Monday, 2 June 2008

Frying tonight!

Amusing news from Belgium. The chip has now got its own museum - the Frietmuseum on Vlamingstraat, in Bruges.

I like the sound of its proprietor, Eddy Van Belle. In the teeth of an obsession, he opened a museum of Lamps called Lumina Domestica. He's also opened a Chocolate museum (Choco-story, Wijnzakstraat 2).

The chip is definitely not in the same league as chocolate or beer as far as Belgium's gifts to the world are concerned. Not in my book, anyway. But it's a huge part of the country's food heritage. Anywhere you go in Belgium, you'll find a frituur (friterie if you're in Wallonia) - a little shack or tiny shop selling these crisp small fries.

Apparently, the Flemings began cooking chips in the eighteenth century. They used to fry small fish, a bit like whitebait (one of my favourite English recipes) - but when severe frosts meant they couldn't break the ice on the rivers, they fried potatoes instead. The habit stuck.

The Belgian chip is double fried, and that accounts for its crispiness. And it's meant to be fried in beef fat, not oil. (Not really suitable for vegetarians, then.)

Now I can guarantee that 98 percent of people adore Belgian friets. But you never can tell what sauce people will like them with - and there's a big national divide here too.

Brits eat their chips with either tomato sauce or Daddie's or HP (brown) sauce. Or with salt and vinegar.

Belgians typically believe chips are best accompanied by mayonnaise.

But there are other choices. One frituur I visited in Ghent had twelve different sauces, including one with bits of red pepper and chili.

But I will still make my first trip in Bruges the Brugs Beertje. Where you can get one of Belgium's other great products - a huge selection of excellent beers - but, perhaps surprisingly, no chips at all. I'll just have the croque monsieur instead - and intriguingly, in a Flemish speaking bar, that particular snack is still named in French.

Truly, Belgium is a land of surprises - linguistic and culinary.


  1. Those Belgians! You might enjoy this:

  2. I did enjoy that post. Wish I had seen the chap rolling down the plane gangway! There are many excellent jokes about Belgians in France, of course... some of which are probably a little too scurrilous for this blog. I liked this one:

    A Belgian walked through the forest when he heard a cry for help. He found a dwarf, stuck in a trap. He freed the dwarf, and the dwarf granted him two wishes.
    - 'My first wish' the Belgian said, 'is a bottle of beer that will never be empty.'
    And flash, there was the bottle. The Belgian opened it, and drank it empty. The next moment, the bottle was full again. The Belgian was very happy.
    - 'What is your second wish ?', the dwarf asked.
    - The Belgian replied: 'I want another bottle' !