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FOOD: Chips

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Frederick The Monk
338412.  Sat May 17, 2008 4:08 am Reply with quote

Q: Can you tell me why chips were invented?

A: Chips were originally a fish substitute. In 17th century Belgium, in the Meuse valley, small fried fish were commonly eaten, but in winter when the rivers froze and the fish couldn’t be caught, potatoes were cut into little fishy shapes and fried instead.

"French" fries are a Belgian invention. Belgian historian Jo Gerard recounts that potatoes were already fried in 1680 in the Spanish Netherlands, in the area of "the Meuse valley between Dinant and Liège, Belgium. The poor inhabitants of this region had the custom of accompanying their meals with small fried fish, but when the river was frozen and they were unable to fish, they cut potatoes lengthwise and fried them in oil to accompany their meals."

The Dutch call chips Vlaamse frieten ('Flemish fries') which agrees with this origin. The first recorded chip shop is in 1862, when a stall selling French fried potatoes called "Max en Fritz" was established near Het Steen in Antwerp. A Belgian legend claims that the term "French" was introduced when British or American soldiers arrived in Belgium during World War I, and consequently tasted Belgian fries. They supposedly called them "French", as it was the official language of the Belgian Army at that time. But the term "French fried potatoes" had been in use in America long before the Great War.

There is a chip museum in Belgium - the frietmuseum - in Bruge.

More Notes:
Chips (Freedom Fries)
Freedom Fries: On 11th March 2003 the catering facilities in the House of Representatives were instructed by Rep Robert Ney, Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, to re-name French Fries as Freedom Fries, and French Toast as Freedom Toast. The initiative was retaliation for France’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq (the French Embassy refrained from comment, other than noting that French Fries are Belgian). Precedents for this approach included the renaming of sauerkraut as "liberty cabbage" and hamburgers as "liberty sandwiches" and frankfurters as “hot dogs” during the First World War. Battenberg cake was boycotted in the UK during the First World War. Since the Danish cartoon outcry Danish pastries in Iran have been known as “Roses of the Prophet Mohammed”.

The gesture was very influential and followed by companies and schools all over the US - products perceived to be French or German were widely boycotted for many months. Some French restaurants were said to have been driven to the verge of bankruptcy. French’s Mustard was boycotted even though it’s owned by a British company and named after an American named Robert French. It isn’t true, though, that they issued a press release to say that “The only thing we have in common (with France) is that we are both yellow” – this was an internet joke.

The campaign to boycott French goods found a willing cheerleader in Fox Television, an aggressively populist network with a 24-hour news channel. As one guest on Bill O’Reilly’s prime-time show said: "You know, we have bailed out France now three times in this century, in the First World War, in the Second World War, and then in the cold war - and so France really does owe us a debt of gratitude… that means not buying French perfume, not buying French champagne and products that will enrich the French people." When President Bush visited France for the G8 summit, he tried not to spend a night on French soil, but in the end had to compromise for 24 hours. "Let's hope," said a Fox News anchorman, "that he doesn't drink Evian."


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