Antwerp was the last city I explored before I went back to the Philippines at the end of my 70-day solo backpacking trip in Europe in 2012.
Second only to Brussels in population, it is best known for its beautiful architecture (their railway station, cathedral, and marketplace are definitely worth a visit!), numerous diamond shops, and its vibrant fashion and art scene.
I was very impressed with the railway station (Read: 10 Memorable Train Stations in Europe) and the Grote Markt (post to follow…someday). Coming from a country where saving old structures is an uphill battle, seeing all those beautiful buildings in Antwerp made me wish that the Philippine government held the same regard for heritage structures.
After hours of walking around with my ex-friend K, however, all I wanted to do was sit down somewhere, put my feet up, and eat something. I was starving. K being Belgian, he wanted a drink, and negotiated going to the beer bars first before having dinner. There were a lot of these near the main square.
Perfect, I thought. In the Philippines, whenever people drink–whether beer or some other alcohol–there would always be food. It can be anything as simple as a pack of nuts, but mostly, we would have a dish of pork or chicken to eat with the beer. (I prefer having tuna and tofu.) I thought then that I would have the same thing in the beer bars of Antwerp.
The street we went to were full of these pubs, small locals’ places where you can have beer on tap and good conversation. K chose ‘T Antwaerps Bierhuiske (Antwerp’s Little Beer House), a small place which he said had a good selection of both Belgian and foreign beers. Prices seemed to be okay, too.
Frankly, I didn’t care that much about the beer menu or its prices. All I wanted was food. Belgian servings are typically huge, so I was looking forward to a good meal already.
Unfortunately, there was no food to be had! There was nothing on the menu except small packs of chips and servings of cheese. We ordered them and I scarfed them up even before my bottle of Kwak beer came. I was just so hungry!
My craving for food initially sated, I took a closer look at Kwak. I chose it not because of its taste but because of the unique shape of its glass and its glass holder. My friend said that the name comes from the sound the glass makes when you drink it! I tried it, and I did hear a kwaking sound. I think. 🙂
Kwak is not the only beer with a special glass, even though it’s more unique than most. In a country where beer is not just a drink but a culture, it follows that even the glass which it is served has to have meaning.
According to K, the shape of a beer’s particular glass enhances its flavor, so you can’t serve Kwak, for example, in a glass made for Westmalle, and vice versa. (I think only Belgians would appreciate this statement.)
That cold afternoon in Antwerp, I didn’t really appreciate the cultural lesson very much. After all, I had never had so much beer in my life than when I was in Belgium. We had beer with lunch (thank God, even Belgians think breakfast is too early for beer), midday snacks, dinner, after dinner snacks, and just before going to bed.
I was just hungry then, and looking at all the drinks in the beer bar without any of the food accoutrements that you can find in the Philippines made me miss my country all the more.
Still, I enjoyed drinking the Kwak. Once you get over how beautiful the glass is (and my hunger, in my case), you can truly appreciate its taste.
‘T Antwaerps Bierhuiske
Hoogstraat 14 (near Grote Markt and the Cathedral)
Open from 1:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Have you had Belgian beer? What’s your favorite? Mine’s Westmalle!