Travel

A Very Brief History of the French Fry

 

Which maybe shouldn’t even be called *French* in the first place, so just in case, we’ll call them pommes frites or fries. Their origin is debated to the point where French Fries’ Wikipedia page lists origin as “Belgium or France (disputed)”, which I find hilarious.

ANYWAYS. What better place to learn about them than a museum dedicated exclusively to these golden, crispy, salty bites of happiness? 

Frietmuseum is located in the city of Brugge, Belgium, and after trying Belgian Pommes Frites for the first time, I knew I had to visit.

So in a nutshell, this is how “french” fries came to be (supposedly):

  • Wild potatoes abound in Latin America,
  • White invaders Spanish colonizers bring them back to Europe, where they eventually make their way to Belgium,
  • Belgians fry up potatoes instead of fish during the winter when the Meuse River is frozen,
  • During WWI, American and British soldiers in Belgium tried these crispy lil’ nuggets, and hearing the french language, assumed they were in France. They then returned to their respective countries calling them french fries,
  • The name stuck, at least in the US. Brits insist on calling them “chips” which I don’t get, but respect.

And that, my friends, is the history of the french fry. Told you it was very brief.

At least that’s the version of the story the Belgians tell.

Back to the museum.

The Frietmuseum is located in the Saaihalle, the oldest building in Bruges, which dates back to 1399. It has served every purpose you can imagine since that date, starting as a residence for Genoan merchants, with an annex added for the Consul in 1441. Afterward, it was used by weavers, giving it the name of “wool hall”. It has also served as a military warehouse, cabaret, inn, cinema, dance hall, and restaurant.

It underwent an extensive restoration in 1978, including work on the façade as you can see below.

Once inside, the history of the humble potato starts to unfold, starting with a colorful model that reminds you that there’s more to potatoes than just Russets and Yukon Golds.

Courtesy of frietmuseum.be

A globe depicting the long and arduous voyage the spuds went on, from the Andes, through the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, all the way to the Old World.

Courtesy of frietmuseum.be

Whether you call them frituur, friterie, or frietkot, these are the places you’ll want to seek out at 3 am after a night of drinking. Or whenever the craving hits. No one will judge you.

Courtesy of frietmuseum.be

The museum is jam-packed with information, but it’s also full of artwork and colorful displays which, IMHO, make it quite family-friendly. 

Courtesy of frietmuseum.be

This one is my favorite, no questions about it. Somewhere I can hear my mom say something along the lines of being unsurprised.

The gift shop is quite sparse, but at least we don’t lose too much time deciding if we want to spend more money on a slightly kitschy souvenir.

Courtesy of frietmuseum.be

There’s a small friterie in the museum’s basement, but as delicious as they look, Sara says they’re not particularly good. We take our growling stomachs and cravings elsewhere.

Courtesy of frietmuseum.be

And this doesn’t even begin to cover why Belgian fries are so good in the first place, but that’s a story for another day.

Still unconvinced about the true origins of the fry? Take it up with the Belgians.

Or visit the museum yourself here.

 

Andrea Wintergerst

Based mainly in Colorado. Loves cheese, rain, and starry nights. Can usually be spotted in the wild wearing a Spirit Jersey and balancing two cameras. Often laughs and cries at the same time.

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