There are many stories on why Americans believe fries are from France. One legend Jenny Baeten, my grandmother and a Belgian native tells is that during World War One, American soldiers came upon French speaking soldiers eating fries. The Americans assumed the soldiers were from France but they were actually from Belgium, where french is also spoken. Another explanation is that the expression “ frenching” means “ to cut into strips” and the potatoes for fries are cut in such manner and fried, so they were called French fries.
Visiting the “Musée des frites” in Bruges, Belgium sheds some light on the subject. David Verberen, a museum manager, tells me about how fishermen in Liège Belgium would fish in la Meuse, a river that flows through France, Belgium and the Netherlands and eventually flows out to the north sea. They would fish big fish to take home and then they would also fish small ones to fry to sell to passersby to make some money. But in the 1940s, la Meuse in Liège froze over so the fishermen couldn’t fish. Instead, they cut potatoes into strips and fried them to sell. People liked them so much that instead of selling the fish they sold Fries just like the little fish. Belgian fries were born!
Belgians don’t eat fries with a burger or hot dog. Fries are the star of the meal and eaten on their own. Street-side fry shops sell them as a “cornet de frites” which is fries in a paper ice cream cone like shape. Topped with a sauce of your choice, you can get a small “cornet” for about 2 Euros (just a bit over $2).
In addition to a different fry eating experience, Belgian fries are made differently. The secret to a good fry is to fry them twice: the first fry is at a lower temperature to cook the inside of the fry until tender then the second dip in the oil is at a higher temperature to crisp the outside and make it taste good. Next time you sit down to enjoy your fries, remember to thank Belgium!