Traditions of an industrial town: the Pjeirefretters in Vilvoorde

Vilvoorde, Friday morning, 10:07 a.m. We get off the train and walk along the Stationlei toward the Heldenplein. Only a handful of people brave the crisp morning air. Beside us on the road, only a few 'steeds' pass us by. Our first real 'steed' should be in the middle of the Heldenplein, but in the end we have to be content with a picture of it in the ErfgoedApp. The real statue was given a temporary home while waiting for the reconstruction of the square.

Presentation of the renovated Heroes Square with the bronze horse statue of Rik Poot © The Working Company.

We continue walking toward the Grand Place with the ErfgoedApp, which tells us the story of the Met. Located in the heart of the city, the Met is known today as a cozy brasserie, but until 1974 the weekly market was held here and sold horse meat. Whether the brasserie still has horse meat products on the menu today, we were unable to test out. A little later we stop at restaurant De Kuiper, which has specialized in dishes with horse meat for more than 150 years.

Why horse meat?

Because of its location near Brussels, there was not much room in Vilvoorde to raise livestock such as cattle or sheep. Horses, however, were plentiful: until the early 20th century, they were essential to local industry. The famous Brabant draught horses were used to pull barges across the Senne and later the Brussels-Scheldt Canal. In Drenkplaatsstraat, we learn that the draft horses found a resting and watering place in Vilvoorde, on the banks of the Zenne. The horses that were no longer suitable for the heavy draught also served as food for the people of Vilvoorde.

Old print of draft horses at work on the Brussels-Schelde Canal © VisitVilvoorde.

Not just as food

Today, the consumption of horse meat in Vilvoorde is more of a tradition than a necessity. The inhabitants of the town are proud of "their" Brabant draught horse, and this is also clearly visible at the Vilvoorde annual fair. The highlight is the judging competitions held for draft horses and other livestock. People come from far and wide to the Roosevelt Square in the heart of the city to participate in or enjoy this spectacle. Unfortunately, we were just a little too early to see the real horses parading in the square, but we were eventually able to spot a stone one. Verdict of the judges: passed with a thumbs up!

This year, the annual fair will take place on April 22, 2024, traditionally the third Monday after Easter Monday.

Would you like to get a taste for yourself, literally and/or figuratively, of Vilvoord traditions and learn more about the special relationship between the town and horses? Then take a look at the walk Pjeirefretters at ErfgoedApp and also visit Visit Vilvoorde - city full of vibes for even more fun activities in this city.