Of all the amazing culinary inventions of the last thousand years, there is one that seems to invite universal salivation. Despite its humble origins, it can be found in almost every restaurant, whether fine dining or fast food. People are so tied to this food that some have tried to change its name to deal with disputes. And it all comes from a plant that is classified as a vegetable, yet many disagree with this calling it a root or a starch. And, of course, it is the Food Holiday for July 13th. What food holiday could we be celebrating? We celebrate none other than National French Fry day. Now try to tell me that your mouth didn’t instantly water at the thought.
I wish I had some amazing French fry story to tell you from my youth. But there was no story of heartbreak or madness that I have associated with the French fry. What I can say is that the fry seems to be the most versatile of foods in existence. It comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. People season them with all sorts of herbs and spices. And as far as what goes on them, we can go from dipping sauces, to cheese and chili, and even to gravy and cheese curds. The list of fry applications seems to be endless.
My personal preference, aside from Ketchup and Barbeque sauce, would be Blue Cheese Dressing. I suppose that for those who hate Blue Cheese dressing, this is a non-starter. But if you like blue cheese dressing, there is nothing like dipping your French fry into that wonder of buttermilk and aged blue cheese and letting it slide down your tongue. But I digress.
We never have a food holiday here at the Guide without going into the fake history behind the food. And after minutes and minutes of research that is always of the most questionable sources, we here at the Guide were able to come up with the completely untrue story behind the ridiculous wonderfulness that is the French fry. Did it come from Belgians? Did it come from France? Will I tell you that it came from someone’s . . . wait?!? Never mind! We have searched high and low to bring you this tale. And it all comes to you with mood music. (Minus the music as you will have to supply your own.)
The Completely Fake History Of The French Fry
The Belgian Story
Once upon a time (around 1630), in a small village called Pommes, of what was then called the Spanish Netherlands, there lived a fisherman by the name of Frenchy Dubois. He was a tall fisherman with broad shoulders and a bit of a temper. But fishing calmed him. In addition to being a local fisherman, Frenchy was also a family man with a wife and three “Petit chou” (French for little cabbages, an endearing term for his children) at home.
Every morning, Frenchy would get up early in the morning to make sure to get out there before all the other fisherman and get his catch of fish to feed his family and to earn a modest income. And every evening he would come home and he and his family cut and bread the fish and fry it up in a pan of hot lard. (Don’t judge him. It was the 1600s after all.) This was nothing like fish sticks because that’s from the pit of hell. But that’s a whole other story.
But this year has been an especially hard year for the Dubois. They lived off the fish from the river for years but this year they dried up. And he barely had enough fish to feed his family, let alone have any left over to barter for other goods that they would need. So Frenchy’s stress level had piqued until almost the boiling point. He didn’t know what he would do. But he continued to go out to the river, day after day, to try and feed his family at the very least.
It was getting to late November in the fishing village of Pommes and the rivers had begun to freeze over. Frenchy went out to the lake early in the morning to beat the other fisherman, as was his usual custom. But when he got there he found that the river was one solid mass of ice. He thought that if he got to the center of the river where the ice was less dense, he would be able to cut open the ice, but that didn’t seem to help. He started to take out his little ax and hack away at the lake, but it was no use.
Frenchy continued to hack at the lake until many of his other fishermen started to make fun of him trying to cut open something that obviously would not be cut. After hours of doing this, Frenchy had given up. He got to the edge of the lake, and in one last fit of anger, he started hacking away at the ice at the edge. Some green plants started sticking up from where he had hacked and he started to chip away at those as well. Only they never budged. Getting even angrier, Frenchy pulled those roots out of the ground no matter what the cost.
He pulled and pulled until his arms almost gave out. And about the time his back was going to give out a big, brown, oddly shaped root came out of the ground. Frenchy stared at the root for a while, not sure what to do with this big mass. He was about to chuck it when he noticed that from a certain angle, it oddly looked like a fish. And he got a strange idea.
So before arriving home, he decided to cut up these “pommes”. Frenchy decided to name them after the town he came from. (That was a thing back then.) But only one was not enough, so Frenchy decided to hack away at the lake some more and dig up some more of these roots to bring them home to his family. He then cut them up to look like little fish and brought several of them home to his family.
His wife and kids stared disbelievingly at Frenchy when he brought this strange white and brown mass home and called them “pommes.” They thought that he had completely lost it. So to placate Frenchy they said that they would cook it and serve it for dinner. The wife didn’t know how to cook this root so she decided that if they were going to placate Frenchy that they should bread it and Fry it just like they would their fish.
So when the Dubois family sat around the dinner table that night they stared at the Fried pommes that they had cooked up. Frenchy grabbed a big helping but the rest of the family sat and stared. Frenchy tore into those potatoes like they were the best fish he had ever tasted. The family was sure he was nuts then. But Susan, the littlest of the kids, decided that she would taste a bit of the pommes to make her dad feel better. So she took one bite. And it was heaven. All of a sudden, Susan devoured the pommes they cooked without a care if the rest of the family ate. Upon seeing the joy on Susan’s face the rest of the family tore into those roots. And before long they were all stuffed and well fed.
Frenchy’s wife impressed upon him that he should have a banquet at their house with the new discovery. But only after he could take as many of those pommes from the river as he possibly could so that he could make money from it. One they took all the roots they could find, Frenchy put together a large banquet with these fried pommes and started telling all of his neighbors to come to a banquet with Frenchy’s fried pommes as the main course. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The American Version
But that’s just how the Belgians tell it. The American’s tell a slightly different version. Their version goes something like this. Yes, there was a guy who had discovered the potato and started to cook them up like fish. And it grew so popular in the region that it would spread throughout Europe. By the time the American’s had arrived in Europe for World War I, it was a very popular dish that the English loved. Only the English called it Chips and served it with some Fried Fish.
The American’s couldn’t be content with anything the English called Chips when they had already had chips of their own. So they needed to come up with another name. As they mistakenly believed that they were in France when they actually were in Belgium, they decided to call these potatoes, French Fries as they were fried potatoes that they got from a place they mistakenly thought was France. So while they Americans agree that it was a Belgian discovery, the name is uniquely their own.
The French Edition
The French, as is their custom, have an entirely different version of the origin of the French Fry. Of course, the French would never be so gauche as to call it a French Fry, despite how highly they value themselves. And they would never be so unoriginal to stick it in a sweet tomato sauce like ketchup or BBQ sauce. The French prefer their mayonnaise. But this talk of ketchup takes things off the rails.
So the French version of this story begins with a street vendor on Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris in 1789. The Americans had just won their independence from the British. The French thought they must not claim the idea of freedom came from them. So Gaston DeSade sat upon the French Bridge trying to come up with a revolutionary idea that the American’s could not steal. He sat and pondered for a while, staring at the meager potatoes that he had baking in his cart. And in a pique of experimental folly, he chopped up these potatoes and tossed them into the frying pan with hot oil left over from cooking vegetables.
He dumped these well-chopped potatoes into the hot oil and voila pommes frites. Of course, these didn’t sell very well. The first few customers gave Gaston some terrible looks as the put these fried potatoes into their mouth. Most of them started giving him obscene gestures after eating it. It wasn’t until he took some preservatives he had for the meat (salt), and put it over the potatoes that the customers started kissing him on the cheeks. And the ladies started kissing him on the lips. But he didn’t know what that was all about. Nevertheless, Gaston would continue to make those pommes frites until the revolution that would take his life. But that is a whole other fake story.
The Spanish Version –
The last of the countries claiming the origin of the French fry is Spain. They trace it to the arrival of the potato from the New World Colonies. As they believe they brought the potato back to Europe from the Americas and were the first to try their own culinary hands at tackling the conundrum that is the potato. Spain was the original adventurers into the “New World” with Columbus.
Bringing that potato back from the new world they lay claim to having the first crack at it. There is even a defector from the Belgian contingent who now believes it was Saint Theresa of Avila was the first one to fry up a potato, which would classify her as the inventor of the French Fry. But as much as I love a saint as much as the next person, I am guessing this “historian” has ulterior motives when he named her the French Fry creator.
What The Guide Believes –
While we could sit here and state that we believe the Frenchy Version, we would be lying to you if we could tell you the correct version. As the historians believe that the potato originated from Peru in 5000 to 8000 B.C., the Spanish version could be correct. Then again why they should be more likely to have invented the French fry I cannot guess. Who knows? Maybe Theresa of Avila bumped into a very old Frenchy the Fisherman on a Bridge in Paris in the late 1700s. Anything is possible.
So we will go with the Frenchy version and leave it at that. And when you make it to McDonald’s the next time and have those French fries that they lace with some addictive formula as yet unknown (Oh, but I will find out someday. I promise you.) say thank you Frenchy, and tip your cap to that Belgian fisherman with the temper who went crazy on a river some day and attacked the ice.
Celebrating the Fry
It’s a pretty amazing story there if I do say so myself. Almost impossible to be believed if you ask me. Almost. Anyway, as is our tradition here at the Guide, we bring you some added value here and provide you with a recipe or list. And as we did not find a recipe that stood out so much above the others, until McDonald’s provides us with their secret fry formula, we figured we would list the top 5 French fry places in Southern California. Of course, everyone has their own value to what makes a good fry. This is the list of fries that we appreciate the most.
Top Five French Fry Places in So Cal
5) Red Robin –
Now I will admit that the steak fry is not necessarily my favorite fry. There is just a bit too much meat in that potato for me to make it my favorite, and definitely not enough crunch. But they have some amazing salt seasoning that goes with those fries. And who among you will complain about having fries that are all you can eat with your meal. Ok! Maybe my waist line will complain but should that count?
4) Ruby’s –
Up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have considered these fries all that special. They are a typical shoestring fry. While those may be my favorite type, I might have put these fries behind the ones from Red Robin. That was until they added the different types of fries that you could order. Garlic Fries, Chilli Cheese Fries, Parmesan Blue Fries, Cajun Fries and sweet potato fries send these decent fries into fry heaven. All of these fry types definitely send Ruby’s fries all the way to eleven.
3) McDonald’s –
When I thought up this list, I thought McDonald’s would be the king of the French fry. And I am sure that many would disagree with me about whether their fry was the best. There is certainly something about them that sends me into an otherworldly tizzy every time I put one into my mouth. You put just one in your mouth, swearing that is all you are going to eat and two minutes later you notice that your red box of fries is completely empty. So you swear off McDonald’s again for another three months until that siren song of the golden arches and thoughts of those saliva-inducing fries fills your senses with wonder. And you wonder whether or not they pump the smell of those fries outside McDonald’s establishments just like Disneyland pumps vanilla scent outside its ice cream shop.
2) Beer Belly –
With a couple of different locations throughout the L.A. area, Beer Belly accepts its designation as a beer bar gratefully. But Beer Belly is so much better than that. And they have some amazing gourmet food to tempt your taste buds. But it’s the fries that sends you into an orbit. They serve all different types of fries, fried up in all different types of oils like pork and duck fat. And then you mix in a little arugula, duck chips, bacon, or any other number of amazing fixings and Beer Belly is absolute fry heaven in the Southland.
1) G Burger –
When I went to G Burger for the first time, it was on the advice of my boss to try out this Burger joint located nearby that had some unique flavors. At the time I didn’t realize how big of a foodie that my boss was. So her sending me there provided me new flavors of taste when it came to burger joints. I still stare in disbelief when they tell you all of the ingredients there are in the “G Burger”. I was pleasantly surprised to find some amazing fries that went along with them. All different types of fries ranging from sweet to spicy and everything in between. Plus they are more of the shoestring variety with just the perfect amount of softness and crunch. Looking for a pleasing surprise and some very unique flavors, G Burger is the place in Southern California.
Continue the Conversation
So what did you think of the fake history of the French fry? Ok, maybe only the partially fake history of the fry as truthfully each region does lay claim to the fry in some way or another. Except maybe the U.S. who just claims to have named the delicacy. So who do you think invented the fry? And what do you think of McDonald’s French fries? Also, what are some of your favorite fry places? As always I would love to know. I love trying out new food and who can resist a good fry?
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Until next time, mmmmm . . . McDonald’s french fries.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life