A Tale of Two Cuberdon Vendors: The Story Behind Ghent’s ‘Little Nose War’

Carl Demeestere pushing his cuberdon cart down Ghent streets
Carl Demeestere pushing his cuberdon cart down Ghent streets | © RossHelen / Shutterstock
Nana Van De Poel

Carts thrown about, buckets of water dumped over heads, rounds of fisticuffs exchanged, and the gossip fierce—let’s hear the tale of Ghent’s two warring cuberdon vendors, a candy-themed vendetta that Belgian papers have dubbed ‘the little nose war’.

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It all began innocently enough, with Carl Demeestere selling cuberdons from his bakery window on the Groentenmarkt. The cosy square also boasts the artisanal mustard shop Tierenteyn-Verlent, regularly hosts street markets, and proved an excellent location to peddle Ghent’s traditional cone-shaped candy. Hard on the outside and filled with a raspberry-flavoured liquorice, the exceptionally sweet treat has long been tourist gold. But Carl’s monopoly was short-lived. It didn’t take long before Sonny Breine, another shrewd merchant, set up shop metres from Carl’s window. It was the first shot in a series of ever-escalating attempts to get the better of each other – and of that hard-earned dough.

One of two cuberdon carts competing for the tourist’s attention. The line on top reads ‘The real Ghent “neuzekes”‘

Grown men gossip and confiscated sweet carts

Since Sonny brought with him a quaint, old-fashioned cart and displayed his sweets in attractive-looking little pyramids, Carl went out, bought a near identical cart, and plopped it next to Sonny’s. The two, who have different suppliers that make the candy according to different secret recipes, were at each other’s throats from the start. Both claim to sell the only ‘authentic’ cuberdons, and both showed no qualms about bad-mouthing the other’s product. In the summer of 2011, things got so bad that police had to confiscate Sonny’s cart for a while. The incident drew the attention of the press, and Sonny’s and Carl’s feud was dubbed the ‘neuzekesoorlog’, or ‘little nose war’, after the candy’s local nickname.

A brawl in the name of the cuberdon

There was no telling the amount of ink that would flow on the subject in the years to come, nor how far the adult merchants would go in discrediting or plain hurting their competition. In the increasingly infamous story of the little nose war, April 2014’s altercation is a doozy. As the anecdote goes, Carl was selling a group of interested Germans a bag of cuberdons when Sonny sauntered over and tried to lure the customers to his cart instead. In a logic befitting the nose war, Carl consequently felt justified in putting Sonny into a headlock. As the increasingly horrified tourists looked on, Sonny responded by head-butting his attacker, who, in turn, landed a punch on his trespassing neighbour. The shocked Germans wandered off without paying, and Mayor Daniël Termont took away both offenders’ licenses. Therefore, there were to be no more ‘neuzekes’ sales on the Groentenmarkt square.

The cuberdon or ‘neuzeke’, the traditional Ghent candy that launched a thousand insults on the Groentenmarkt square

For a period of two weeks that is. National papers had exploded with the most blatant transgression in the feud so far. Petty as the incident was, its entertainment value remains undeniable. By now, the story of the ferocious vendetta has become a modern folkloric part of the cuberdon’s history, as baked into the cake as the right way of eating this bonbon (biting the top off, slurping out the sweet syrup and only then consuming the rest). Some have even accused Sonny and Carl of perpetuating the tension for commercial gain, though both vendors have vigorously denied any such cooperation.

A shaky ceasefire

The city for its part has made it clear that the worst of the little nose war needs to die down. Besides Mayor Termont’s brief cart ban, 2015 saw the Chamber of Commerce forbidding Sonny from speaking ill of his neighbour’s product. The 1,000 euro fine hanging over his head for every time that he does has proven a healthy deterrent from further blow-ups. For a couple of years, and with some grumblings aside, they seemed to have buried the hatchet, and relative peace had returned to the Groentenmarkt. However, leave it to the eve of 2017’s Ghent Festivities, a 10-day culture extravaganza that traditionally means heydeys for the cuberdon trade, for fresh-faced salesman Younes (who now mans Sonny’s cart) to dive headfirst into the conflict. All it took for the little nose war to flare up again was a bucket of water over Carl’s head. Cleverly orchestrated commercial ploy, deep-seated candy-based grudge or both, the little nose war rages on.

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