French Fries Aren’t French…They’re Belgian

A classic cone of fries topped with mayo and a fricandelle on the side. Jon Åslund, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

French fries got their name from Americans

A common story is that the name “French fries” is derived from World War I. American soldiers in the Belgian city of Namur supposedly ate fries for the first time. Namur is in the francophone part of Belgium, so the American soldiers, believing they were in France, dubbed the snack “French fries.”

Supposedly fries originated in Namur, Belgium. Photo by Jonas Vandermeiren on Unsplash

The French lay claim to fries too

The tale of Namur and the American soldiers would do nicely as the fry’s origin story. The trouble, however, is that this can’t quite be verified. A French culinary historian, Pierre Leclercq, contends that fried potatoes were actually introduced as Parisian street food in the late 18th century.

The French lay historical claim to fries. Pictured is a fry vendor in Lille circa 1900. Édition Merlot — Lille, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fries and modern Belgian gastronomy

Belgians have realized that reaching into the past for the fry’s authenticity isn’t working. Instead, they’re emphasizing its modern cultural importance. There are petitions circulating to raise awareness for Belgian fries, including an open letter to Merriam-Webster to add “Belgian fries” to the American English dictionary.

Maison Antoine is one of the most famous friteries in Brussels. Varech, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So…what is a fritkot?

A fritkot is a free-standing food kiosk that sells fries and other fast food such as (I’m using mostly the French words for these foods):

  • Burgers
  • Brochettes (meat on a skewer)
  • Boulettes (meatballs, another Belgian specialty)
  • Merguez (lamb sausage)
  • Fricandelle (chicken sausage)
  • Chicken wings/nuggets
  • Croquettes (fried mashed potato dumplings sometimes made with cheese)
  • Sandwiches
  • Mitraillette/Durum (a sandwich that consists of a demi-baguette with fried meat, fries, lettuce, and one of a variety of sauces)
A friterie at the Brussels Christmas market in 2006. E POULSEN, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
A fritkot in Overijse, Belgium. Wouter Hagens, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A symbol of Belgian cuisine

The intangible heritage recognition says a lot about the importance of fries in Belgium, but fried potatoes cut into strips are popular all over the world, right? British fish and chips, Canadian poutine, French steak-frites and the U.S. adding fries as a popular side dish are just a few examples of the fry’s gastronomical significance in other cultures.

A friterie near Barvaux-sur-Ourthe, Belgium. Jean Housen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Courtney Withrow

Courtney Withrow

Writer and Blogger. International Relations, Travel, Culture. Based in Brussels, Belgium.