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Are French Fries French? Let’s Bust the Myth and Set the Record Straight (Recipe for Vegan Mayonaise Included)

French Fries are not French. Although there seems to an Anglo love affair with everything that’s French (French kiss, French toast, French fries, anything else?) fries have a different country of origin, which is Belgium. Yes, indeed, and I’ll let you in on another secret. The French know this too. So, how did fries end up with the French nationality? Who claimed them as French and how and why?

Time for a little history lesson. After that, I’m off to make some Belgian fries with vegan mayonnaise, and I will gladly share the recipe with you. Making vegan mayonnaise takes less than two minutes.

 

The History of Fries


A Family Manuscript

There are different accounts, and some of them appear to be quite dubious. Jo Gerard, a Belgian historian claims that he owns a document, dated 1781, from one of his ancestors, Joseph Gerard. This document describes the custom of the inhabitants of Namen, Dinant, and Andennes to catch little fish in the Maas River to improve their daily meals, this was done especially for the poor. They then fried the fish. During winter the river froze and fishing became too dangerous, so people started cutting potatoes in the shape of little fish and fried them. According to this document they had been doing this for a 100 years already, so since 1681.

However, this manuscript was never published, and it raises a few questions.

  1. The first potatoes were introduced in the area around 1735, these dates don’t match with the story …
  2. Fat was a luxury, so it seems unlikely that poor farmers would have used so much fat to fry a few potatoes.

A Little French Theory

Although it is known in France that fries are originally Belgian, some French seem to want to claim them as their own creation. There is a theory that the first fries were sold at a fry stand on the Pont Neuf in Paris in the 1780s, and that French refugees from the Prussian occupation (1852-1870) apparently brought the knowledge of this dish over to Belgium, but there isn’t anything to support that claim. Besides, in 1848 fries were already made and sold in Belgium.So, je suis désolée (translation: I’m sorry).

So, What’s The Real Story?

hinking

According to historian Pierre Leclerq the origins of fries are rather commercial, disproving the theories that they were made in aristocratic households or that they were a staple of poor people’s meals. Frederic Krieger was a member of a traveling fair. In the nineteenth Century fairs began to offer food in their venues, and so Frederic (or Fritz, as he preferred to be called) had the idea of setting up a food stand. It is likely that he began to sell fries in the city of Liège (Southeast Belgium) in 1838.

The proof for this story is found in written requests for Frederic’s Belgian fries food stands. These letters – dating back to 1845 – have been saved, with the first one asking permission for a food stand at a fair in Antwerp. It is unclear how and where Frederic was inspired to sell fries, but it is a fact that these fried potato stands quickly became a huge success.

manuscript

Consequently, more fairs began to feature mobile food stands that sold fried potatoes (fries), and the first permanent fry shops were established in the 1880s. Later the pommes frites (also called patates frites) even became part of restaurant menus.

OK, Then Who Called Belgian Fries French …?

Good question. Who? And why? Well, we’re not done with our history lesson.

During World War I, English and American soldiers were first introduced to fries. They had never had this before, and since Belgians speak Flemish in the North of Belgium and French in the South, these allied soldiers heard a lot of French – les pommes frites – and that’s why they called them French fries.

Another theory is that fries are called French because of the thin cut, supposedly a “French” cut.

I believe that both these theories are true, but I am leaning more towards the one of the English and American soldiers who first tasted fries at the Western Front in WWI and who were the first to call them French fries.

belgian-fries

Learned Something New Today 🙂

So, there it is, our story of the Belgian fries. With my Belgian heritage, I couldn’t leave this myth of French fries unattended 😉 Some people will perhaps think. “They’re only fries, just a bunch of potatoes. What’s the big deal?” But if you ever go to Belgium and taste real Belgian fries you will change your mind about that soon enough. No one makes fries like the Belgians do. I can’t explain it, but they have a unique flavor, maybe because real fry shops make their fries from real potatoes. Any fry shop that uses store bought frozen ones is a big NO NO. I’d say, go to Belgium, and have some real Belgian fries. Then you’ll know 🙂

They also come with yummy homemade mayonnaise and many other delicious sauces. In Belgium, it is customary to use mayonnaise for fries. The fry shops also offer many side orders for your fries.

Enough History, Now Give Up the Recipe


Right, the recipe for vegan mayonnaise, also known as veganaise. It’s super easy, and you need no more than 2 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk (it’s very important that it has NO sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • Half a squeezed lime
  • A pinch of salt (or al gusto)
  • Herbs and/or spices of your preference (I used 3/4 of a teaspoon of pesto herbs and 3/4 of a teaspoon of dried cambray onion)
    • With herbs and spices you can be creative. If you like curry, you can add curry and black pepper, using 3/4 teaspoon of each, you can make it spicy with chili powder, or you could use oregano, cumin, Italian seasoning, etc; just use your favorite spices or experiment with different flavored types of mayonnaise 🙂

Procedure:

  • Pour soy milk into blender and add squeezed lime juicevegan-mayonnaise
  • Blend for 30 seconds
  • Add mustard and salt
  • Blend
  • Add herbs and spices and blend
  • After that, add canola oil gradually. It is important that you pour it slowly and let it trickle into the mixture while blending. Do not pour it in at once, because that will not work, the mixture will stay liquidy and we need it to be firm. By pouring it in slowly, the mixture will steadily get firmer

Serve with fries (or on a sandwich, or anything you fancy 🙂 )

While this is perhaps not the healthiest meal, vegan mayonnaise is still healthier and friendlier on cholesterol than traditional mayonnaise. Moreover, it’s cruelty-free 🙂 In case you prefer a recipe without soy, then I will post a recipe for soy-free vegan mayonnaise in one of my upcoming articles. If you’d like that, please let me know in the comments. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed our little excursion into the history of fries, and this vegan, egg less mayonnaise.

Bon appetit!

fries-veganaise

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Christine

33 Comments

  1. Christine, this was a fascinating look into the origin of the French Fry. I am always curious to know the origins of some of the most popular foods and was completely surprised that fries originated in Belgium. That was something new that I definitely learned today! You did such a great job of explaining it in an interesting and entertaining way too! Thanks so much for the recipe! The only problem is that now it is late and night and I’m getting hungry…

    • Hi Steve,

      Thank you! I love history and talking (or writing) about it. Like you, I also like to know the origins of popular foods, it’s always so interesting to find out. 

      No worries if it’s late, Making fries and veganaise doesn’t take long 😉 🙂 

  2. Your article is really interesting to read. Such an interesting story about French Fries. I have never heard of this story. It’s interesting to know that French fries are from Belgium instead of France. You said the Belgian fries have unique flavour, I ‘d really love to try in Belgium. And I don’t even know that Belgians eat fries with mayonnaise. What’s the difference between the flavour of vegan mayonnaise and traditional one?

  3. Your article is really interesting to read. Such an interesting story about French Fries. I have never heard of this story. It’s interesting to know that French fries are from Belgium instead of France. You said the Belgian fries have unique flavour, I ‘d really love to try in Belgium. And I don’t even know that Belgians eat fries with mayonnaise. What’s the difference between the flavour of vegan mayonnaise and traditional one?

    And thank you for your recipe.

    • Hi Fiona,

      Yes, we eat fries with mayonnaise (and other sauces too). It’s hard to say what the difference is between vegan mayonnaise and the traditional one. Both are creamy, but perhaps the traditional one is a different creamy because it uses egg yolks? I’m so used to eating the vegan version that it’s hard to say for me 🙂 

  4. Thank you so much for this nice and highly informative article.Thanks for opening our eyes to history, who could have thought the much speculated French fries is from originally from Belgium, I like the vegan mayonaise recipe very much, thanks for sharing. I will surely bookmark this post for future reference. 

    • Hi Charles,

      It’s an interesting history, isn’t it? 😉

      Thanks for bookmarking my post!

  5. I love mayonnaise on my french fries my friends all look at me like I’m crazy but they just don’t know what they are missing! lol. Homemade fries made from real potatoes are delicious and now you’ve got me very curious to know what the Belgium fries are like. Thanks for the history lesson on “French” fries as well. I always love hearing interesting new stories on the true origin of foods. Fun fact: German chocolate cake isn’t German either, it’s from an American named Samuel German.

    • I know exactly what you mean when you get those looks. I get them too when I put mayonnaise on my fries, lol. 

      And thank you for the fun fact about German chocolate cake! 🙂 that’s a good one to know too.

  6. I absolutely love this article!  Felt like I got a lovely little treat, learning an interesting tidbit, while getting my recipe.  Wish all recipe sites are as fun as your page.

    I’m on a keto diet so regrettably I’m unable to eat potatoes.  But I’m thinking of trying your veganaise.  It seems keto-friendly (low in carbs), so I’m already planning to try it out with some zucchini fries.

    Thanks for the fun history lesson and bonus recipe! 🙂

    • You’re welcome 🙂 And I had no idea that my recipe is keto-friendly, that’s good to know too! 🙂 

  7. Okay, you’re article has made me hungry and with one of the things that will not help my waist line. 

    I love a good french fry and my favorite fries are thinner and a little more crispy. I have also had some great sweet potato fries lately and I am growing to really like them, even though you couldn’t get me to eat a sweet potato for nothing if it’s by itself.

    What are your favorite type of french fries?

    • Crispy fries sound good too, and sweet potato is yummy! My favorite type of fries would the ones I can buy at a fry shop in Belgium 😉 

  8. Les pommes frites! I was wondering too why they called it French Fries, awesome debunking there my friend! After trying out fries from Burger King, McDonalds and A&W, I have started having the interest of cooking my own fries from potatoes and I have to say, Burger King’s fries taste real as compared to McDonalds.

    Might be off topic to ask, could there be a possibility that Burger King uses real fries from real potatoes? 😀

    • Hi Riaz,

      I don’t really know if Burger King uses real potatoes. I never go there  😉 McDonalds fries are definitely not made from real potatoes … 

  9. I knew they weren’t French, but I didn’t know the true origins. This article is so cool. I had an online Belgium friend once who told me about eating French fries with mayonnaise. It sounded weird, but I decided to try it. Now that’s how I always eat them! Noms! I may have to try your recipe. Thanks for posting!

    • Thanks Cathy! I’m glad your friend convinced you to try fries with mayonnaise, it tastes great, right? 🙂

  10. Just like americans to claim everything as thier own lol. French fries or not that recipe looks amazing. Thanks for the history lesson, well said.

  11. I’ll have to try the vegan mayonnaise for sure, sounds super tasty. I knew they were not french but didn’t know they were from Belgium. Holland they do the gravy and mayonnaise mixed together, I think that is done in Canada too. I love that mix.

  12. Wow ,thanks for all this information Christine.
    I never asked myself about the French fries and its originality, I just took it as it comes :)) But the veganaise recipe .. that’s the great one, keep up the good work

  13. l read your article about the story of ,let’s say “potatoes fries” taste almost around the world with the popularity of fast food and street vendors,but the quality of it are poor , mediocre.Fortunately the Belgium fries shops continues to exist,so much better, with the right product .

    • Hello Gerard,
      I agree that most potato fries that are sold on the street or in fast food stands are mediocre and many are not even made of real potatoes. Best to make them yourself or get the real ones, right 😉 ?

  14. Hello Christine,

    I seriously started to laugh out loud once I saw the title. I called my flatmate she is from Belgium, and she told me about french fries just yesterday. She says hi and thank you for this article! ahahaha.

    “Belgian” Fries are a great discovery! It can be healthy, but it can be unhealthy! However it still one of the best food out there, especially with fast food! The funny part is originated from Belgium that name is French fries, and it is more famous in Germany than any other country. Even in the UK “fish and chips” So I feel a bit sad for Belgium!

    I loved your articles so much, and you sure made me laugh hard! Thank you for that. To find a laugh in the most an unexpected place is just a wonderful thing.

    • Hi Mohammad, I’m happy I made you laugh, lol. Finding laughter in the most unexpected places is truly wonderful 🙂
      Yep, fries can be unhealthy if they’re eaten on a regular basis, anything that’s fried really, but once in a while it can’t hurt, right? 😉 I used to live in Germany and I remember that fries were quite popular there 🙂
      Tell your Belgian friend that she’s very welcome 🙂 😉
      Have a great day!

  15. Hi Christine,
    Wow, Never even thought of french fries was originated in Belgium. Interesting History. Funny thing, i was looking for a vegan mayo recipe yesterday and here i have it. I do not eat eggs so i always look for vegan/vegetarian options ( i do eat dairy). Great recipe, will definitely try it. will follow you in pinterest. Do you do vegan cake? I will be very interested in vegan cake.
    Thank you so much!!

    • Hi Pranali,
      That’s great that you found your recipe, I’m glad I could help.😊
      I got several recipes for vegan cakes. I’ll share them in one of my upcoming posts.
      Thanks for stopping by 😊

  16. Nice, well-written, educating and sort of fun article I would say! I have known pretty long time french fries are not French actually but learned lots of new things behind the story of french fries. This vegan mayonnaise sounds very interesting and delicious as well. I like to eat sweet potato fries, in my opinion, they are better cause has some sort of sweet taste. Do you think this mayonnaise would fit with them? -Kind regards Jesse 

    • Hi Jesse, I think it would work. I also like the taste of sweet potatoes. If you’d like a healthier version of the veganaise you can also replace canola oil with grape seed oil 🙂

  17. I too like most people here will agree i enjoyed reading this article and about the history of French fries which I honestly thought originated from the French, surely there is no end to what we can learn everyday. Anyways I had never made French fries and I’m still thinking on whether i should make them myself in such a bad cook or should I get some one else to do it for me. 

    • Hi Donny,
      It’s quite easy to make fries, but when you’re not paying attention they burn easily 😉
      How about cooking them with a friend who is a good cook? Like that you’ll help and learn how to make fries 😉

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