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No small potatoes: Belgium and France argue over origins of French fries

A woman eats French fries (fried chips) (AFP Photo / Georges Gobet)
French fries are a food pleasure for millions worldwide. However, France and Belgium still disagree on the true origins of the crunchy sticks of potato.

­"Fries, they are the orphan of street cooking, of low birth. That is why it's hard to establish where they really come from," French historian Madeleine Ferriere told AFP.

They are considered to be a culinary staple in France, but are also recognised as a national dish in Belgium. Experts are divided on which country was the first to create the food that causes more weight gain than red meat.

According to one popular theory, the "premiere" of the "pommes de terre frites" took place on the oldest bridge in Paris, Pont Neuf, where street hawkers started selling fries shortly before the French Revolution, in the late 18th Century.

Belgium insists, however, that French-fried potatoes were being fried in the late-1600s and were invented in Namur. It's believed that when American soldiers arrived in Belgium during World War I and tasted Belgian fries, they labeled them "French" simply because at that time it was the official language of the Belgian Army.

AFP Photo / Francois Lo Presti
AFP Photo / Francois Lo Presti

­Whoever was the first to invent the highly popular dish, the French and the Belgians eat their fries differently. While the French help themselves with a fork and take the fries from a plate, often ordering the dish at restaurants, the Belgians prefer to take them with their fingers, enjoying the fries at any time of the day.

"For the French, fries normally go with meat, usually a steak, while the Belgians eat them on their own or with a sauce," specialist in the history of Brussels and its culture, Roel Jacobs, told AFP.

AFP Photo / Francois Lo Presti
AFP Photo / Francois Lo Presti

"We Belgians, we have made fries a noble food, much more than just a vegetable," chef and co-author of the book "Simply Fries" Albert Verdeyen, pointed out.

One can get a true taste of the Belgian fries at small "Fritkot" snack stands scattered across the country.

"To go to a Fritkot, that is the very essence of being a Belgian," the owner of one of the stalls in Brussels, Philippe Ratzel, told AFP.

"Here, you can meet anyone – the old lady who is taking her dog out for a walk, students or even the government minister who lives nearby," he explained.