French battle Belgians over invention of ‘les frites’

Neighbours fight for right to be named 'home of the chip'

Paris

One of the greatest, unsolved mysteries of European culture has been tackled in a public debate in Brussels. And left unsolved… Did the French invent chips? Or was it the Belgians?

According to French legend, the “frite” was invented by street merchants on the Pont Neuf in Paris just after the French revolution in the late 18th century.

Belgian folklore, meanwhile, has the chip invented by accident in the 17th century by the people of Namur, in what later became southern Belgium. One day when the river Meuse was frozen, local fishermen chopped potatoes up into slices resembling small fish and fried those instead.

As part of a festival of food in the Belgian capital called Brusselicious, culinary experts and historians from both countries have examined the competing claims. Pierre Leclerc, a professor at the university of Liège, admitted that there was little proof of Belgium’s paternity.

“Belgians adore chips but serious scientific research on the subject has only just begun,” he said.

A French food historian, Madeleine Ferrière, said that there were contemporary accounts of chips being sold by street food vendors – as well as chestnut and potato rissoles – on the Pont Neuf in Paris soon after 1789.

And what of Britain’s claim to the invention of the “bâtonnet de pomme de terre trempé dans l’huile bouillante” better known as the chip, frite or French fry? There are references to potato “chips” being sold in Britain in the early 19th century but these may have been chunkier than the chips of today. All the same, fish and chip shops were well established across Britain by the late 1800s.

Whatever their origins, Belgian culinary experts insist that chips have achieved their pinnacle, in quality and cultural importance, in Belgium. The French use them as something to eat with meat. The British insist on fish.

“We, the Belgians, have made the chip something noble in itself,” said Albert Verdeyen, co-author of a book on chips. “Above all, we have mastered better than anyone else the art of double-cooking them until they are golden and crunchy.”

Love of chips is one of the few things that unites the linguistic halves of Belgium. In both the Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south, the “Fritkot” or mobile chip stall is a national institution

“To go to a Fritkot is the height of Belgitude,” said Philippe Ratzel who owns the celebrated Clementine stall in Brussels.

“At my place, you can bump unto a little old lady walking her dog, a student, or the minister who lives around the corner.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence