Waffles, beer, royalty, three official languages — it seems like Belgium has covered a lot of cultural ground, but perhaps its fried potatoes are its most cherished, so much so that Belgium wants to declare its fries a cultural heritage, on par with Turkish coffee and the Argentinian tango.
This year, the Dutch-speaking north of the country officially recognized Belgian fries as a fundamental part of Belgian culture, and their French- and German-speaking kin are expected to debate the subject next year. To obtain UNESCO World Heritage status, the fries have to be endorsed by a minister of culture, of whom Belgium has three, Reuters reported. The Flemish initiative to rally support for the UNESCO bid has brought together the quarreling, lingusticially-divided country.
Traditionally sold in a paper cone from a "fritkot" — or a fry shack, if you so please — Belgian fries are characteristically thick and rectangular in shape, and fried twice in beef fat. Reuters said that there are about 5,000 fritkots in Belgium — 10 times more common than McDonald's restaurants in the U.S., per capita.
UNAFRI, the national association of fritkot owners, is responsible for the movement, reported Reuters. The organization said that the unpolished establishments are uniquely Belgian, an amalgamation of the country's "embrace of chaos with a dislike of corporate uniformity," according to its spokesperson, Bernard Lefevre. He added:
A cone of potato chips is Belgium in miniature. What's astounding is that this way of thinking is the same, notwithstanding the different communities and regions.
The nation is so fry-crazy that an entire seven days — dubbed Week van der Friet, or Fry Week, taking place this week, actually — is set aside to celebrate the dish. Belgium also hopes that with the UNESCO stamp, the world will finally stop calling them French fries. The Belgian tourist office website has an entire subsection on their "fries" page to explain how there is absolutely nothing French about fries, and how the French fried fish instead of potatoes before the Belgians brought it over, duh:
Belgian Fries are part of Belgian culinary and cultural heritage. Even if they are sometimes refereed to as French Fries there is nothing French about them. Apparently the name originated due to a linguistic misunderstanding, because in old English "to French" meant "cut into sticks." According to the Belgian historian Jo Gerard, chips appeared on the dining tables in Namur, French speaking Ardennes and Dinant in the latter half of the 17th century. Poorer inhabitants in these towns used to fry tiny fish. When the river froze in the winter the fish were replaced by sticks of potatoes cut to the same small size of the fish.
Just to show you how much fried potatoes are beloved in the country, here are pictures of some Belgians being really happy with their fries.
Images: Getty Images