Many English words and expressions come in unnoticed in the fervor of hurried learning or exam preparation. While studying differences between British and American English we tend to repeat frenziedly: pavement, sidewalk, trousers, pants, chips, French fries. Hold on a second! Why?
Why in the American version of English ordinary chips become French? Why such an unsophisticated and caloric snack earned a name evoking totally opposite associations?
According to Wikipedia, Thomas Jefferson, was served potatoes fried in French manner. One of the cookery book of these times holds recipes for French fried onion rings and chicken, which means that French fried was a synonym of deep-fried.
Anyway, no matter how interesting this introduction wouldn’t be, it doesn’t explain, why deep-frying was referred to as French frying in the past.
In French, chips are known as pommes de terre frites, pommes frites, patates frites, or simply frites. France in the past was considered to be the capital of good taste and obviously outstanding cuisine. Therefore, commonplace fried potatoes earned the name that added a pinch of luxury to the dish. In one of his memories, already mentioned Thomas Jefferson, describes thin pieces of potatoes fried in oil, which he attributes to his French cook.
Apart from this very credible French version of events, there is also an alternative story. This allegedly French delicacy is thought to appear first in Belgium, more specifically in Meuse Valley. According to the author of the exhaustive article, which I’m also referring to: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/09/the-history-of-french-fries/ , inhabitants of the region between Belgian Dinant and Liege, would typically make small fried fish. In the winter, nevertheless, when the ice disabled fishing, potatoes come in as a good substitute for this fishy snack. To make the story even more intricate, also the Spanish have their part in the the success of one o the most popular snacks on Earth. None else but the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula brought and made potatoes popular all over the Europe. This information significantly tips the balance towards Belgian version. At this time in history Belgium depended politically on Spain which most probably contributed to their craving for potatoes.
There is still a nagging question in the air, if fries are Belgian, why the hell they are French? The answer is easy: the law of the jungle – survival of the strongest. Belgium with its weaker image in the world and strong connections to France, came in unnoticed giving ground to its superior neighbor.
It goes without saying that the name French fries is definitely a simplification and a logical shortcut. Anyway, it is difficult to imagine, that a more true to life version Spanish-Belgian-French fries could possibly catch on. Therefore, bearing in mind the supremacy of the strongest, let’s support the weaker and at least acknowledge the story behind the words.