Why are fries so great
Imagine: You come home from school and can buy french fries without your mother complaining. She even gave you money for a large serving and three different sauces. That sounds like a land of milk and honey, but it's not unusual in Belgium. There the fried potato sticks were invented and are considered a national dish. You can get them in fine restaurants - for example with mussels or with a steak - and at snack bars. They are equally popular across the country. Like pizza in Italy. There is actually nothing comparable in Germany, except maybe also french fries. We do not consider them a specialty and are not prepared as elaborately as in Belgium, where they are called Friets (in Dutch) or Frites (in French). The special thing about them is that they sizzle twice in hot fat. This should make them particularly crispy on the outside and nice and soft on the inside. But there are other Belgian specialties: a good cook peeled and sliced his potatoes fresh every day, and he used beef and sometimes even horse fat for deep-frying. This gives the Belgian fries a particularly strong taste. Vegetarians therefore do not enjoy them.
How did french fries come about?
The first french fries were probably eaten in particularly cold winters as a substitute for fried fish. According to legend, the idea came about around 1650 when the Meuse, a river in what is now Belgium, was frozen over. The inhabitants could no longer feed on the small fish that they usually threw head and tail into the hot fat. That's why they are said to have cut potatoes into strips (so that they resembled the fish) and fried them instead. The fries (French for potatoes) fries (for deep-fried) were a nutritious meal, especially for poor people in the beginning.
Ketchup is rarely served with it. Belgians find that far too boring. There are often 20 or more other thick sauces to choose from, in which you can dip the golden yellow sticks. Mayonnaise of course, preferably homemade from egg yolk, mustard and oil, or dips enriched with cucumber pieces, spices and chilli, which have promising names like: Andalouse, Cocktail, Brazil or Samurai. The latter not only sounds sharp, it is too. Smart, by the way: you usually get the fries in a pointed paper or cardboard bag, which will keep them hot for as long as possible. The sauces, which you almost always have to order and pay for separately, are usually served in small bowls that sometimes even hang on the bags. Sauces are seldom pasted on top, and French fries are also not served with vinegar, as the English like it. This is known to soften them. And fries, the Belgians don't like them.
From potatoes to fries
The potato probably comes from Peru. Archaeologists found evidence of this in graves around 8,000 years old. Originally there were around 4,000 different species there - small, knobbly tubers or pink and purple varieties. The seafarers brought the soil crop to Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the beginning it was mainly food for animals and poor people. At that time, no one suspected that it contained a lot of healthy vitamin C, calcium and magnesium. Incidentally, the most popular type of potato for french fries in Belgium is the floury-boiling "Bintje".
Allegedly there are around 5000 chips stalls all over Belgium. With a population of a good eleven million people, that's quite a lot. Nevertheless, if you pick up the fries at lunchtime from one of the permanently erected houses or sales vehicles, you usually have to be patient. Whether school children, office workers or politicians, of whom there are a lot in the capital Brussels - you can see everyone standing in line to smell the frying fat. After all, this increases the appetite.
Daan Vernaille holds an unusual world record: he cooked french fries for 125 hours in the town of Sint-Katherina-Lombeek near Brussels. He deep-fried 2000 packages in 300 kilograms of fat. Belgians eat around 300 kilos of potatoes per inhabitant each year. That is also a world record. In Germany people eat 57.9 kilograms, in Great Britain 105 - and in the home country of the potato Peru 79 kilograms.
In the Belgian city of Bruges there is the only fries museum in the world. It opened in 2008 in one of the narrow old houses downtown. There you can find out how the potato came to Europe and what there is to do with French fries. For example, various cutting machines that turn potatoes into sticks. Or the "Fryrobot" from 1965. Its inventor Jean Hoeberigs wanted to use it to automatically make 100 servings of French fries. A great idea, but one that didn't catch on. In the museum shop you can buy porcelain french fries, hand creams made from potatoes and a lip balm that smells and tastes like french fries. Fast food for the lips.
Why are fries called "French Fries" in English?
American soldiers probably coined the name French Fries during the First World War. They saw their Belgian colleagues eating french fries and heard them speak French. Incidentally, potato chips are said to have been invented by a cook in the USA. Because a customer complained about his particularly thick french fries, he cut them into very thin slices out of anger. With that he had great success.
Because fries absorb the fat they are baked in, they are high in calories. 100 grams are about 316, plus the calories in the sauces. For comparison: 100 grams of pure potatoes only have 77 calories. Girls between 10 and 14 years of age need around 2200 calories a day, boys 2500.
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