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article imageFrench fries: Where did they originate — France or Belgium?

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By Anne Sewell     Dec 29, 2012 in Food
A popular snack or meal accompaniment worldwide, French fries have always been considered to be, well, French. However, it seems Belgium might have come up with the idea first.
According to French historian Madeleine Ferriere, ­"Fries, they are the orphan of street cooking, of low birth. That is why it's hard to establish where they really come from."
And in France, indeed, they are considered to be a staple part of the diet. However, they are also recognized as a national dish in Belgium.
Experts are up in arms, trying to decide which country was first to create this salty, crispy treat, which tends to put more weight on than red meat.
A popular theory says that the first appearance of "pommes de terre frites" occurred in Paris. Shortly before the French Revolution, in the late 18th Century, street hawkers started selling fries on the city's oldest bridge, Pont Neuf.
However, experts in Belgium say that French-fried potatoes were invented in Namur in the late 1600's. They further believe that when American soldiers arrived in Belgium during World War I and tasted the Belgian fries, they labeled them "French" simply because at that time it was the official language of the Belgian Army.
Chef and co-author of the book "Simply Fries", Albert Verdeyen says that "We Belgians, we have made fries a noble food, much more than just a vegetable."
In Belgium it is possible to get a true taste of Belgian fries at various small "Fritkot" snack stands in cities all over the country. The owner of one of the stalls in Brussels, Philipppe Ratzel, told AFP, "To go to a Fritkot, that is the very essence of being a Belgian."
"Here, you can meet anyone – the old lady who is taking her dog out for a walk, students or even the government minister who lives nearby," he added.
Whichever country came first in inventing the tasty treats, they will remain a popular item on most people's menus (and on their hips!).
Roel Jacobs, a history specialist in Brussels said, "At the end of the day, we do not care where fries came from. What counts, is what has been done with them."
"The French and the Belgians took different tracks. For the French, fries normally go with meat, usually a steak while the Belgians eat them on their own or with a sauce," he added.
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