Some tempers and patriotic fervor may still be flying high over whether fried strands of potatoes should be called “French” fries or “freedom” fries, but in the culinary arena it is of little consequence because the champion is Belgian and the name is “Pommes frites”.
Frites are thick strips of potatoes which are fried twice to give its characteristic crispy outside and soft insides. It is often served in a paper cone with a dollop of sauce on top. It is the wonderful choices of sauces that add to the charm of frites. British like their “chips” soggy and soaked in salt and vinegar; Americans like their fries sized up and dipped in tomato sauce; Malaysians would prefer sweet chilli sauce. Frites connoisseurs can chose from scores of sauces.
The origin of frites are somewhat debated between the French, Belgian and even the Dutch. The Belgians are given the benefit of the doubt as they are by far the largest consumers of frites and of potatoes per capita. The Belgians also have a strong tradition of having stalls selling frites in every town. These are more than 7000 of these “ frite kots“ in Belgium and they can have a lot of character. The Belgians even tell a little story about its origins. During winter, a certain village traditionally fried small fish which was available from a river near. However, one year due to harsh weather, the villagers did not have any fish. Somebody tried frying potatoes cut into strips like fish and that is how the pommes frites began.
Back to the variety of sauces. Frites have begun to invade USA and one shop in New York offers about 30 of these sauces and these have been rated for us by Geegaw and friends. They are all Americans so their taste may not really represent the global view but it was the only taste test I could find on the web. I remember trying and enjoying the following; tartar sauce, rosemary garlic mayo, pesto mayo, Dijon garlic mustard, Curry Ketchup Special and curry sauce.
Another regional variation which merits some attention is poutine which is a French Canadian staple and a welcome body warmer against the bitingly cold Canadian winter. Poutine is like thick frites but it is always accompanied by beef or chicken gravy and cheese curds. Probably a nutritionist’s nightmare but all the more reason it comes highly recommended.
If one of your new year resolutions is to eat healthier, then the good news is that you still have a few days to try pommes frites and poutine.