4 Antwerp specialties you MUST try

#1 Antwerpse handjes – Antwerp Hands

One of the most known products of the city of Antwerp are biscuits called Antwerpse Handjes, literally “Antwerp Hands”.

The famous biscuits were created in 1934. At that time, Jos Hakker, a Dutch pastry chef, thought that Antwerp should boost its reputation as a city of sweet delicacies. The Royal Association of Master Confectioners of Antwerp organized a competition to create a new Antwerp speciality on his initiative. Forty-three members of the confectioners’ association took part by creating a cookie or something sweet. Among them: Jos Hakker.

An “independent” jury assessed the taste of the cookies and chose the winner: Jos Hakker’s cookie shaped like a hand. The jury liked the taste and the shape that linked the cookie to the legend about the origin of Antwerp, starring Silvius Brabo*.

The cookie recipe is relatively easy, meaning many bakeries started producing the cookies. This way, there was no quality control. Therefore, in 1956 regulations were drawn up to protect the form, ingredients and packaging with a patent. From that moment on, only members of the Syndical Union for Bread, Pastry, Chocolate and Ice Cream Company could manufacture the biscuit.

II usually buy my Antwerpse Handjes at Philip’s Biscuits. They offer freshly baked cookies in all shapes and sizes, and I just love their beautiful shop windows, which change with the seasons. Buying their cookies is an experience in itself. The cookies come in attractive boxes and tins, which features the beautiful tower of the Cathedral (as it’s part of their logo).

*Silvius Brabo

Silvius Brabo was a mythical Roman soldier who was said to have killed a giant called Druoon Antigoon. The giant demanded a very high toll from the ships that passed on the river Scheldt. When captains didn’t want or couldn’t pay, he cut off their hand and threw it in the river. Brabo came to Antwerp and defeated the giant, cut off his hand in turn and threw it into the river. According to folklore, this legend explains the origin of Antwerp or Antwerpen in Dutch. Antwerpen is a derivative of “handwerpen”, which means “handthrowing”.

#2 Bolleke

Bolleke is the name of a beer brewed by the Antwerp brewery De Koninck. The beer used to be called De Koninck. However, inhabitants of Antwerp nicknames it “Bolleke”. This nickname derives from the typical spherical shape of the glass. (Bolleke means something round in Dutch.) In 2019, the brewery changed the beer’s name into its nickname. In reality, no one called it by its official name anymore.

De Koninck brewery has been brewing beer since 1833 on the border between Antwerp and Berchem. This location on the edge of two cities explains the brewery’s logo and their beers. It relates to the border pole that featured a hand (as a stop sign).

Bolleke (5.2%) is the most famous beer from the De Koninck brewery. It was created around the time that pilsners had become immensely popular in our region (the beginning of the previous century). Our brewers developed clear top fermentation alternatives because they lacked the resources to buy the expensive cooling equipment required to make pilsner. The result: an amber-coloured beer that is slightly malty and hoppy with a caramel touch.

It’s the genuine pride of Antwerp beermaking. Almost all cafés in Antwerp serve it. You can also visit brewery De Koninck and learn all about the history of the brewery and its fine beers.

#3 Elixir d’Anvers

Elixir d’Anvers is a yellow-coloured strong herbal liqueur that is made in Antwerp. After many years of research, the recipe was finalized in 1863 by its inventor François-Xavier de Beukelaer. Until this day, the formula remains unchanged, and the liqueur is still made in the same, traditional way. Only a hand full of people know the recipe.

The delicious liqueur is world-renowned for its excellent digestive and beneficial properties. If you are bloated after a festive meal, drink a glass of Elixir d’Anvers, and you’ll feel much better. Some people claim that it is also effective for menstrual pains, other gastrointestinal complaints and insomnia.

You can buy Elixir d’Anvers in supermarkets and in many stores that sell other typical delicacies, like our famous cookies and chocolates.

#4 Caramella Mokatine

Caramella Mokatine is a coffee flavoured sweet made by Confiserie Roodthooft, a third-generation family business founded by Louis Roodthooft and his wife Johanna Stoops in 1925 in Antwerp. Caramella Mokatine is nicknamed ‘Arabiereke’, translated as ‘little Arabian’. This nickname comes from the wrap around the sweets. It features an Arabian man because the sweets are made with real Arabica coffee beans.

Today, Confiserie Roodthooft no longer makes the sweets in the city of Antwerp (but elsewhere in Belgium). However, they are still very much considered an absolute Antwerp delicacy. You can buy these treats in any supermarket in Belgium.

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