Its origins remain a point of contention between France, Belgium and Britain, but few could deny that it is the Belgians who have truly embraced the humble frite, served as a side dish to their famous moules and steak, or with a boggling array of sauces at street-side stands.
Now, those stalls where Belgians and tourists queue for a cone of chips smothered in mayonnaise, mustard or even Piccalilli sauce have been elevated with the coveted government designation as a tradition of “immaterial cultural heritage”.
The Flanders News website reported at the weekend that national friterie owners collected 20,000 signatures urging the government to protect the art of chip frying.
“For a long time, there has been almost no interest in chip shops”, said Bernard Lefèvre, representing the chip industry advocates. “It’s only after foreigners and tourists started showing their interest, that we started to appreciate them more. Now, we should try to guarantee their future.”
The designation is largely symbolic, but one food industry expert told Flanders News that it can result in soaring sales. “This recognition will attract long queues of tourists,” said Frans De Wachter, of the Flemish Centre for Agriculture and Fishery Marketing.
It could also be the first step to requesting a UNESCO listing for a tradition of “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”. That was last year handed to the Belgian fishermen of Oostduinkerke, who trawl through the North Sea on horseback hunting the tiny grey shrimp beloved of brasseries here.