The origin of French fries: Belgium

Did you know that French fries were born in Belgium? Yeah I know, not many people know that, but its true.

But why, you may ask, do we call them French fries? “Frites” as they are called in French (pronounced “Fritz”), were first made in 1680 in the Meuse River region between the French cites of Dinant and Liège, in Belgium. The inhabitants of the region normally ate fried fish, but when the river was frozen they were unable to fish and so they cut potatoes lengthwise and fried them.

Many people believe that the word “French fries” came from the American soldiers arriving in Belgium during World War I who named them based on the language in the area and how they were cooked.

What exactly are Belgian frites?

  1. They are made from fresh-cut potatoes
  2. hand-cut (meaning irregularly shaped) and are at least 10-11mm thick
  3. fried twice
  4. fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside
  5. have a distinct potato taste (lower in fat and calories)
  6. served in a paper cone, often topped with a thick sauce

Belgian frites are not famous for being served in a restaurant as a side dish to the main meal. In Belgium its common practice to buy a gigantic cone of frites covered in a sauce, mayonnaise being one of the most popular choice, as a mid-day meal in itself. There are over 4,500 Friteries (French) Frituurs/Friekots (Flemish) in Belgium. From small stands, to sheds to vans or caravans these Friteries can be found everywhere in Belgium so no matter which city you are visiting you will easily be able to find them.

Brugge, Belgium, is known for its striking beauty and quiet canals, but it is also home to the world’s only Friet Museum. This museum explains the history of the potato, which has been found in tombs in Peru and Chile and how it came to Belgium; then visitors can learn the history of fries and their origin in Belgium in addition to the all important knowledge of knowing how to make the best fries; and finally you can taste the famous frites with a variety of sauces.

I have to admit that I’ve had a gigantic cone of fritz on more than one occasion. I can even say that I could tell you where the very best can be found in Belgium. While some say the best Friteries are in Brussels, either Place Jordan or Grand Place, I would have to say that nothing beats the fritz made in Ghent, Belgium at Verse Frieten in Sint Jacobsmarkt.

I like the pili pili or the samurai sauce the best, but if you’re going to Ghent to have fritz, they are better without sauce because you can really enjoy the taste of the fresh potatoes.

Did you know fries were invented in Belgium? If not, where did you think they originated from? Where do you get your favorite fries? What’s your favorite sauce?

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About Nicole Basaraba

Nicole Basaraba is a Canadian writer focusing on topics of travel (Mondays), writing and literature (Wednesdays), lifestyle (Fridays) and her experiences living in the capital city of Europe: Brussels, Belgium.
This entry was posted in Living in Brussels, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The origin of French fries: Belgium

  1. Gina says:

    there’s a great belgian beer bar in west village that has yummy frites. but my favorite place in nyc is this hole in the wall:
    http://www.pommesfrites.ws/about.htm

    the dipping sauces alone make me want to leap out of my seat and grab a cone of fries 🙂

  2. Ryan King says:

    Oh man. Now I REALLY want some fries.

  3. I have had a lot of home cooked french fries, cooked the way you describe them, in my childhood. We used to have them with salt & ketchup. Now a days my children just get a side order of fries with a burger from the Mcdonalds.

    • Home cooked are pretty good. But I think you have to have a deep frier to get them crispy. Side orders is usually how I eat them still. But on occasion a whole meal of fries can’t hurt…well on second thought.

  4. I didn’t know they were invented in Belgium! And now I’m hungry. It’s comforting though to know that they’re traditionally an entire meal…makes me feel better about doing that over here in the States…

  5. Love those Belgian frites! I have to say though that the best frites we have ever eaten (… and trust me, we’ve done some serious research …) are from Frites City (where the heck did that name come from?) in Menton, France. We’re returned several times through the years just to eat them. Fresh cut and double-fried, they must have learned to make them in Belgium!

  6. Marcia says:

    I could eat fries as a meal any day! these days i bake them instead of frying and I’ve always had them with ketchup. What kind of sauces besides mayonnaise do they use? Mayo doesn’t sound appetizing to me. What’s samurai and pili pili sauce?

  7. Michael says:

    Mmm… fries! I usually have mine with tomato ketchup! Yum! Thank you for this concise and interesting article.

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