France vs. Belgium
The name French fries implies that this dish can be traced back to France; however, the origins of this ubiquitous dish can be traced back to Belgium. It is rumored that French fries received that name during WWI. At that time, American soldiers were introduced to the fried potatoes in Belgium, but because they thought they were situated in France (due to the fact that part of Belgium speaks French), the soldiers nicknamed these fried potatoes as French fries, instead of calling them fried potatoes.
The Origin of Frites in Belgium
The first to discover potatoes were the Spanish in the early 15th century, and 200 years later in the late 17th century, the Belgians introduced the first fried potatoes, more specifically, between the two cities of Liège and Dinant, which are located in the southern part of Belgium. It is believed the original idea came from the practice of catching and frying small fish from the Meuse river, yet as the river froze during winter time, people used the same procedure but with potatoes instead. This marked the beginning of what would become a national dish in Belgium and a longstanding tradition to its cuisine.
How Belgians Eat Frites
Belgians eat their frites preferably with their fingers or with small plastic forks; it is typical to serve them with a dollop of sauce. You can visit any town or city in Belgium and order frites, which may be served in a paper cone to be enjoyed while exploring the city. Tasting this famed dish is definitely a must for tourists!
More Than Just Condiments
The Belgian frites are almost always served with a sauce, which vary from more traditional favorites such as ketchup and mustard to more interesting concoctions like andalouse, samurai and joppieaus. But don’t forget that the topping most Belgians prefer is mayonnaise, which is also paired with most Belgian dishes.
The National Side Dishes
Whether you call them French fries, pommes frites or chips, the diverse name of this particular food also varies in terms of how it is served and prepared. One of the more popular dishes in Belgium is frites with mussels, known as ‘Moules Frites’, a traditional meal to order when the season is just right. A close second is the steak and frites combination. Yet, most will argue that frites are not just a complementary side, they serve as a great main course too.
The Street for Frites
Without a doubt, one of the most popular and well-known locations serving this special dish is situated in Brussels. Friterie de la barrière is always surrounded by tourists and locals alike and is ranked among the top five of the 50 best places for frites in Belgium. However, the most popular frituur in Brussels and quite possibly Belgium, is the famous Maison Antoine, located in Etterbeek.
Maison Antoine, 1 Place Jourdan, Brussels, Belgium, + 32 2 230 54 56
You can find Belgian frites in various stands and shops that will prepare your meal for you to take away or to enjoy right on the spot. Within these establishments, you will also find a selection of snacks to pair with your frites, including chicken legs, pork and sausage. If you’re new to the frites cuisine culture, try a fried meatball called the ‘boulet‘ or the infamous Bicky Burger. However, you can also find more traditional options such as ‘Carbonade flamande‘, a sweet-sour beef cooked together with onion stew made with beer and seasoned with thyme, bay leaves and mustard. Another specialty is the ‘Mitraille‘, also known as ‘American‘, which is a half baguette served with fried meat and fries and an additional sauce drizzled on top.
The Secret Behind These Delicious Frites
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 centimeter thick, and the procedure involves frying the potatoes twice. In fact, they are even prepared in a special oil (animal fat); mostly from a mix of horse and cow fat.
A Museum Dedicated to Frites
The Frietmuseum has everything you need to know about the history of Belgian fries. The museum offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the history of the frites and discover a variety of recipes. The Belgian potato fry has become known worldwide and is something you do not want to miss when visiting Bruges!
Frietmuseum, 33 Vlamingstraat, Bruges, Belgium, +32 50 34 01 50
Frites on a Pedestal
When the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel announced his initiative to make changes to the ingredient law for mayonnaise, he received harsh criticism and opposition from Belgian citizens. It is clear Belgians do not only take their frites seriously, they attempted to make it a UNESCO Heritage recognition back in 2014, but also believe its dipping sauce should not be considered just your average condiment.