If you're like most Americans, when you think French fries, you think McDonald's. Oh you poor, deprived people. I don't say this because I was raised in Francemais non, I have never tasted a fry a la Francaise. I say this because I spent much of my childhood in Holland, where fries are a national treasure. Known as "patat," Dutch fries are prepared freshnot frozen!at a variety of fries stands that, much like hot-dog stands in the New York, appear on street corners, in shopping malls, and anywhere else the fry urge could strike. Perhaps it is not surprising that in Holland, where the potato is given almost as much reverence as the Dutch royal family, the number-one snack food would be crafted from the sleepy spud, while we here in the New World, who prefer to worship red meat, have made hot-dogs and hamburgers our fast food staples.
Whatever the case, you can be certain that if you are traveling in the Netherlands, you will come upon the tantalizing scent of frying potatoes wafting around a corner and forcing you to follow your nose to its source. The fries you order there will be the thick, steak fry variety, and they'll be served to you in a paper cone and topped with a dollop of creamy mayonnaise (a distant relative of our globby mayo). Fries are so commonly served this way that to order them one simply asks for patat "met", or "with." The fry stand will also have a menu of other toppings, including sate sauce, a chunky peanut sauce that the Dutch discovered during their colonization of Indonesia and promptly incorporated into their fry culture.
The Dutch, however, cannot take responsibility for inventing the fry. Neither can the French. That honor goes to the Belgians, where fries are cherished even more than they are in Holland. The fry culture in Belgium is similar to that of Hollandfries are everywhere, the thick slabs of potatoes are freshly fried and served in paper cones, and they are offered with a variety of toppings, the most popular being mayonnaisebut the Belgians have also developed a wide variety of specialized fries shops, called, in Belgium "frietkots" or "fritures". These range from small stands, to sheds, busses and caravans, to shacks or quaint chalets.
It is only in the United States that the nomenclature of fried potatoes insinuates a French connection. In England they are called "chips," in France "pommes frites" (which means, literally, "fried apples"), and in Belgium and Holland "patat" (not the word for potato, which is "aardappel"). The French fry has little to do with France other than the fact that it's popularity spread to that country as quickly as it did to others. In fact, the French, like most of Europe, eyed the potato with suspicion until the last century or two.
I have been known to go out of my way to obtain fries similar to my beloved Dutch "patat," and have found a few places in America where they are served. In Santa Monica, on the Third Street Promenade, there is a fast food joint called "Benita's Frites" where geniuine Belgian fries are served, along with all the appropriate toppings. I once travelled to the outskirts of Boston just to sample the promised Belgian fries with sate sauce at a small restaurant, but was deeply disappointed when the fries I was served were clearly of the frozen variety, and the peanut sauce was nothing like what I was used to. As luck would have it, just as I was in the middle of researching this article, I noticed a new shop being redone right here in New York City which promises to serve nothing but Belgian fries. Called "Pomme Frites," the shop is opening on Second Avenue, between 7th Street and St. Mark's Place. If it is all that it promises to be, I will no longer have to travel to the Pacific coast, or cross the Atlantic, to get a taste of my favorite greasy snack. For the rest of you mouse-potatoes, here are some places on the web where you can get your fix of fries:
The Official French Fries Site
Belgian Fries Site
French Fry Poetry & Deep Thoughts
"The Song of the Limpy Fry"
How to Make Real Belgian Fries
Un-fried French Fries
Venison and French Fries Casserole