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In 2012, three friends brought together by a shared love for pizza made their dream a reality when they opened Pizza Brain and its Museum of Pizza Culture. The museum-cum-restaurant features the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world.
From sword-wielding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurines wearing Pizza Hut sweaters to a slice-shaped remote control to a wall lined with pie-themed album covers, no surface is free from pizza pizazz. In addition to one founder’s enormous collection, the museum continues to receive pizza memorabilia from near and far. Located in Fishtown, a Philadelphia neighborhood that has become a haven for creatives and young professionals, the museum is also a pizza parlor. Menu options range from the simple (the "Jane" comes with mozzarella, aged provolone, grana padano, and fresh basil) to the decadent (the "Kira Tierston" comes with mozzarella, smoked bacon, a bit of brown sugar, red onion, and oven-roasted brussels sprouts).
Diners with a sweet tooth can chase their pie with a scoop from the adjacent ice cream shop, Little Baby’s, whose flavors run the gamut from Irish Potato to Chocolate Churro. The truly adventurous are can concoct what is called a Frankford Avenue Taco by topping their cheese slice with Little Baby’s pizza-flavored ice cream.
In the square of the Largo do Paiçandu neighborhood of São Paulo stands a statue of an Afro-Brazilian woman breastfeeding an infant child. Look closely, and you’ll notice the faraway look on the woman’s face.
The solemnity of this statue is intentional. Monumento Mãe Preta (The Black Mother Monument) represents a heartbreaking reality that was suffered by thousands of Afro-Brazilian women who were kept as slaves and known as the “black mothers.”
In the colonial period right up until the very end of the 19th century, it was common for slave owners to rent female slaves who had just given birth and use them as wet nurses to breastfeed the newborns of the wealthy and middle classes. This evil practice relied upon removing the mother’s own newborn child from her care.
The statue, sculpted in the 1950s by Júlio Guerra, immortalizes the profound sorrow of these women who were robbed of their freedom, highlighting the evil of slavery and oppression and reinserting their place in history.
Cojones de caballo, or "horse's balls," is the common name given by Belizeans to the fruit of a tree that also has its fruit to thank for its colloquial namesake: simply, "the horse's balls tree." When seeing the fruit hanging from its tree, the reason for its nickname becomes increasingly obvious, as the large, bulbous fruit grows in pairs.
When the skin of the fruit is cut, it begins to gush a sticky, milky-white residue. Because of this residue's mildly adhesive quality, locals have compared it to store-bought glue, and use it for similar purposes.
The cojones de caballo fruit is also known for one particular medicinal application: killing mosquito-borne parasites called botflies. Belizeans simply apply the fruit's residue to the affected area and suffocate the parasite.
Head down around the southernmost spot on the African continent, and you’ll find an atmospheric shipwreck waiting just off the shore. The surviving fragment of the doomed vessel rusts atop the rocks, where it’s constantly battered by the wind and waves.
The Meisho Maru No. 38 was a small Japanese fishing vessel that, like so many others, prowled the seas to reap its bounty. This part of South Africa’s coast is notoriously dangerous, causing many ships to succumb to its wrath.
The Meisho Maru No. 38 met its end on November 16, 1982. A storm caused it to run aground. Fortunately, because it sank so close to shore, all 17 members of its crew were able to swim to safety, leaving the ship as the only casualty.
After spending decades being beaten by the elements, the wrecked vessel finally broke apart. For now, its prow still rests in place, though it’s likely the sea may one day claim that as well. If you’re in the area and like shipwrecks, you’ll want to be sure to see it before it’s gone.
The powerful pairing of fish and chips has long been considered a British staple. Dubbed “the undisputed national dish of Great Britain” by the National Federation of Fish Friers, it’s been enjoyed on the island for over a century, with an estimated 35,000 chip shops in business by 1935. During World War II, Winston Churchill exempted the beloved dish from rationing. Today, “Fish & Chip Friday” is a weekly ritual for Brits ringing in the weekend.
Fish and chips's origin story, however, is a bit more complex than this nationalist sentiment might imply.
As told by Simon Majumdar in his podcast, Eat My Globe, it all began outside of the U.K., hundreds of years ago. From the 8th to the 12th century, Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in relative peace in Portugal, known as Al-Andalus under Moorish rule. Sephardic Jews, who likely comprised around 20 percent of the population, were relatively well-respected and held positions in the high court. For this reason, the area became somewhat of a haven for those fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. However, in 1496, after the end of Moorish rule, King Manuel I married Isabel of Spain, who was not so aligned with the idea of religious freedom. Her ultimatum: Their betrothal would mean the expulsion of Jews from Portugal. Manuel I mandated that all Jews be baptized, or otherwise expelled.
While many fled, some Jews stayed, and either converted to Christianity or pretended to do so. Marranos, also referred to as “Crypto-Jews,” continued to practice Judaism in secret. But when Portugal fell under Spanish rule, the Inquisition targeted individuals with Jewish lineage, threatening anyone claiming to be a Converso. As religious violence worsened, many fled Portugal and resettled in England, bringing with them culinary treasures founded in Sephardic cuisine—including fish.
Peshkado frito (in Andalusian dialect, pescaíto frito) was one of them. The dish of white fish, typically cod or haddock, fried in a thin coat of flour, was a favorite particularly among Portuguese Marranos, who fried it on Friday nights to prepare for the Sabbath, as the Mosaic laws prohibited cooking. Allegedly, the batter preserved the fish so it could be eaten cold, and without sacrificing too much flavor, the following day.
It was a hit. Fish prepared “in the Jewish manner” was sold on the streets of London on any given day. And at the end of the week, eating fish on Friday was a part of religious observance for Jews and Christians alike—as "fish fasting" to avoid consuming warm-blooded animals has been a part of the Catholic tradition for centuries.
But the Friday-night tradition was likely chipless until the late-19th century. The general popularity of the potato bloomed late in Europe, and it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the tuber was accepted, due especially to the promotional efforts of a French scientist. Though there are several theories of how the potato came to England—and how it became the “chip” we know and love today—one historical account credits a tripe vendor by the name of Mrs. "Granny" Duce with selling the first fried cut potatoes to the public.
There are also competing theories about who created the pairing of, as Churchill called them, “good companions.” Most trace it back to the early 1860s, when Joseph Malins, a Jewish immigrant, opened up a fish and chips shop in London. Others point to John Lee, a man living outside of Manchester, who ran a “chipped potato” restaurant that sold the beloved pairing.
Whether the winning combo was first slapped together by John or Joseph or someone else entirely, it soon became everybody’s dish. British natives and immigrants alike began slathering their cod in batter and frying up husky chips. Industrialization in the 19th and early 20th centuries launched the fish dish to even greater heights, as it became a favorite for factory and mill workers in London and beyond. And while its religious connotations are hidden today, many admirers remain devoted to the beloved international, national dish.
Welcome back! Recently, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to tell us about the places they can't stay away from. These are the destinations you keep returning to whenever you have the chance, despite the obvious appeal of using that time to go somewhere new. We wanted to hear about why some places continue to call to you over and over, and you came back with some truly incredible, inspirational stories.
Cities, islands, and mountains have all become travel touchstones for many of our readers. One of you has been visiting the same crumbling dam every time you see your family, and several of you wrote eloquently about the natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park.
A selection of some of our other favorite responses can be found below. If you don't already have a place like this in your life, these stories might just inspire you to keep looking.
Yellowstone National Park
“Being in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is a religious experience. I don't believe in deities but I do believe in the power of nature to refresh and comfort. YNP bubbles with water—hot and cold—and it runs in gurgling channels and rocky streams, out of seething springs and gushing geysers; chuckling, roaring, and crashing down off the Continental Divide into big rivers that drain the backbone of the West. Water is everywhere in the park and it sparkles and scintillates. [...] The entire Park lives and breathes, rising, falling and shaking as the magma beneath moves into the country rock. I go to this place every autumn, to watch the russet grasses move in the wind, to hear the elk call across the moonlit miles, to smell the fragrant steam rising from the springs, to feel the spray from an erupting geyser and to feel close to the Earth in a way that is impossible anywhere else. No, I don't believe in deities, but Yellowstone is my church, where I go to worship the elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.” — Cindy Rose, Wyoming
“I always feel safe and relaxed whenever I go there. It keeps expanding its book collection.” — Manar Altammar, Kuwait City, Kuwait
Berkeley Springs State Park
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
“It's an in-between point between where I live and my parent's home. I stop there to take a break from driving. In the summer I dip my feet in the spring water. All year, I walk up the stairs to view the castle on the hill and look down at the park. I fill up my water bottles with spring water.” — Elizabeth, Culpeper, Virginia
"The power of the water. The beauty of the Earth. Not only is the area breathtakingly beautiful, but it is a wonderful teaching tool. There are countless examples of erosion and how powerless we are in the face of time. There is also a great little gift shop with fun trinkets. My first time there I was around 7 years old. I thought it looked like a giant chocolate milk waterfall. Now, as an adult, I take my two daughters.” —Tiffany West, Somerset, Kentucky
“The most stunning (literally weeping-it’s-so-unbelievably-breathtaking) mountain landscapes, the sheer amount of possible activities, including hiking on the countless trails of varying difficulty; rowing a boat on Lago di Braies; paragliding from one of the lookout points; window shopping in one of the many small pedestrian-only towns; or just sitting outside at a mountainside restaurant with a glass of wine and incredible regional food. I would move there in a second.” — Kevin, New York City, New York
“The air feels different there. I can relax on Martha’s Vineyard in a way that I can't in other places. I love how dynamic the ocean is. It’s ever present, but always changing. I love the relaxed, excited, gearing-up-for-summer vibe when we visit (we like to go in late June before the traffic gets crazy). I love to visit the places there that are special to me, remember other times I’ve visited, and imagine future trips as well. My heart is there!” — Amy Wyman, New Hampshire
Frederik Meijer Gardens
Grand Rapids, Michigan
“Sometimes I go more for the plants, sometimes more for the art. Amazing special exhibits and events. Although it is always changing, I never fail to come away with a sense of peace and happiness.” — Julie Parker, Howell, Michigan
“I keep going back to Block Island for its natural beauty, its simplicity, its friendly sense of community, and most importantly, for the nostalgia. Block Island was the location of my family's summer vacation for years when I was a child/young teen, so going back to Block Island always feels like going home. From the moment I step foot on the island, I'm reminded of simpler, very happy times. What I like most about Block Island is that it barely changes. It is virtually untouched by commercialism and the same families return year after year, frequenting the same locally-owned shops and restaurants that have been open for decades. The most change I've seen is to the beaches, especially Mansion Beach, where erosion has become obvious.” — Julie M., New Haven, Connecticut
“There is something about Tokyo that is different from other large cities in the world like London, Paris, New York, or Seoul. No matter how many times you go there, there will always be something new to discover, yet you can keep going back to the same familiar places. Why do I keep going back? Tokyo to me has an effect no other city has. It can give me the feeling of falling in love for the first time, over and over and over again.” — Andrew, Toronto, Canada
“I grew up a little ways down the hill in a house my parents sold this summer. It’s a beautiful spot, peaceful and calm, and you can see FOREVER. I would go there when I was upset or needed a break or even in good times, when I just needed a moment of quiet. There's a little house I always dreamed of owning, and about 15 years ago they built a bigger one (that I still think looks out of place, and I despise it). It’s a reminder that things change and that I literally can't ever go 'home' again, but home is still there.” — Caitlin, Denver, Colorado
An Old Dam at the Mouth of Lake Coeur d'Alene
“When I would go visit my folks at Pend Oreille Lake, I would need to get away. So I explored around and found this place. The next year I came back was when my mother died. I would walk the trails and think about our family's lives together and how change was inevitable. Last time I saw it, they had equipment there to possibly remove it.” — Cherry Rice, Ketchikan, Alaska
Good Harbor Bay Beach
"I have been visiting Good Harbor Bay Beach in Sleeping Bear Dunes for over 30 years. I love it because every time I go there, it’s the same, anchored by massive dunes and wide-open skies, yet it’s also different, changing with the daylight, the seasons, the years. From my bedroom window at home in Chicago, I can see 27 other peoples’ backyards. On the beach at Good Harbor, I see only sand, sky, water, and trees. It’s a place to explore, reflect, and just breath.” — Kate Murphy, Chicago, Illinois
Sanlúcar de Barrameda
“It’s a very special town. It’s the location of the start and end of the first circumnavigation of the world, and a wine is produced here which can only be made in this tiny town. This town stood up to Franco. The shrimp in the tidal river estuary are genetically unique from shrimp anywhere else in the world. It’s also next to Europe’s largest national park. Sanlúcar observes a three-hour siesta each day, is unapologetically Andalucian, and has a socialist spirit of resistance!” — Annette Fisher, Lilongwe, Malawi
"I keep returning because it is breathtakingly, wildly beautiful and it's the only place in the whole world where I feel completely safe. Nobody locks their doors, cars are left with the key in the ignition. If you drop or lose something, you are sure to find it later in the one shop in the village, because someone will have brought it in. The locals have become like family to me, and the moments at the tiny harbor each time I arrive or leave are precious, because everyone who can will come to greet me, or see me off. Coming from a family of immigrants, I find this sense of belonging deeply comforting, especially as the locals are immigrants themselves, all originally hailing from Crete in the 19th century. There is a sense of sadness and urgency too, as it is undeniably a dying community. So unlike other destinations, you don't have the feeling that you can 'go another time' and not find the community changed. Nature is reclaiming the landscape, and the locals are outmatched. Evidence of ancient life lies silently in the hard, resilient soil, birds fly above as they have done for thousands of years. I cannot resist the pull every spring and autumn, however hard I try sometimes. It is the only place where my soul can breathe easily.” — Angie Athanassiades, Athens, Greece
Capitol Reef National Park
“I don’t know. It feeds my soul somehow. It’s vast, stark, quiet, stunningly beautiful high desert.” — Debra Crosby, Austin, Texas
Glacier National Park
“My family is from the Blackfeet Reservation which is right next to the park. I have been traveling there since I was a small child. To me it is home, and I feel my ancestors when there. I am forever in awe of the sheer beauty of the place, and how small and insignificant I feel when there. Everywhere you look is another natural wonder. It has changed over the years with the loss of many of the glaciers, but it's still the most beautiful place in the world.” — Mickey Kunnary, Helena, Montana
"There's something about being surrounded by water that is peaceful and calm. Sure, there are throngs of tourists, but off the beaten path there is magic and serene beauty on the miles and miles of trails. Every time I go, I discover something new and different that I'd not noticed before. On an island where motor vehicles are not allowed, the gentle clip-clop of the horse hooves brings unimaginable tranquility to help ease a stressed soul.” — Claudia, Michigan
“Years ago I accidentally got into one of the British Museum's cellars, and there, on an old, dilapidated, wheeled trundle and looking very forlorn, was this wonderful statue of a lion. He looked so sad! I stopped and chatted with him for a while, told him how handsome he was, and took many photos (hard copy, since this was before iPhones), until I was discovered and shooed out by a guard. Not long after, the British Museum undertook the remodel and installation of the rotunda. The museum was closed for what seemed like forever. But eventually it reopened. I returned to London and of course my first stop was the British Museum. I ran up to the guard at the main entrance, pulled out a photo and asked breathlessly, ‘Have you seen this lion?’ With true British cool, he replied, ‘Yes, madam. If you will go through that door into the rotunda and look to your left, you will see him.’ And there he was, not on a lowly trundle anymore, but on a magnificent plinth, looking very regal. I've been back many times since (and will be returning this November, in fact) and each time I greet him and photograph him.” — Sandra Sizer, Boston, Massachusetts
“We found it by accident and fell in love. We spent our honeymoon there and have gone there every year for 21 years. You take a one-lane road up 24 miles to about 8,000 feet, and it takes two hours to drive those 24 miles. When you get there, it's absolute heaven. Hardly any people, no stop lights, no internet, and until recently, no electricity! You're surrounded by giant sequoias and redwoods, glaciers, mountain streams, and wildlife. It's the only place in the world where I can actually nap!” — Jennifer Jesperson, North Hollywood, California
“The desert, mountains, and saguaros speak to my spirit, refreshing my mind and body. I feel cleansed after exploring Tucson and the surrounding areas. The sky at night is as enormous and breathtaking as any place I have yet to travel.” — Victoria Whitman, Oakland, California
“The quaintness is breathtaking. Thatched roof cottages, cobblestone streets, market squares, wearing ‘wellies,’ walking the Cotswold Way, bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, fish and chips.. The list, and the draw, is endless!” — Ivan, Scottsdale, Arizona
The Flatiron Building
New York City
“I'm (irrationally?) obsessed with the Flatiron Building. I always go there when I'm in New York City and do a 'laying on of the hands,' which gives me strength until the next time I'm there.” — Frank Francisconi, New London, Connecticut
"I feel very lucky in the fact that I have been visiting Hawaii since I was 5. But I first visited Hanauma Bay with my family when I was about 11 years old. It was white sand, and glorious snorkeling with sea turtles, and a vibrant fish population which looked like tiny neon colors floating all around you as you swam in the water. The sky and ocean seemed to meet there in that magical place. In the years since, the crowds have gotten considerably larger and more touristy. But I have always seen it idealized in my mind. This transcendent place, filled with color and beauty which made the beaches back home seem almost sad. And as I traveled to more distant locations in my adulthood, I can agree that there are beaches just as beautiful and less crowded. However, I think places like these are like falling in love. It becomes a part of you and all the others after this are compared to it, and they fall short because nothing can come close enough to your heart. I keep coming back to this place 20+ years later because I simply fell in love with it, and it feels like home.” — Veronica Ng, Palo Alto, California
The Spaulding Library
“I could walk to the library when I was a kid, and my mom (an English teacher at the local high school) didn't restrict my reading, so I could truly adventure when I was there. On the second floor was a museum of sorts, with ceremonial Iroquois leathers and headdress, and there was a dumbwaiter that moved books between floors. The facade had huge stone columns, and it was THE grandest building in town. I travel for work to an area several hours north, but I drive rather than fly just so I can stop in every year or two.” — Lee Anne, Vienna, Virginia
The Riverboat Graveyard
Dawson City, Yukon Territory
“It is, for me, a peaceful and reflective place. Although it is mostly in ruins, they whisper stories if you care to listen. And if you can find yourself in some remote nook, it is as though the mists of time part for a seemingly infinite split second. One time I even spent a night on the deck of one of the sleeping giants. I can't say I slept, but I feel I had one of those life-shifting moments, what with the combination of the history at my back and the unrestricted flow of the cosmos overhead. Intense, extremely personal, and otherwise indescribable!” — Doug Frechette, Wetaskiwin, Alberta
“Everything about the place makes one feel warm and comforted. It has the beach where my dad taught me how to swim. Other than that amazing memory, there's this restaurant that I visit every time, where they give patrons warm water and heated plates prior to serving the food, and holding those warm plates makes one feel ultra cozy. Like the favored grandchild at Christmas! The winding mud paths and overhanging branches of trees and the slow pace of life never fail to evoke a pensive state of mind. It's a perfect place for dreamers and writers and philosophers. I'm not even from a beach town, but no matter where you're from, coming here can feel like coming home." — Karen R., India
About an hour or so's drive from central Rangoon, this cemetery appears suddenly, and is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by a few small shops and a tiny village. It feels like a tiny bit of Britain that has been transported thousands of miles away to Myanmar.
The beautifully maintained cemetery holds the remains of Allied soldiers who died during World War I and World War II. It contains 6,374 graves from World War II alone, though only 5,576 are identified.
The Taukkyan War Cemetery also honors the soldiers for whom no known grave was found. Its memorial pillars hold the names of more than 27,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died within the country.
The cemetery opened 1951. Its inhabitants were exhumed from four battlefield cemeteries in Akyab, Mandalay, Meiktila, and Sahmaw because those graveyards were too difficult to access and maintain. Its grounds are meticulously maintained, with trimmed glass and fresh flowers greeting those who wander within the stillness.
Ponce, Puerto Rico, is probably best known for its Parque de Bombas (Pump Park) located at Plaza las Delicias, the city square. However, this old fire station overshadows a street only a few blocks away, where the firefighters lived after battling a hellish fire that threatened to destroy the whole city.
The famous fire happened recently after the United States seized control of Puerto Rico. As part of its military operations, it built a munition deposit at Comerio Street for storing gunpowder and explosive weaponry, among other equipment. There was also a stable for the horses and the mules used to drag the artillery, as well as plenty of hay to feed them.
The citizens of Ponce at the time were concerned about the possibility of a fire starting at the deposit. Eventually, their fears came true. The night of January 25, 1899, a fire (known historically as El Polvorín) started in the hay warehouse and soon threatened to ignite the munition deposit.
The good news was that the Pump Park was only three blocks away, so a quick response by the firefighters was possible. However, military authorities ordered them not to engage the flames, fearing for their safety (this is speculation as the true reasons are unknown). Seven firefighters and one civilian, however, chose to disobey the orders and extinguished the flames.
The group received an unexpected reward for their efforts: punishment for insubordination. But the citizens of Ponce rallied in their support, and they were eventually pardoned and revered as heroes. In appreciation for the firefighters, the city decided to give them free housing. Once a year, a new firefighter and his family won a small wooden house during a raffle held during La Candelaria, a traditional firefighter celebration. One house was raffled each year, until the mid-20th century.
Today, the houses still stand after being restored in 1991 as an effort to preserve the city's history. They are currently occupied by descendants of the firefighters. The street they are in was renamed Calle 25 de Enero (January 25 Street) in reference to that eventful night.
In June, after 47 years of laughter and screams, the Heritage Square Amusement Park in Golden, Colorado had its final ride. On Friday, October 25, its entire contents—from a Ferris wheel, to a roller coaster, to the dizzying Tilt-a-Whirl—are being auctioned off to the public on-site.
A 30-minute drive from Denver, Heritage Square was a Gold Rush-themed, free-admission family destination complete with artisan shops, a wedding chapel, a music hall, and the second alpine slide ever built in North America. (That’s a long chute on the side of a hill with wheeled carts sliding down it.) The park’s architecture was inspired by Storybrook design, a craggy fairytale style that incorporates playful distortions and forced perspective to make downsized models look like real buildings.
According to Norton Auctioneers’ brochure, bidders at next week’s sale of a “COMPLETE AMUSEMENT PARK,” can buy rides built as far back as 1963, along with a 1980 “space shuttle,” a 1993 spinning teacup ride, and nine swan paddle boats—eight white, one black. And in true arcade game fashion, it’s wise to have a solid wad of cash to play, as the auction prefers cash paid in full on the day of. But don’t worry: buyers of the park’s largest items will have additional time to transport their casual new Ferris wheel away in something other than a sedan.
If you’d like a piece of the park but can’t quite incorporate a swan boat or two into your lifestyle, the auction also boasts the sale of a chili cheese dispenser, soft-serve machines, metal gazebos, cash registers, round (or square) trash cans, and a 36-hole mini golf set up for your backyard.
For those who grew up visiting the park, the purchase of a genuine Heritage Square trash can may evoke fond memories. Denver native Cindy Leibman remembers the rocky, sepia-toned vistas surrounding the park. “My favorite thing in the ‘80s was watching fireworks from the hillside above Heritage Square,” she says. “You could hike pretty close to the slide and see fireworks over the whole city.”
Jon Robbins, another Denverite who spent a childhood within Heritage Square’s city limits, says the park’s intentionally vintage prospector theme was somewhat frustrating for a kid: “I remember hating the old-timey pictures my family would force me to do. They’re popular in a lot of places throughout America, but those pictures are a constant reminder of Heritage Square, for better or for worse.” Conversely, the Alpine Slide, which winds haphazardly through hills that once hid gold, seems to be a unanimous crowd favorite. “The Alpine Slide sticks in my memory the most,” says Robbins. “I loved it so much. I remember every drive up the I-70 I could see the tracks zig-zag across the mountain face and I couldn’t wait to get on the terribly slow and old ski lift that took you to the top.”
Over the years, various parts of Heritage Square closed in waves: 2015 marked the end of the Alpine Slide and the Old West-themed town just beyond it; next, Miner’s Maze and the village church were moved to a new location; and on June 30 of this year, the amusement park attractions stopped running. Once the rides and other fixtures are sold off, says Alan Bader, the amusement park’s operator of 20 years, “the history of Heritage Square will be kept alive by the memories and the pictures that cannot be taken away.”
Antwerp is the capital of chocolate, selling it in various shapes and flavors, ranging from little peeing boys (manneken pis) to more traditional shapes such as animals and happy faces. But one of the most popular shapes is a severed hand.
As the myth behind Antwerpse handjes (Antwerp hands) goes, there once was a mighty giant called Druon Antigoon. The giant terrorized the people by demanding tolls to anyone passing his lair near the Scheldt river. When someone could not pay, the giant chopped off their hand and threw it into the river. One day, however, a brave soldier named Silvius Brabo defeated the giant in battle, then chopped off his hand and threw it into the river. Some suggest that the name Antwerp comes from the Dutch for the words hand werpen or "hand throwing" (though this is debated among etymologists). Over the years, severed hands have became a symbol of the city, first as cookies decorated with sliced almonds, and later as chocolates filled with praline or marzipan. Outside Antwerp's city hall, the Brabo Fountain even features a statue of the hero tossing the giant's hand.
While the legend about Antwerp’s chocolate hands tells a story of sweet victory, there is a more complex, bitter, and oft-overlooked history associated with the symbol of severed hands in Belgium. From 1885 to 1908, the Congo Free State was a private holding controlled by Belgium's King Leopold II. Leopold grew rich, exporting valuable Congolese resources such as rubber and ivory. To do this, the king's army forced many Congolese into labor. And for those who did not meet quotas? Soldiers would sever their hands and present them to officials as proof of enforcement. And while the news of Leopold's horrific regime sparked an international outcry that resulted in his losing control over the state in 1908, the Congo remained a Belgian colony until regaining its independence in 1960.
Though they may seem like simple candies, the chocolate hands represent a complex story of symbolism. The triumphant myth of vanquishing the giant is tempered by the less-than-savory realties of exploitation and colonization in the Congo. Perhaps the best way to consume such complicated stories is not by rewriting history or rejecting their edible symbols, but rather by using them as tool for discussion about how to build a better, sweeter future.