A food fight has broken out between France and Belgium — as the countries bicker over who really invented the French fry.
French newspaper Le Figaro published a story last week with the headline “No, French fries are not Belgian” — awakening the ire of its neighbor.
“Even if the Belgians don’t like it, the fries of today are fundamentally Parisian,” food historian Pierre Leclercq said in an interview with the paper, which was published on International Belgian Fry Day, as if to add flame to oil.
Common Belgian lore claims the original fry was born in Namur, where locals were fond of fried fish. One winter, when the River Meuse froze over in 1680, they fried potatoes instead and “pommes frites” were born, the BBC reported. Legend has it that American soldiers serving in World War I mistakenly gave the beloved treat the name “French fries” — and it stuck.
Leclercq, however, claimed the Belgian origin is “not plausible” — explaining that potatoes weren’t introduced in the region until 1735, and that even then, it would have been unlikely for the Namurois to fry the spuds.
“We are used to the French looking down on us.”
“In the 18th century, fat was a luxury for people of limited means,” he explained. “Butter was expensive, animal fat was rare, and cheaper vegetable fats were consumed with parsimony. That’s why peasants ate fat straight, without wasting it, on bread or in a soup.”
Instead, he claims the original deep-fried delicacy was the “pomme Pont-neuf” sold to theater-goers by pushcart vendors on Paris’ oldest bridge, the Pont Neuf, in the late 18th century.
“The inventor of the fried potato will probably always remain anonymous,” said Leclercq in the article. “But we can guess his job: peddler. We can also guess his origin: Parisian.”
Belgians are having none of it. They take their frites seriously — there are some 4,500 frietkoten, or fry shops, dotting the country’s streets.
“Eve must have first fried frites for Adam because it is natural but that would not have been in Belgium.”
“We are used to the French looking down on us,” Bernard Lefèvre, the president of the national association of frietkoten, told the Telegraph UK.
“I think it is not an attack — it is more a feeling of embarrassment that one exceptional thing was not invented in France,” he quipped.
Lefèvre pointed out that traditional frites are made with a potato that grew in southern Germany and the Netherlands, but not Paris — and were fried twice in beef fat, not oil.
But he conceded it was a hard recipe to trace.
“Eve must have first fried frites for Adam because it is natural but that would not have been in Belgium,” he said. “Unless Belgium is the Paradise. I didn’t think it was, but I know that paradise is not in France.”
He added: “Nobody invented water but somebody invented the spa. Potatoes do not come from France or Belgium, they came from Peru. But Belgians made frites an art and a perfect product.”
Belgium is petitioning UNESCO to endorse the fry as an official icon of Belgian cultural heritage.