate is also world famous. Renowned chocolatiers who have set up shop in Antwerp include Burie, Goossens, Günther Watté, Pierre Marcolini, Dominique Persoone (The Chocolate Line) and Del Rey.
De Koninck brewery brews the famous Bolleke, De Koninck Triple d’Anvers and Wild Jo. Since October 2012, the brewery belongs to the group of breweries around Duvel Moortgat, and cheesemaster Van Tricht (whose store was singled out as the best cheese shop in Europe by the Wall Street Journal) has housed a cheese ripening centre in the brewery.
In the summer of 2015, De Koninck brewery opened a visitor centre. The brewing process, Belgian beer culture and beer tasting are central to this innovative beer experience centre.
Huisbrouwerij ’t Pakhuis brews Antwerps Blond, Antwerps Bruin and Nen Bangelijke.
Seef or Seefbier is the name of a historic local beer from Antwerp. The Antwerp Brouw Compagnie brought it back onto the market in 2012. It is a cloudy blonde beer with a spicy kick. The Compagnie also brews Bootjesbier
A digestive liqueur made of 32 plants and herbs, prepared according to a time-honoured tradition by the De Beukelaer distillery since 1863.
Crazy though it may sound, coffee is definitely a regional product, in the sense that roasting methods vary from region to region. The Antwerp coffee Amberes made by Koffie Verheyen from Deurne is typical of the local coffee preference. This coffee is made up of South American and African coffee types including Maragogype, Costa Rica Tarazu, Guatemala Antigua, Zimbabwe Chïhosa, Sulawesi Makassar, Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, Nicaragua Las Brisas, Santos Fancy Screen and 3% Robusta Flores.
GingerLove ginger tea originated in the vegetarian restaurant Lombardia. It has quickly become a huge success.
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My meeting with Ben starts with a tricky question. What’s my favourite beer? I decide to confess the truth: ‘I’m not really a beer connoisseur and would be glad to take your advice on the matter.’ I’ve reckoned without Ben’s expertise. ‘What flavours do you like?’ I am served an Armand from Limburg. Fruity, soft and not too ‘hoppy’. I feel like a cliché of a woman.
Belgian beers are world-famous, and Antwerp is an excellent place to improve your acquaintance with them.
This may come as a surprise, but for the best coffee Antwerp is the place to be. The port of Antwerp has been a major hub for coffee for several centuries: from all over the world, ships bring huge cargos of green coffee beans here. The city is also second to none when it comes to coffee storage and warehousing. From the most exotic and rare coffee types, roasters and dealers choose their own blends. At one time, every neighbourhood had its own coffee roasting house; nowadays you still have Koffie Verheyen in Deurne and the Cuperus coffee bar on Sint-Katelijnevest. You can also still have your own blend roasted at Jespers at Oever 16. Of course you can also get a barista to do the work for you. Antwerp has numerous hip coffee bars with bizarre names such as Normo, Mademoiselle Moustache, Broer Bretel and Mokkakapot.
Today, Antwerp offers a wide range of European, exotic and of course Belgian eateries.
‘City honey comes from bees that sip nectar from the many flowers to be found all over Antwerp. Each district has its unique pattern of vegetation, so each honey tastes different.’ Clad in a beekeeper’s suit, I follow every impassioned word that Rik Janssens utters, as beads of sweat form on my forehead. It’s not just the heat of the sweltering summer day that is getting to me – there’s also my uneasiness as one of the thousands of bees creeps inquisitively up my leg. ‘Just stand still,’ says Rik. Just?