Imagine the uproar if someone suggested that England, not Scotland, invented haggis, or that it was Switzerland, not Italy, that opened the eyes of the world to spaghetti.
Well it’s now 100 years since a similar accusation of culinary mis-appropriation was first levelled concerning the most popular fast food in the world and the row seems set to rumble on for at least another century.
Because it’s fair to say that when it comes to French fries, Belgium has a chip on its shoulder.
Chips have probably been around since the first potatoes emerged in Peru over 4,500 years ago but it’s only in the last century that French fries have become so popular.
And that’s where the problem lies, because Belgium is adamant it was they, not France, that invented the thin cut, deep fried, salted version of the world’s most popular root vegetable.
The Frietmuseum in Bruges (yes there is a museum dedicated to fries) explains how the big freeze of 1680 prevented Belgian peasants from fishing the River Meuse. So, they chopped up potatoes and fried them instead.
When the thaw came the fries remained as a delicious accompaniment to the now plentiful sardines.
The snack remained relatively unknown in much of the outside world until US soldiers based in French speaking Belgium during the first world war took a liking to the thin cut chips they could buy at numerous Frietkoten, or fry shacks
Some historians believe this is where the confusion arose. When the soldiers returned home they referred to the delicacy as french fries and across the US cafes and restaurants quickly introduced the option and the name to their menus.
Now a quarter of all potatoes grown in the US end up as fries and their introduction to fast food chains in the sixties spread popularity across the globe.
But mention French fries to a Belgian and they will recoil just as Hercule Poirot will bristle when mistaken for a Frenchman.
Belgium is determined to be recognised as the birthplace of fries, as well as a museum, it celebrates a “week of the chip” each year, it has unveiled De Freiteters – a public statue in praise of Belgium fries – and is petitioning UNESCO to endorse the fry as an official icon of Belgian cultural heritage.
The Government’s Agency for Real Estate Heritage also now offers protection to those historic street corner fry shacks that fed hungry US troops.
Naturally France tells a different story, but then who wouldn’t want the credit for such a great invention.
At SK Foods we are happy to sing the praises of traditional street food from all over the world and bring our variations of these global classics to your local store.
And whether that’s falafels from Morocco, burrito from Mexico or vegetable samosas from India they all taste delicious with fries.