Bites and Walks around Antwerp

Wouldn't you take advantage of free airfare for a two-week vacation in Europe? That's what I did on my way home from Saudi Arabia. I decided to hop through Amsterdam, Paris, Antwerp, and Cologne before flying all the way back. It was in Antwerp where I visited Michelle, the one who helped me get the Saudi job. Michelle was so thoughtful to purchase us a food tour for my visit. I would get to try the local specialties and she would get some background for her to share with future visitors.

Michelle was careful to select the tour after one mentioned a stop at Five Guys! Really? Please! Luckily she found Nina, who runs Bites and Walks. Nina has grown up in Antwerp with a Belgian mother and Spanish father. She grew up around food and worked in the hotel food industry before deciding to take the leap to start the food tour. You can choose from weekday or weekend, food or beer, private or group tours. We were lucky that my visit included the Saturday market day.

Here are some of the highlights. Thanks to Nina for providing proper names, spellings, details.

Belgian breakfast at CafĂ© The Pelikan (above) which included "Rodenbach beer + grey shrimps + Brugges Cheese + Tagliate Charcuterie, finely sliced from Beef Belgian Wit Blauw (White Blue Belgian Beef breed) topped with celery in a vinegar sauce" 

Antwerpse Handjes from Philippe Biscuit, a patented "biscuit that won a competition back in 1934 to celebrate the battle between Brabo and Antigoon, the legend that tells the story how Antwerp got it’s name." Basically the story is that a giant, Antigoon, demanded a toll at the river or cut off your hand. Brabo defeated Antigoon and cut off his hand and threw it in the river. "Ant" comes from "hand" and "werp" comes from "throw".

"Eel which we just topped of with some drops of lemon. From Soraya, a Moroccan entrepreneur and leading lady from Rungis Fish at the Provinciestraat in Antwerp." 

Belgian croquettes are unlike the ones we generally know. These are very moist inside with a very crispy outside. Above we see shrimp, asparagus, and truffle croquettes. Nina explains that it's all about the textural difference between the two, which is also reflected in...

Belgian Frites (fries). This particular batch we tried comes from Frites Atelier, a fast casual chain from a Michelin star earning chef, Sergio Herman. He researched to find the perfect potato for the texture they prize - double-fried, crispy outside with tender inside. He has a proprietary samphire salt and his own blends of aiolis.

"The herring, intestines removed, salted and matured for some time. Served with chopped onion, which is an old habit. The name MAATJE is very important, it means VIRGIN, it is only caught at sea during the months May and June when the fish haven't spawned. If it is caught after this period, it is called SALT
HERRING. The fish is flash frozen for 24 hours because eating raw fish can be dangerous and so that the herring worm will be killed. The reason why we eat onion with it goes way back to the time when it was not as easy as today to conserve fish, so they needed to add much more salt. When they ate the herring they needed to rinse the fish with water and milk. The result was that the herring tasted a bit too bland and onion was added."

There are only a few places left that serve it freshly prepared. Here you see the guy gutting and prepping it fresh for us.

There were some other stops along the way for pastries, Belgian chocolate, and sites, but I don't want to give everything away. And you may have noticed that our tour was food only since our small group had agreed we weren't too interested in alcohol that early.  So, if in Antwerp, look Nina up at Bites and Walks and you can schedule the tour with her tailored to your needs!