A History of French Fries

All about the origins of the world’s favorite potato dish

Published online: Dec 13, 2017 Articles
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Source: Smart Cooky


Thin, crisp and oh-so indulgent, there is nothing quite as addictive as french fries. The deep-fried potato fritters have caught the fancy of foodies for centuries, across continents, and have established themselves as the best sidekick to so many dishes. On their own, too, french fries are quite a snack to munch on. Smeared in ketchup, mayonnaise or an array of sauces and dips, french fries make for our favorite go-to snack in times good, bad and ugly. True, there is a lot of credit due to the person who came up with the ingenious idea to fry potatoes in such a way, but if you have been crediting a certain Frenchman for the crispy goodness, you may want to read its twisted history.


The Belgian Contribution

Several historians claim that what we enjoy today as french fries, may actually be a Belgian creation. According to them, it was in Belgium potatoes were being fried in the late 1600s. Belgian villagers used to slice their fish really thin, fry them and eat them as a snack. But in winter months when the river would freeze, it would get difficult for the villagers to fish. What started out as an alternative paved the way for the creation of our beloved french fries. The villagers near the Meuse River turned to the tuber and sliced and fried it pretty much the same way as they would fry their fish, and thus the earliest version of french fries were born.

During World War I, American soldiers chanced upon the fried delicacy and immediately fell in love with it. Since the dominant language of southern Belgium is French, they dubbed them as “French” fries, and the name stuck.


The French Connection

There is a set of historians who claim that french fries are indeed French. First sold by street vendors on Paris’s Pont Neuf in the 1780s, the thin potato fritters were one of the most sold food items before the outbreak of French revolution. Potatoes were a means of sustenance for citizens who didn’t have the privileges enjoyed by the clergy or nobility. Potatoes were promoted as a common man’s food in France by Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, but he did not mention anything about french fries in particular.


How Americans Added to Confusion

According to the manuscript by President Thomas Jefferson written in early 19th century, Jefferson mentioned “Pommes de terre frites en petites tranches” (“Potatoes deep-fried while raw, in small slices”). Historians claim that the recipe came from French chef Honoré Julien. By the 1850s, the recipe became one of the mainstays in the popular American cookbooks as “French-fried potatoes.”

It is said that Jefferson had “potatoes served in the French manner” at a White House dinner in 1802. Historians claim that the expression “French-fried potatoes” first occurred in print in English in the 1856 work Cookery for Maids of All Work by E. Warren. The new style of “French frying” the potatoes was meant to refer to the thin, shallow-fried slices of potato, in order to draw a certain sense of distinction in skinny and deep-fried versus fat and pan-fried.


Love for French Fries across the Globe

French fries are a common side dish to burgers, fried chicken, grilled steak and fried fish. In Belgium, people often team their fries with cooked mussels or with a fried egg on top. Fish and chips is one of America’s and the UK’s favorite style of eating them. In the Middle East, french fries find their place in the pita bread with other fillings to make a wholesome snack. Poutine is a famous dish hailing from Canada and consisting of french fries and cheese curds, topped with lip-smacking brown gravy.