One of the main dishes that daily crosses our counter is the infamous “Duck Fat Fries” – this blog post tries to shine some light on the contentious origin of its recipe.
Sure, the most vibrant disputes you would find around the borders of Belgium and France – two countries with the same language claiming ownership about the deep-fried gold. One legend tells the story of poor Belgian fishermen and inhabitants of the villages Namur, Andenne, and Dinant, who in the 17th century had the custom of fishing in the Meuse for small fish that would end up in the fryer for dinner. During the winter month when the river was frozen and fishing became hazardous, they would fry small cuts of potatoes in the form of small fish. However, it is questionable how peasants could have dedicated large quantities of fat for cooking potatoes. Another story explains how American and British soldiers stationed in Belgium during World War I contributed to the confusion. Known as “French Fries” in most English speaking countries, it is said that foreign soldiers although eating “Belgium Fries” based their naming on the local language and the official language of the Belgian Army, which was also French. Fries are considered the orphan of street cooking, it is one significant reason why it is hard to establish where they really come from. Some Parisians believe that “Pommes Frites” were invented by street vendors on the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris 1789, just before the outbreak of the French revolution. Another reason for the popularity of potatoes in France is largely credited to a French army medical officer named Antoine Augustine Parmentier, who very famously championed the potatoes throughout France and parts of Europe. During the Seven Years War, he was taken captive in Prussia and was given potatoes as prison rations. At the time, the French used potatoes only for hog feed, in fact the French Parliament even banned cultivation of potatoes as they were convinced they caused leprosy. Back in France, Parmentier began to promote the potato as potential food source, hosting dinners for the famous and royals. In the end, it took a famine in 1785 for the potato to become popular in France. Other hints go back to the times when potatoes first appeared in Europe through the help of Spanish colonies, who firstly found potatoes in abandoned villages in Colombia beginning of the 16th century. At the time the Spanish introduced the potato to Europe they controlled much of what is now modern day Belgium, which again gives some credence to the Belgians, who probably were among the first who tested out ways to prepare dishes from potatoes.
Without a doubt fries are known all around the world regardless of who invented them. The facts are, Belgians do consume the most fries per capita of any country in Europe and American fast food chains pushed the popularity of this simple recipe further into the world over time.