France and Belgium are fighting over who invented fries

France and Belgium are fighting over who invented fries

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Wars in Europe tend to be few and far between these days. Now that we’ve all decided to be buddies, it takes a lot to provoke neighbours into open conflict. Even iditiotic Brexiteers elicit little more than a shrug of contempt from the continent. It takes a serious affront to national honour before nations will forget new allies and launch into a full scale offensive. It might seem strange, therefore, that the latest battle is being fought over potatoes.

potatoes in a bag Credit: Pixabay

Of course, we’re not just talking any old potatoes. Pommes frites have been a proud European tradition for generations, defining dinner tables and making steaks better for centuries. Ever since Thomas Jefferson came home from France and demanded spuds cooked in the “French style”, fries have gone on to achieve world domination. Order fast food from any restaurant on earth and you can expect a side order of crispy, crunchy, salty French frites. By any measure, fries are a real foodie success story.

But, for all the legions of French fry fans around the world, the food has always been shrouded in controversy. Almost universally, this cloud has emanated from accusations of theft from one disgruntled Frankish neighbour. Ask for a plate of French fries here and you’ll probably receive a punch in the face. We are of course talking about Belgium.

French fries on newspaper Credit: Pixabay

The fry feud has been going on for centuries. Belgian folklore dictates that the snacks were invented in the particularly cold winter of 1680, when peasants near the River Meuse decided to deep fry potatoes rather than unreachable fish, as was their custom. Freitoken, as they are known in Belgium, were only mislabelled by confused American soldiers in the Second World War, and unfortunately it is “French fries” that has stuck.

But, on International Belgian Fry Day of all days, the French have launched a scathing attack of this narrative. Famous newspaper Le Figaro ran a story last week where famous food historian Pierre Leclercq attempted to debunk Belgian myth and claim pommes frites as definitively and finally French.

In his interview, Leclercq claimed that the Belgian tale is “not plausible”, as potatoes were not available in the region until around 1735. Furthermore, it was unthinkable that poor peasants would waste valuable fat in such a manner. Leclercq instead concluded that the fry as we know it today was actually invented in Paris by a peddler selling to theatre goers. He rounded off his assault by stating that, “Even if the Belgians don’t like it, the fries of today are fundamentally Parisian.”

Clearly, the Belgians were not going to take this lying down. Speaking to British-based broadsheet The Telegraph, Bernard Lefèvre, the president of the national association of frietkoten, scoffed that, “We are used to the French looking down on us.” He later quipped that, “I think it is not an attack — it is more a feeling of embarrassment that one exceptional thing was not invented in France.”

For all the debate over the origin story, there’s no doubt that both nations take their chips very seriously. In Belgian for instance, there are over 4,500 dedicated freitoken shops, proving that the tradition is alive and well. The country has also petitioned UNESCO to endorse the fry as an official part of Belgian cultural heritage. Should that bid prove successful, the potential ramifications from angry French academics doesn’t bear thinking about. Sacre bleu.