This is a continuation of our Belgian food series.
Let’s get one thing straight: French fries are not French. They are Belgian. The history behind the misnomer is hazy, but the most dispersed story is that American soldiers in World War I tasted fries in French-speaking Belgium and subsequently misnamed them as “French.” In the Netherlands, they are accurately named Flemish fries, but unfortunately for the Belgians, few other countries credit them for their tasty invention.
Belgian fries, “frieten” in Flanders (Dutch-speaking region) and “frites” in Wallonia (French-speaking region), are not like American French fries. Before heading to Belgium, I was never a fry enthusiast. But once I had my first Belgian fries, I understood why they were the best in the world and had eateries solely devoted to them, known as “frietkots,” “frituurs,” or “friteries.” True Belgian fries are never pre-cut or frozen like in the States, but are cut fresh, preferably using local bintje potatoes. The fries are shorter and thicker, about three times the width of a McDonald’s fry. And most importantly, they are fried twice, resulting in a soft inside and crunchier outside. One famous friterie in Brussels, Maison Antoine, actually fries their frites twice in beef fat.
Not only is the cooking method different, though. Some may know the famous scene from Pulp Fiction when John Travolta tells Samuel L. Jackson that the Dutch eat their fries with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. Many may find this combination unappetizing, a sentiment I shared before trying it myself. But once again my prejudices were proven wrong. Genuine Belgian mayo is nothing like the processed slop you see in stores here, and has a creamier texture and richer taste. And Belgians are fond of their mayo—fries are traditionally topped with a very hefty serving of sauce and served in a paper cone. Try as you might to eat them with your fingers, it is probably best to use the tiny forks normally served with them to avoid getting sauce all over you.
But the sauces served with fries are not limited to mayo—Belgian frietkots usually offer at least ten different options, including:
- Aioli: garlic mayonnaise
- Andalouse: mayonnaise with tomato paste and peppers
- Americaine: mayonnaise with tomato, chervil, onions, capers and celery
- Bicky: mayonnaise, white cabbage, tarragon, cucumber, onion, mustard and dextrose
- Curry mayonnaise
- Ketchup: yawn
- Curry Ketchup
- Pickles: a yellow mayonnaise-based sauce with turmeric, mustard and crunchy vegetable chunks
- Samurai: mayonnaise with chili sauce, my personal favorite
Belgian fries are a must try, and thankfully many eateries in Philadelphia claim to serve their fries Belgian style. The best reviewed are Monk's Café in Rittenhouse Square and Eulogy Belgian Tavern in Olde City.