Belgian Fries

Sorry to be the one to do it, but my Belgian host family would never forgive me if I didn’t set the record straight. This story is going to sound apocryphal, but only because I’ve forgotten some of the details. I’ve heard it from a bunch of different sources, including several children’s books and one Belgian history class. “French” fries would be more properly known as “Belgian” fries. The orgins are a little bit lost in the mists of time, but it all goes back to the heydays of canal-festivals in Liège (some say Bruges). Apparently, people would have a city-wide block party by the canals every year, the highlight of which was masses of fried fish sold by street vendors and taverns. One year, round about 1839, there was a harder freeze than usual, the canals were iced over, and nobody could get at the fish for a fish-fry; some inventive chef cut little effigy-fish out of potatoes, fried them up, and sold them to delighted customers. Here’s the interesting part: the French claim the chef was a French national, therefore French fries are all part of La Patrimonie, but the Belgians insist that possession is nine-tenths of the law and so claim fries as a Belgian invention. Either way, it all happened in Flanders.


Link to Staff Report: Who invented french fries? – CKDH

For more information, check out the other thread on “French” fries, in which several of us have contributed citations to the same effect.

Um… Yeah. I noticed my mistake after I’d already posted my smart-ass response.

Thanks for reminding me, though.:slight_smile:

this is all well and good, but does anybody have any actual PROOF that fried potatoes were invented in Belgium? New articles, old journals, old letters, a cookbook published in Belgium, ANYTHING?

Im not saying it aint true, Im simply asking if anybody can actually prove it. There is a great deal of hard evidence linking it to Paris… any hard evidence for Belgium?

Perhaps “Belgian Fries” should be dropped down to “local legend” status until somebody finds something.

…And for even more information, also check out the original column.

C’mon, Dex, why so slow?

Hey bex. What hard evidence for the French provenance? The problem is that there’s no hard evidence either way. Presumably fried potatoes were being served in Paris, at least there’s good evidence they were. What’s unknown is whether they were what we would recognize as ‘French fries.’ As opposed to, say, home fries (i.e., sauteed rather than deep-fried).

Also, please note that I, at least, haven’t suggested that the ‘Belgian’ case was proven. Only that it appears to my casual observation to have considerably more support amongst serious foodies. By which I mean non-Belgian foodies.

The Staff Report very carefully skirted the issue of who actually invented them. We don’t know. The Staff Report said, “… first appeared on the streets of Paris in the 1840s.” Belgium itself had just been invented a few years before. They got the name “French fried potatoes” because everyone believed they originated in France.

And no amount of lobbying is gonna change the name to “Belgian fries.”

Heck, Belgium as a country is so small, they use Brussels sprouts instead of cabbages.

um, dex…

they already ARE referred to as Belgian Fries (or Flanders fries-- “Vlaamse Friets”) in Belgium and the Netherlands.

as for McAmerica-- we never get names right here anyway (ie: Brazil for Brasil-- WTF?). so who cares what WE call them!

wonder what they are called in France??

There is proof of consumption of potatoes in Belgium long before France in a wide variety of European encyclopaedias. (Forget the oxford cookbooks, brits are known all over Europe to know nothing about food anyway). Belgium, Flanders and what is today the Netherlands was part of the Kingdom of Spain. Potatoes were brought in from South America as early as 1577 and first proven shipments of potatoes arrived in Anvers around that time; that info can be easily verified for the skeptics. Even the French admit to the fact that fries are originally from Belgium (yes in France people think it is funny that Americans call them French fries) because it was the first Nothern European country to ever have potatoes on its soil. Historically potato consumption in France only truly started after Parmentier convinced Louis the XIV they were edible and fashionable, and he discovered their existence whilst in jail in Prussia (Germany). Prussians of course inherited potato consumption from Belgium/Holland.
Since the consumption of potatoes started at least 100 years earlier in Belgium rather than France, the probability of them cutting them and frying them before their neighbour countries is very high. However the Brugges story of the frozen canals and no fish is documented by several historians and is considered more than folklore. For Dexter Haven: Belgium was founded as an independant kingdom in 1831 but the province of Belgica has been mapped by the Romans as early as 180 B.C.

Haute Couture wins, plus a fine alliteration factor. Regardless of true origin, the mystique of French cuisine can mesmerize folks even enough to see a deep-fried potato shard as something worthy of respect. Unduly, Belgian fries was prolly to close to a burp for American marketers.

I’m skeptical. Verify that info for me please.

The English were sucking down potatoes about that time also, as the cites are there in the OED from 1565 on voyages to Florida, etc. Why were they brought into Anvers first?

Please quote a knowlegeable French authority on that “fact.”

Cite? More than folklore, but less than fact?

Please also note that the Spanish discovery of potatoes in 1537 is confirmed by the diary of one of the people on that expedition, I forget who. The Staff Report says that potato was first brought back to Spain, around the 1550s, which pre-dates your 1577 by a bit. Granted that the Netherlands was then part of Spain, and potatoes may have got there fairly early, but not first… no matter what local lore and local tour guides say.

I think he said “potatoes were first brought to Anvers in 1577”, not “the first potatoes to go to Europe went to Anvers in 1577”.

What he/she said, exactly, was

The implication, if not the intent, was that potatoes first came to Europe in 1577. Also implied was that the first potatoes arrived in Anvers at that same time.

I think there has been no support for the assertion.

I know the exact words used. I was identifying the intended interpretation of those words. Sorry if the quotes threw you off.

Nobody contests that potatoes were in Europe by 1577. Dex says the Staff Report says they were in Spain by 1550s. That leaves “the first proven shipments of potatoes arrived in Anvers around that time”. I submit the interpretation should be

it is proven/provable that Anvers received their first shipments of potatoes around that time,


it is proven/provable that the first shipments of potatoes to Europe arrived in Anvers at that time.

Do you see the distinction in meaning? I think the first meaning fits the words better than the second. You seem to have latched onto the second meaning, unfairly in my opinion.

Irishman. Sorry if I sounded out of sorts. I do see the distinction. Perhaps the poster Chacal can supply the intended meaning of his/her post.

Documentation? Am I the only one here who has read that impeccable source Astérix chez les Belges??

They’re called either pommes-frites or simply frites. Here we call them patates frites.

as detop points out, the french do indeed call them pommes-frites as do, at least near the brussels train station, the belgians.
for a yummy taste in NYC, head over to a store by the name of pommes-frites directly across from the second avenue deli. a bowl of 2nd’s matzoh ball soup followed by some fresh frites always brings a big fat smile to my punim.

This was 10 years ago, but in the cathedral square in Liege there was a little fry place that had the greatest fries. I went there almost every day when I was on exchange there.