Just don't call them "French fries." (Or, how to order frites in Belgium.)
Belgium’s known for a couple of culinary treats: beer, chocolate, waffles and frites.
I can’t eat gluten so waffles are off limits. I’m left savoring only the sweet aroma of freshly-griddled batter steaming on the vendors’ iron. And I’ve been teetotaling for a couple of years, so beer’s out too. Which leaves me with chocolate and frites. Not that I’m complaining… if I were to spend the next few years finding all the great chocolate and fried potatoes in this country, I’d be a very happy (and probably not very trim) woman.
I didn’t always know that in Brussels, frites are more than just fries, but now that I do, I’ve come to understand that they’re a food group equal in importance to chocolate, coffee and sparkling water.
If you’re visiting Belgium for the first time, a stop (or six) at the friterie (FR) /frituur (NL) is a must. Here are some tips for the uninitiated:
Find a friterie (if you’re in Wallonia) or frituur (in Flanders)
Google and Pinterest will lead you to no shortage of “best frites in Brussels” posts. The usual suspects include Maison Antoine and Frit Flagey but I’m personally partial to Friterie Chez Georgette (aka “Georgette”) for both the quality of the frites and their delicious sauces. Try the garlic or truffle sauce and you’ll understand why I’m willing to pay a bit more for a cone than I would anywhere else. (Don’t worry, they’re still a cheap snack/meal replacement!)
When Joe and I are outside Brussels, we tend to follow the crowds and our noses. Stay away from frituren that keep their oil too long. Smell like a stale Burger King? It’ll taste about the same. But find one with a line of locals or a 4+ star review on Google, and you’ll be good to go. We stumbled upon Frituur Giraffe (deliciousness pictured above) while out for a Sunday ride.
Get your Goldilocks on
You’ll likely have your choice of 3 sizes but occasionally more or sometimes just a standard + XL. A large is big enough for sharing. Don’t be frightened away from a small — it’s often not terribly small. Besides, frites waste would be a crime. (Your mileage may vary.)
Be ready to expand your horizons beyond ketchup. You’ll likely have at least 15 sauce choices when you order and you’ll be asked to pick one (or pay extra for extras) to accompany either “a côté ou dessus.” You could eat them naked and save 70 cents, but who does that?! Even we’re not that frugal.
Don’t be overwhelmed — I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these:
* Samourai (my absolute favorite!): mayonnaise with Tunisian chili, spices, tomatoes and bell peppers
* Mayonnaise (Belgian or Dutch): the purists’ classic choice
* Pili-Pili: spicier than Samourai (if you’re lucky…it’ll depend on the brand though)
* Andalouse: a Belgian specialty, consisting of mayonnaise, tomato paste, and pimientos or roasted bell pepper; a bit sweet and quite tasty
Unlike American-style fries, Belgian frites are cooked to order. So, place your order and grab your drink while you wait for the starchy goodness to be fried to perfection (technically twice fried). You can always read up on random frites facts while you wait.
Stick a fork in it
While I can’t stand the plastic waste generated, I’m a huge fan of the tiny frites fork that helps keep grease and sauce off your fingers. Such a genteel way to indulge.
Optional: make it a meal
Starving? Chances are high that there’ll be a couple of other goodies on the menu as long as you’re a carnivore, including a (not-really-a-burger) Bicky burger or the strangely named mitraillette.
Or you could just eat frites. Nobody here will judge.