A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Antwerp
When you mention the ancient city of Antwerp, many images spring to mind – from its handsome medieval architecture and historic port, to its booming fashion industry, world-renowned diamond production and tasty Belgian beer. However, for those with a sweet tooth, Antwerp has a far more delicious association – chocolate. This Antwerp Chocolate guide will show you more.
Chocolate in Belgium
Originally introduced by Spanish occupiers in the 17th century, chocolate quickly became a popular treat among wealthy Belgians. By the 19th century, chocolate making was an important industry throughout Belgian towns and cities, including Antwerp, which is now home to an abundance of chocolatiers producing wonderfully indulgent chocolate creations.
Read on to learn more about chocolate in Antwerp, including the top chocolate shops and how you can sample some of their mouth-watering confections…
Embark on an Antwerp Chocolate Adventure
“Speak of Antwerp and what comes to mind? Chocolate, of course,” says Sylvie De Haes, of Antwerp-based gastronomic tour operator Culinaire Wandelingen. “Antwerp is a true sweet-lover’s paradise, not only because of the presence of its leading, world-famous chocolate makers, but also because of the chocolate shops on every street corner, just waiting for you to walk in.”
Culinaire Wandelingen runs a Chocolate Adventure (Chocolade-Avontuur) tour in the city, which, Sylvie explains, was created so that “the sweet-toothed can delight in a tour that dips into the background of Belgian chocolate, a source of much national pride and joy.”
We caught up with Sylvie to find out more about chocolate shops in Antwerp, as well as what it’s like going on a Chocolate Adventure in the city…
Chocolate making has been an important industry in Belgium since the 18th century, but what sets Belgian chocolates apart from those made in other countries?
“The sense of innovating and creating new flavors and styles is what makes Belgium a prominent player in the chocolate world. Belgium is also where ‘bonbons’ (pralines) were created. [They were invented by] the son of a Brussels pharmacist named Neuhaus, who had started to dip medicines in chocolate in order to give them a better taste so people could take them more easily.”
How did chocolate became such a prominent product in Antwerp?
“Antwerp was always a very important harbor, so cacao beans (used to make chocolate) were brought directly into Antwerp. Also, around 1918, the biggest industrial producer of cakes, chocolate and sweets in Europe (they were exporting to the USA, for example) was Parein en De Beukelaer (later part of the LU group) – it started in the heart of Antwerp.
“Antwerp is also one of the most innovative ‘designer’ cities of the world, when we’re talking about taste and style. For example, [it’s renowned for its] cut diamonds, is a very important player when it comes to clothes, fashion and interior design, and boasts a high concentration of star restaurants.”
Tell us more about what visitors can expect on a Chocolate Adventure tour.
“Chocolade-Avontuur takes the visitor on a walking tour guided by a connoisseur of Antwerp’s most outstanding chocolate shrines. You get to taste the best-known chocolate creations and learn more about how chocolates are made, with lots of practical tips and useful tidbits of information – and of course have the pleasure of sampling some of them.
“As well as giving your taste buds a treat, it is also an educational experience. How did cocoa beans originally make their way to distant Antwerp? What skills and traditions lie behind the delicious confectionery, cakes, pastries and other concoctions? The tour concludes in our own 14th-century vaulted cellar with a delicious, chocolate-inspired meal; and, as the icing on the cake, a unique cocoa-shot experience, the chocolate shooter. Unforgettable!”
Sylvie’s top five chocolatiers in Antwerp
When it comes to chocolate shops in Antwerp, Sylvie has likely sampled far more than most. Here are the five she particularly recommends:
The Chocolate Line
Celebrated chocolatier Dominique Persoone is the driving force behind some of the madcap flavor combinations on offer at The Chocolate Line – including the likes of wasabi, onion, bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and even chicken skin – as well as the inventor of unique chocolate products, such as the chocolate lipstick. A self-confessed “shock-o-latier”, Persoone has produced chocolates for Michelin-starred restaurants and collaborated with a host of well-known artists and creatives – such as the designer Nicky Vankets, with whom he once created a chocolate dress for Miss Belgium. This opulent Antwerp shop in the Paleis op de Meir is a luxurious feast for the senses – you won’t be able to resist!
Pierre Marcolini, Haute Chocolaterie
According to Sylvie, the designation “haute chocolaterie” is well deserved, as master chocolatier Pierre Marcolini does indeed craft chocolates as exquisite and thought-provoking as any couture fashion. The emphasis here is on celebrating the natural purity and excellence of ingredients from around the world, which has led to one of the shop’s specialties, feather-light chocolate squares that melt on the tongue while imparting a surprising intensity of flavor. There are also seasonal collections of pralines, delectable truffles, biscuits and pastries, and a covetable Macaron of the Month. Keep an eye out for the special limited edition collections, including collaborations with the likes of quirky fashion designer Olympia Le-Tam.
This delightful family-run chocolate shop was founded by Hans Burie, who started making chocolate in Ostend at the age of 20. The Antwerp Burie shop is now managed by his son, and continues the family tradition of high-quality craftsmanship. Their collection is an enticing mix of perfectly formed classics – think almond marzipan and coffee cream – with a delicious twist (try the white chocolate with buttercream walnut). For many customers, however, the biggest draw is checking out the monthly chocolate sculpture in the shop window – these range from a detailed rendition of the White House, to a realistic snake and life-sized ostrich, and even full-sized furniture and a car! For those eager to witness this chocolate-making magic in action, behind-the-scene tours of the workshop are available – along with the opportunity to sample some of Burie’s exquisite concoctions.
Not strictly a chocolate shop, this friendly bakery nevertheless makes the list as it counts some truly mouth-watering chocolate cakes and pastries among its delicious creations. For over 20 years, Patisserie Lints has kept the emphasis firmly on freshness and the very highest quality – which is why they still have a devoted following today. From wonderfully colorful cakes dressed in a rainbow of fresh fruit and chocolate swirls, to hearty fresh breads and chocolate treats, there’s something here for everyone to savor. Serious chocolate lovers should try the Tartuffo – a cake of dark and white chocolate mousse, topped with crispy milk chocolate.
Sylvie loves this shop for the beautiful simplicity of its creations, all made using a short list of pure ingredients of the very finest quality. Tucked away in the shadow of Antwerp Cathedral, Elisa Pralines specialises in traditional Belgian chocolates of the kind that have been delighting the city’s residents for centuries – including filled chocolate diamonds and Antwerpse handjes, the hand-shaped chocolates that are a local specialty. The shop boasts over 40 varieties of cream-filled pralines in just about every flavor under the sun, as well as delicate candied fruit dusted with cocoa powder – and it’s really tempting to sample them all.
Ready to taste some delicious Antwerp chocolate for yourself? Settle into the Park Inn by Radisson Antwerpen – its central location makes it perfect for exploring the city’s chocolate shops.