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
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Recruitment Genius: Office Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 12 months

£12675 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Assistant is required...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Case Handler / Probate Assistant

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler/Probate ...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral