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Don’t limit yourself to waffles and chocolate as Belgium has so much more to offer when it comes to sweet snacks. From wrapped sugar confections to crispy cookies and soft pastries, here are some traditional delicacies to satisfy your sweet-tooth.
Ever heard of Antwerp’s legend? In the city, there used to be a terrible giant named Druon Antigoon. When ships wouldn’t – or couldn’t – pay him toll, he cut off their hands and threw them in the river. The giant was eventually defeated by a hero named Brabo, who symbolically threw the giant’s right hand in the river. This is why the city is named Antwerpen, which sounds like hand werpen. This literally means ‘hand-throwing.’
Antwerp still honors its folklore today by depicting hands anywhere in the city, and by making hand-shaped snacks. Since 1934, these little cookies have been a favorite of Antwerp’s residents.
The Cuberdon is a very sweet Belgian candy with a soft, jelly filling. In Flanders, they are also known as Neuzekes, which translates to ‘little noses.’ In Wallonia, they are also called Chapeau-de-prêtre, meaning ‘a priests’ hat.’
They are small, with a distinct cone shape. Cuberdons are also purple and raspberry-flavored – if you can still detect that under all the sweetness. This candy has been recognized as an official regional product of Ghent.
Because cuberdons have a limited shelf life – after three weeks the soft inside crystallizes – it’s hard to find them abroad.
Think that all waffles are soft and airy? Flat, hard and crispy, the Butter Crisp gives a whole different waffle experience. These treats are made famous by the Belgian brand Jules Destrooper, who still use a recipe from the 19th century. Known in Flanders as a Boterwafel and in Wallonia as a Galette au Beurre, these thin buscuits are a traditional product from West-Flanders.
These Butter Crisps are not to be confused with the Butter Waffles – yet another kind of Belgian waffles.
Speculaas or Speculoos is well loved in Belgium and the Netherlands. These dry and crispy cookies are prepared with various spices; cinnamon, white pepper, ginger, cardemon, nutmeg and cloves. Though the mass-produced kind tastes more like sugar than anything else.
These shortbread cookies are eaten during Saint Nicholas Day. This saint, also known as Sinterklaas, visits the Belgian and Dutch households on the night before December sixth, leaving sweets and presents for well behaved children. Besides speculaas, he also gives tangerines and chocolates.
The cookie itself might not be invented in Belgium, but Speculoospasta is. This is a sweet bread spread made from the cookies.
In 1912, an Antwerp baker invented a hard little candy, that tasted like lemon. He named it a Napoleon Bonbon, and the image of said emperor still decorates the candy wrappers.
Advertised as Le bon bonbon, meaning ‘the good candy,’ these treats are now available in many colors and flavors. Though produced in the Netherlands and named after a French emperor, these candies are forever treasured by the Belgians.
Invented at the Flemish coast, this candy is known as a Babelutte. The name is actually a French version of the Flemish word babbelaar, which translates to ‘chatterer.’ Rosalie Desmedt, who invented and sold these sweets, was quickly nicknamed Mère Babelutte, or Mother Babellutte, by children – who were also her best customers.
These caramel treats are still very popular today, and you can find Mother Babelutte stores anywhere near the Belgian coast.
A Mastel is a treat from eastern Flanders. It’s usually round with a hole in the middle – but don’t call it a donut. (Or a bagel either, for that matter) They are also known as Krakelingen in Flanders, which more or less translates to ‘cracklings.’ This traditional Belgian pastry might not be very exceptional in taste, but they are handed out during a very particular festival.
During this festival in Geraardsbergen, there’s a procession to the top of the a very steep hill, where 10 000 mastellen are thrown into the crowd. There’s also a great bonfire tradition with Celtic roots. This also warms up the crowd, as the festival happens during the cold month of February. So if you’re looking for an opportunity to catch yourself a Mastel, this is your chance.
These treats are called Couque de Dinant. They’re incredibly hard, but their sweet taste and their gorgeous decorations more than make up for that. Like Speculaas, they’re sold throughout the year, but typically eaten during the Saint Nicholas tradition. You eat them by breaking them up in little parts and letting them melt on your tongue – or soak them in your coffee.
There’s a story behind these strange cookies. During the Sacking of Dinant (1466), food became scarce. The residents were so desperate, they mixed the little honey and flour they had left – turning them into hard cookies. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether this is true. But it’s a fact that they are delicious and make a great snack – if you can fit them in your bag.
A Kletskopje is yet another Belgian biscuit you need to try. They are thin and crunchy, prepared with either almonds or peanuts. Sometimes they are folded into a taco-like shape, or rolled up, to be filled with whipped cream and ice cream. There are also savory Kletskopjes, prepared with cheese.
Kletskop is a Flemish word meaning ‘bald head.’ But there’s another possible meaning behind the cookie’s name. Kletsen is also a Flemish verb, which more or less translates to ‘to smack.’ Before you put the Kletskopje dough in the oven, you’re supposed to flatten the neat piles with a wet spoon. Or you smack them on the head, if you will.
A Pain à la Greque is a rectangular pastry from Brussels, prepared with cinnamon and lots of sugar. The name of this treat literally translates to ‘Greek bread’, but there’s more behind this name than many suspect. In fact, it has nothing to do with Greece.
In the 16th century, Augustians handed out this bread snack to the poor near the Wolvengracht, or the Rue de Fossé aux Loups. Because of this, the bread was known as the Wolf-grecht bread. Grecht is the old Brussels’ version for gracht, a word that doesn’t translate to English, though ‘moat’ and ‘waterway’ come close. If you ask a French-speaking person to say the word grecht, chances are they’ll say something sounding like Greque. This is how the grecht bread turned into ‘Greek’ bread. So go ahead, tell an unsuspecting Belgian the name of this snack doesn’t quite mean what they think it means.