The humble frit is as steeped in history as it is in oil and fat, with tales of the origins of Belgian fries stretching back to the 17th century. As the story goes, it all begins during the harsh winters in areas surrounding the river Meuse in the southern part of the country. When the river froze over, locals were not able to catch their usual fare of small fish and in stead took to cutting potatoes into the shape of fish and frying them – and so began one of Belgium’s rich culinary traditions.A long-running controversy dates back to the end of World War 1: the great misnomer of “French fries”. Confusion struck when American servicemen arrived in Belgium and were introduced to this national dish. Allegedly, the servicemen thought that they were still in France – because they were in a French-speaking part of the country – and nicknamed the dish French fries, which went on to take the world by storm. Some back up this argument by saying that French cuisine is far too sophisticated for something like greasy potato sticks, and they may well be correct!
How do I know if I’m on to something good?
As with selecting a good wine or a good beer, a good serving of Belgian fries is in the eye – or tastebuds – of the beholder. A shy minority enjoy a soggy frit, but the masses would say that crispness is key. “It should be light and fluffy on the inside, but crisp and golden on the outside”, says fries enthusiast Damian.
The Belgian Tourist Office weighs in on the matter. Firstly, it’s important not to use frozen fries. Fries should be cut from potatoes with a medium-firm consistency, neither too firm nor too soft. “A good frit has to be 1cm square, rectangular, and fried twice”, they advise. The first frying should be done at 150°C and the second one at 175°C to achieve the ideal combination of crunch and softness. But what is the perfect frit without a sauce? There should be a good selection available to suit different tastes, and applied liberally to top off the dish.
The best way to enjoy Belgian fries
Going to a friterie in a town square is a very typical Belgian experience. “You ALWAYS have to queue, and if it rains and is cold and windy and dark, those are the most authentic conditions for experiencing “frites” or “frieten” as they are called by Belgians”, explains long-term expat Lauren. “But you don’t have to eat them outside, there are often bars around that allow you to eat the fries inside with a good glass of Belgian beer, to be chosen amidst hundreds – literally!” And her top tip? “Never forget to take a sauce with the fries. Mayonnaise to be very Belgian traditionalist, samurai if you like it hot. Ketchup will reveal you as a foreigner!”
Five top contenders
1 Place Jourdan, Brussels
Maison Antoine is a classic, considered by many to provide the best fries in Brussels. Fans argue there is a special something that makes them slightly crispier, slightly more golden and overall more delicious than others on the market. One perk of Maison Antoine is that it is close to the European Union institutions, so you might come across a European leader queuing just ahead of you. This happened last year with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel – who, for the record, is said to have ordered her fries with andalouse sauce (mayonnaise spiced with pepper and tomato).
At the time of writing there are construction works going on in Place Jourdan so Maison Antoine is temporarily set up in a trailer by the side of the square. This may or may not affect the quality of the fries.
Place Eugene Flagey, Brussels
For the uninitiated, an order from Frit Flagey will blow your hitherto understanding of fries. This popular establishment was under threat of extinction, but saved by public petition. After a shuffle in location, the proud tradition of serving frites to the people of Brussels continues. Arrive with an empty stomach and be ready to wait in line. The only problem? After this experience you may never want to eat other fries.
71 Avenue de la Couronne, Brussels
If you’re up for a chip trip, consider heading to Fritkot Bompa. One of the things that makes it worth the visit is the homemade tartare sauce, which is made fresh every day before opening. Thick and delicious, it is highly rated accompaniment to what are also highly rated fries. The fries themselves are cooked in pure beef dripping, giving a classic taste. Try your luck with getting a spot on the tables outside to slowly savour the experience.
Friterie du Miroir
Place Reine Astrid, Brussels
Northwest of the city centre in the Jette commune, at Friterie du Miroir portions are generous and you can perch yourself on a table outside to soak up the atmosphere of indulging in frites outside of the more touristy areas. Watch as batches of fries are cooked fresh in front of you and served in a classic cone. Even though it’s outside of the city, be prepared to queue – its reputation draws in aficionados from near and far.
40 Place Saint-Job, Brussels
Set up by the daughter of the founder of the famous Maison Antoine, Chez Clementine is Brussels’ eco-friendly chip shop. The design of the building, the food choices and materials used are all designed and selected to respect the environment. But what about the fries? Tip top! Crunch away guilt-free, and if you happen to be out on a Friday or Saturday night, you can duck in for your chip hit any time until 6am.
At the end of the day, the big battle for many is between Maison Antoine and Frit Flagey. For those wishing to compare the fry-making art of the greats, they are located not so far away from one another. Why not commit to an evening of tastings and make your own call on the illustrious title of the best fries in Brussels?
Where are your favourite fries in Brussels? Let us know in the comments!