Brussels may be famous as the home of European bureaucracy, and well-known for its sweet tooth, from decadent waffles to fine chocolate – but few realise that one of the most popular fried foods in the world actually originates there, too. From the special way they are prepared to the best places to find them when you visit Brussels, we’ve got all you need to know about the humble fried potato.
Don’t be fooled by the name ‘French’ fries; the origins of this ubiquitous dish can be traced back to Belgium. The misnomer stems from a geographical error during World War I, when American soldiers stationed in Belgium believed they were situated in France (due to the fact that part of Belgium speaks French). When introduced to the delicacy, the soldiers nicknamed these fried potatoes ‘French fries’. Brussels fine array of frituurs have been trying to reclaim their legacy even since.
The Spanish discovered potatoes in the early 15th century and brought them to Europe, and 200 years later the people of Liège and Dinant, which are located in what is now the southern part of Belgium, started to fry them. It is believed the original idea came from the practice of catching and frying small fish from the Meuse river. As the river froze during winter, people used the same procedure but with potatoes instead, and fries were born.
The quality of Belgian frites is very important, and the final result depends upon the temperature before cooking. The fries cannot be frozen or too soft before frying, as they need the perfect balance to ensure that, once fried, they are crispy and delicious. The perfect Belgian frites are also no more than one centimetre (0.4 inches) thick, and the procedure involves frying the potatoes twice. In fact, they are even prepared in a special oil made from a mix of horse and cow fat.
Need further evidence that Belgians take their fries seriously? In 2014, a group successfully campaigned to have the dish added to the UNESCO list of Cultural Treasures. Next stop, World Heritage status.
You can visit any town or city in Belgium and order frites to be enjoyed while exploring the city. For maximum enjoyment, make sure to find the condiment that’s right for you. Belgian frites are almost always served with a sauce – be it the standard favourites of ketchup and mustard, or a more interesting concoction like andalouse, samurai and joppieaus – but the most traditional topping for Belgians is mayonnaise.
So, we’ve established that fries are treat on their own, but as a side dish, fries are an ever-present in Belgium’s other staple dishes, such as moules frites (fries with mussels), filet americain, or the classic steak and fries combination.
Whichever language you’re speaking, Brussels isn’t short of these fast, easy-going eateries either. Alongside a swiftly-served portion of fries, you will also find a selection of accompanying snacks including chicken legs and sausages. If you’re new to frites culture, try a fried meatball called the boulet or the infamous Bicky Burger.
Without a doubt, one of the most popular and well-known locations is Friterie de la Barrière, a frites kiosk that’s always surrounded by tourists and is ranked among the top five places for frites in Belgium. However, the most popular frituur in Brussels is the famous Maison Antoine, located in Etterbeek.