The first question to ask yourself is should you really be calling them fries?
Ponder this for a moment as I consider what it is that makes this Belgian food the best of it’s kind that I have ever eaten.
Why all the fuss? Why such a grandiose statement? Fries are fries aren’t they, irrespective of what they are called?
If a Belgian was answering that question they would categorically oppose any suggestion that they are interchangeable. To an American, fries are a staple, usually thin and crunchy. Then, of course, there are the French and their frites – no, not their French fries. Despite what a lot of people think, the word fries was believed to have originated in Belgium. The plot thickens, doesn’t it? And let’s not forget the English and the Aussies, who call them chips….hot chips.
The answer to my question is not an easy one, it seems. We’ve already established that the word fries is used in Belgium, but what else are they called? Here, it quite often depends on which language you speak or which region you live in. In the southern parts, they are more commonly referred to as “frites”, and the establishments that sell them are “friteries”. In the more northern areas, you will find yourself asking for your fries at a “frituur” or a “frietkot”.
Whatever the name, wherever you are, if it’s true Belgian fries, then you know you are eating the best. It’s a fact that you don’t see many McDonalds in Belgium. It’s because once you have eaten Belgian frites, there is no going back.
Here are 10 ways to know you are eating real Belgian fries
- Freshly cut
- Uneven shapes, but never thin
- Double cooked (including in animal fat)
- Incredibly crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside
- You can actually taste the potato
- The salt
- The sauce
- Served in a paper cone
- Piping hot
- Never, ever greasy
Friteries we visited
Now, I would never be so bold as to say that I have tasted the best in all of Belgium. What I can do though, is give some honourable mentions to some of those that we tested.
Friterie Chez L’Buz
Dotted along the roads is where you’ll find some of the best. What they lack in ambience and modern decor, they more than make up for with high-quality product. This friterie was our first in Belgium, so we are possibly a little biased, but they were delicious. We stood at the table outside the little shed, trucks roaring past us, the smell of hot fat wafting from inside. It is also usual to eat the frites with the little plastic fork that is provided. But for us, we were too keen to eat them, so did what we do at home, and used our fingers to dunk them in the tomato sauce and pop them quickly into our mouth.
I should also point out that it is traditional to serve them in paper cones, but more and more, the frites are being served in cardboard trays. I don’t think I’ll get hung up on this, however. If the contents are authentic, they can serve them in whatever dish they like.
Miam Belgian fries
Our next frites test came in Dinant. After a full morning, we were hungry. We had already purchased a baguette prior to the boulangerie closing for lunch, so this provided us with a great opportunity to combine frites and fresh bread. I’m not sure how common this is in Europe, but eating chips on fresh bread is an absolute delight.
Miam was open after midday when many other shops around us were closed. Here we ordered a large serve to go, this time sticking with the traditional accompaniment of salt, no sauce.
We were delighted when they were served to us in a rather large paper cone. I think most of them were eaten by the time we got back to our motorhome for lunch, but a few made it to the baguette.
Fritkot Max Belgian Fries
Fritkot Max in the heart of old town Antwerp were good, but they weren’t on my list of exceptional. Mainly because, as you can see from the photo, they were all the same shape, indicating a more industrial approach to cutting the potatoes. They did, however, serve them in the paper cones. Let’s be clear though. They were still very, very tasty.
We sat upstairs to eat our frites, inside the ‘frites museum’. Here the walls were adorned with all manner of information about the history of fries.
Frituur Jozef Fries
Frituur Jozef in Ghent is one of the more reputable and well-known frituurs in this town. Located in the central market area, it is distinguishable by it’s green and white striped tent, long before you notice the name on the side. Here you will often queue, (sometimes waiting for the staff to finish playing with their mobile phones) such is its popularity. We resisted the sauces once more, opting for the salt experience only. It had started to rain just as we ordered, so wandering around eating hot frites in it seemed like the perfect thing to do. In this weather, the steam seemed to lift up out of the paper container even more.
Le Grand Cafe Brussels fries
To prove that frites are part of the Belgian culture, they are regularly served with other main meals as well. This was a traditional Flemish carbonade, complete with delicious golden frites.
We were quite pure in our frites consumption. Apart from the first purchase, where we added tomato sauce to them, we mostly ate them just with salt. This would be considered quite unusual, with the majority opting for a side of tomato sauce or mayonnaise.
There are many other sauces to choose from. Some are quite unusual, like Andalouse (mayo, capsicum, tomato paste), curry, tartare or stoofvleessaus (the sauce from their traditional dish of slow-cooked beef).
It was probably very lucky that we discovered stoofvleessaus on our very last frites meal in Ieper, just before leaving Belgium. If we had found this sooner, I am quite sure we would have found more excuses to eat more frites. If ‘chips and gravy’ are your thing, then you must have Belgian frites with stoofvleessaus. It is out of this world. We must have been so enraptured soaking every single frite in the delicious sauce, that we forgot to take a photo of it!
Frites tour over
So there it is, my wrap up of our frites experiences. Writing about them now just makes me miss them even more. Like French butter, French bread, French cheese, Belgian chocolate, Belgian beer, French wine………sigh!
So when in Belgium, get yourself into the local spirit by calling them frites. Frites are a part of every day to the Belgians. They are a destination. Whether it be for lunch, dinner or a snack, make sure you try some for yourselves.
Seth Kugel gives a good summary in this video of just how important Belgian fries are to the country.
Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.