Belgium may be famous for its beer, chocolate and waffles, but it was another Belgian stereotype I went in search of on my recent visit to Bruges – Belgian Fries.
There are many reasons to dislike the French, but if you’re Belgian, there’s one more excuse. Belgium’s unofficial national dish is universally known as the French Fry, despite it originating (allegedly) closer to Brussels than to Paris.
I’d done a bit of research ahead of our 8pm arrival in Bruges. Rather than eat at a restaurant, we fancied a big cone of Belgian Fries each, so I’d asked our Airbnb apartment owner to recommend a Frituur nearby.
Which is how we found ourselves at Chez Vincent (Sint-Salvatorskerkhof 1; www.chezvincent.eu) next to Sint-Salvator Cathedral. Our first taste of Belgian Fries was a good one – Kat chose a combination of mayo and ketchup on hers like a true local, while I went for stoofvlees (stew sauce) on mine.
We paid the princely sum of €18 for two portions of fries, our sauces and some deep fried cheese balls between us, and ate upstairs enjoying one of Bruges’ best views.
Vincent (who is incidentally the most miserable man in Belgium) fries his potato slices twice, with a rest in between, like all good frituurs should.
We discovered this, and other fry-facts the next day at the museum of the chip, the Frietmuseum (Vlamingstraat 33; www.frietmuseum.be). Entrance to the museum, housed in one of Bruges’ oldest and most beautiful buildings, is just €6.
The museum’s strapline is “From potato to chip”, and the first few rooms describe the history of the spud in some detail (probably too much detail, to be honest). Upstairs though, things get a little more interesting as we were told of the origins of fries.
One of the first information posts declares that “fries originated in Belgium, not France”, although dissapointingly it goes on to confess “there is no evidence of this”.
The story it offers about their origin goes something like this: In the 17th century, Belgians liked nothing more than tiny deep-fried fish to snack on. One particularly harsh winter, rivers froze over so no fish could be caught. So instead of frying fish, the easily fooled Belgians decided to deep fry slices of potato cut into the shape of small fish, and through this implausible story the Belgian Fry was born.
So why are they known by everyone outside Belgium as French Fries? Another anectodal story, with no evidence, says that during World War I, American soldiers saw Belgian soldiers cooking fries and assumed, because of their accents, that they were French and spread the word about these fantastic “French Fries” they had enjoyed in the trenches.
There is information on the history of condiments and sauces, displays of fry memorabilia from the old days, such as paper cones and deep fryers, and video tutorials on how to make your own fries from scratch. The museum might fill an hour of your time, but is not the most stimulating I have been to. The best bit about the Frietmuseum, and you can smell it coming, is the restaurant downstairs which naturally sells only fries.
The queue may be longer than you’d like, and once you’ve ordered you’ll have to wait a further ten minutes, but the wait is worthwhile as these will probably be the best fries you will find in Bruges.
Call me a Philistine, but I think I prefer good old English chippy chips. They may look fattier and greasier, but they’re more satisfying than their European chip cousins, especially when drowned in vinegar and coated in gravy.
Mayonnaise? What’s that all about?