The Belgians are putting their foot down when it comes to French fries. And they would appreciate it if you would stop calling them French.
Since last year, communities in Belgium have been working to get UNESCO World Heritage status for their nation’s beloved potato dish. The campaign began in the region of Flanders, but other parts of the country have recently joined in on the fight, creating a unified fry front—partly in support of the national celebration of “Fry Week,” which began on Dec. 1 and runs until Dec. 7.
Part of the Belgian claim stems from the fact that they believe they have a unique take on fries. As the New York Daily News states, their version “can be characterized by being at least 1 centimeter thick, rectangular and fried twice, most often in beef fat.” And unlike in France, fries are often enjoyed outside of meals and “come topped with everything from mayo to bolognaise sauce, curry ketchup, tartar, béarnaise, cheese and cocktail sauce.”
However, the debate about who actually invented the “French” fry is far less clear (or crinkle) cut. The Belgian tourist office claims that the term “French fry” is a misnomer that began when American servicemen returned from the French speaking-parts of Belgium after World War I. However, the phrase apparently appeared in Good Housekeeping as early as 1899. And French historians believe street salesmen were serving up the dish since before the French Revolution in 1789. Not that Belgians deny that particular claim, but they assert that their take on fried potatoes originated even earlier, possibly dating back to the 17th century.
In the end, UNESCO status probably wouldn’t solve the fry’s mysterious origin story. But at the very least, it could remind Americans that not all fries have to be French.