Cuberdons, the Belgian candy that sparked an epic vendor battle4 min read
There is a little battle that rages in Belgium involving the vendors, a street brawl, a bucket of water, and even a legal action, all due one of the country’s lesser-known candies, cuberdons.
Soft-centered chocolate pralines are what most tourists with a sweet tooth hunt down when they visit Belgium. And actually not that it’s much of a hunt, as outposts of Leonidas, Neuhaus, Godiva and Guylain, pop up in a continuous loop on a stroll through the area all around Brussels’ Grand Place and not only. If you miss a boutique don’t worry, you’re sure to run into another just a few steps away.
But if you hang out with actual Belgians for long enough, or you live there, eventually someone will introduce you to a confection you’ve likely never heard of: a purple cone called, in French, cuberdon (neuzeke, or “small nose,” in Flemish).
The sweets are made from sugar, raspberry flavoring, gelatin, and gum arabic, with a candy shell outside and thick, gooey syrup inside.
Some claim that the candy was invented by a clergyman and its other name, “bonnet de cure”, literally “priest’s hat,” reflects this story, while the more common belief is that a pharmacist created them by accident while trying to improve the shelf life of his cough syrup.
Either way, history/creation apart, the traditional way to eat it is to bite the top off and suck the sticky syrup out before it drips on your clothes.
The cuberdon competition is fierce. For starters, artisanal cuberdons can only be made in limited batches—and the wooden molds that hold them can only be used once. And It takes seven days for these cuberdons to cure. Moreover, they’ve only got a shelf life of eight weeks and, after that, the outer crust begins to thicken and the inner goo starts to crystalize. Not to mention, the market, for the moment, is limited to Belgium and near-by countries that can receive and process shipments before they go stale—that’s why you’ve never seen a cuberdon for sale on the ground elsewhere.
Due to cuberdons’ resemblance to a nose, not by chance they’re also known as neuzekes.
It’s right, then, that the bitter vendor disputes surrounding the candies have become known as the “War of the Noses.”
The curious rivalry began innocently enough with Carl Demeestere selling cuberdons from his bakery window on the Ghent’s Groentenmarkt. The cosy square also boasts the artisanal mustard shop Tierenteyn-Verlent, regularly hosts street markets, and proved an excellent location to peddle traditional cone-shaped candy.
In short, in 2011, vendor Sonny Breine opened a stall outside Carl Demeestere’s store and Demeestere retaliated by opening his own stall right next to his competitor.
When Sonny brought with him a quaint, old-fashioned cart and displayed his sweets in attractive-looking little pyramids, Carl 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 the same year things got so bad that police had to confiscate Sonny’s cart for a while.
After each vendor displayed signs criticizing the other’s product, tensions escalated again into screaming duels and, in 2014, even a fist fight that resulted in a two-week confiscation of both their licenses.
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 rival. The shocked Germans wandered off without paying, and Mayor Daniël Termont took away both offenders’ licenses. Since then, there were to be no more Cuberdons sales on the Groentenmarkt square.
For a period of two weeks that is.
Some have even accused Sonny and Carl of perpetuating the tension for commercial gain, though both vendors have vigorously denied any such cooperation.
Luckily for several years, the two apparently reached a truce, and probably it was the calm that allowed Carl Demeestere to focus on expanding his offerings.
Now, in fact, he makes a variety of colored cuberdons for events like football matches, also using blackberries to create the Ghent team’s blue and introduced vegetable-flavored candies.
Sonny Breine, on the other hand, stopped operating his stall, but that doesn’t mean the battle is over. In 2017, in fact, Younes, the vendor who took over his cart rekindled the rivalry by throwing a bucket of water over Carl’s head. A cleverly orchestrated commercial ploy, deep-seated grudge or both, the little nose war is not over.
Images from web – Google Research