Food by VICE

Belgium's Infamous Candy War Is a Series of Increasingly Ridiculous Events

The battle between two candymen has included fist fights, snowball fights, and legal action.

by Stefanie Staelens; translated by Jens van de Meulenhof
Jul 15 2017, 4:00pm

Afbeelding van Wikipedia

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES Netherlands.


Last year, the Belgian city of Ghent was on fire; KAA Gent, the city's soccer club, won the Belgian league. As a means of celebration, an infamous market vendor made it rain cuberdons—a Belgian, cone-shaped candy known in Dutch as neuzeke, or "little noses"—in the stadium. The fight over the specialty confection has been almost as hard and reckless as KAA Gent's fight for a league title.

For several years now, there's been a heated turf war in Groentemarkt, a farmer's market in a square in Ghent's historic city center—and it's all because of Ghent cuberdons. I know it sounds like the subject of a kid's comic, but it's real: Two grown men each have their own stalls in which they sell the exact same sugary fruit-flavored candy. The Groentemarkt is big, but the two are positioned right next to each other. The unfortunate situation has already led to lots of emotional outbursts, at least for the candy vendors, and laughter for the market-goers. The saga has become Ghent folklore.

Carl Demeestere, the owner of the first stall, and Sonny Breine, the owner of the second stall, have been at odds for quite some time: Demeestere was the first to sell the Ghent sweets from the window of his bakery, but Breine placed a stall with the same candy right in front of that bakery. Demeestere retaliated by placing a similar stall right next to that of Breine.

Foto van Flickr gebruiker Marc https://www.flickr.com/photos/marctriumph/

Carl Demeestere, scratching his armpit in frustration. Photo by Flickr user Marc

The warring neuzekes vendors have tried to steal each other's customers and mocked one another in front of customers ever since. You'd hear the likes of "You can buy the real thing here!" and "My neighbor's candies have no taste!" More often than not, their mutual quarreling led to slightly confused customers who would subsequently ignore the stalls and not buy candy from anyone

Two years ago in April, the cuberdon war escalated to a new level when the two started an actual fist fight while a crowd of onlookers watched. Demeestere was selling candy to a group of Germans when Breine approached and attempted to lure them to his stall instead. Demeestere couldn't take it anymore. He put Breine into a headlock, but Breine defended himself by head-butting Demeestere, who then responded with a strong uppercut. The result: Bloody neuzekes. The police had to break it up, and the mayor revoked each man's license to sell for two weeks.

The Groentemarkt was a quiet, candyless place during those two weeks, but the atmosphere appeared to be more calm afterwards. However, a new chapter was added to the ongoing saga of the candy war six months later: The snowball fight. Did it take place in winter? Yes. Was there any snow involved? Nope.

Sneeuwballen, like cuberdons, are a Ghent speciality—a buttery piece of vanilla dough wrapped in chocolate and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Demeestere was the first to place sneeuballen right next to the pile of cuberdons at his stall; the next day, Breine did the same thing. And so the feud continued.

At the beginning of 2016, images of an overturned neuzekes stall were shared on Twitter and Instagram in the early hours of the morning—and it turned out to be Breine's stall. The perpetrator was not an enraged competitor, but the wind. A few months prior, Demeestere's stall was thrown over by an actual angry customer, so the balance of the universe was somewhat restored. Strangely, the war itself seemed to have blown away too.

Both sellers seemed to go their own way for a while. Breine specifically seemed to go downhill. He made the news last year for having swindled a customer—instead of 250 grams of cuberdons, he'd only given them 180 grams. In addition, the local court slammed him with a penalty of €1,000 for each time each time he criticized Deemestere's cuberdons.

For Deemestere, at least, everything is going well. In addition to his stall with classic, red neuzekes, he now has a second stall with green ones, as well as vegetable neuzekes. In collaboration with the Ghent city council, he recently made specialty cuberdons for the KAA Gent's soccer match, in solidarity with the team's colors: Blue neuzekes in white baggies.

I spoke with Deemestere to ask about his candies, his neighboring competitor, and the outcome of the candy war.

MUNCHIES: Hi, Carl! How many cuberdons did you make for the KAA Gent fans?
Carl Demeestere: I distributed 20,000 cuberdons, and now I have 200,000 left to sell.

What are the ingredients of the original red neuzekes?
Arabic gum, raspberries, and violet flowers.

How did you make them blue?
We replaced the raspberries and violets with blackberries and lemon. It's called the Buffaloneus now—because they're made for the soccer team, obviously.

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The Groentemarkt is a place that's rarely ever calm. Photo by Flickr user Zeldenrust (which, ironically, means 'rarely ever calm' in Dutch).

Now you're selling vegetable cuberdons as well. What are they?
They're a healthier, savory variation on the sweets. For example, they contain leeks and carrots, coffee and potatoes, or onions and apples. It's a neuzeke in the form of a vegetable snack that you can eat with a slice of bread.

Creative cuberdons, special neuzekes for football—how does Sonny Breine respond to all these successes?
My competitor doesn't have the expertise or ability to respond. His cuberdons are made with chemical products. We are Ghent's oldest bakery, and we're skilled [at what we do]. He isn't, so he can't offer those variations.

Can we consider the candy war as over?
War? It was never in a war. We authentic craftsmen look at those wannabe trendsetters with pity. They come and go. I'll just leave it to the tax authorities, economic inspection, and food inspector to demand that he close his business. I'm only looking ahead.

MUNCHIES was unable to reach Breine to hear his side of the story. Perhaps he was preoccupied by fighting with Arabic gum and lumps of leek, hiding in a secret cuberdon lab somewhere, preparing for his comeback.


UPDATE: When this article was written last year, the neuzekes war seemed to have an undisputed winner: Carl Demeestere. However, last Saturday saw the start of a new chapter. Younes Benzaza, who has since replaced Breine, continued his predecessor's war by throwing a bucket of water over his competitor's head.

"Suddenly I got a bucket of water [dumped all] over me," Demeestere told the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. "What's next? Cooking fritter fat?"

Benzaza's only goal was to make a point—according to him, Demeestere had been bothering him on a daily basis. "He just needs to leave me alone."

Should you find yourself in Belgium for the Ghent festival this weekend, go to the Groentemarkt. Make a visit to one of the stalls, arrange to buy some Ghent candy, and watch in awe as these gentlemen fight for your money. It's the closest you'll ever get to the heart of Belgian folklore.