Maybe They Are Called “French” Fries for a Reason…

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Pretty much everything served with fries, on a menu in saint-Michel

Pretty much everything served with fries, on a menu in saint-Michel

When I was a kid, eating French fries—commonly known as the adjective-free noun “frites”—was a special treat. It was one of these foods we couldn’t make at home, this was before baking frozen fries in the oven like I sometime do for Mark was an option. So there were two ways to get fries: at Quick or McDonalds’, the two biggest fast food joints in Nantes or at the school’s cantine.

From middle school through high-school, most kids got a 60- to 90-minute lunch break and we were served a three-course school meal at the refectory. A weekly menu was posted at the front door of the school, and kids used to beg their parents to let them eat at home on “broccoli and cod” day but of course, “chicken and fries” day had full attendance. Fries were typically served every few months, for special occasions, like before holidays. They weren’t even that good—soft inside and outside, kind of lukewarm and salt-free. Not exactly McDonalds’ fries… but this meal made us feel so counter-culture! We are eating American food! The very same food our grand-parents called “shitty food”! We were hip and trendy!

Nowadays, fries are everywhere and they seem to be French people’s favourite side over green beans or lettuce. Oh, the irony! Street food, like kebabs, panini or burgers come with fries. When I walk by fancier steakhouse chains like La Boucherie, I invariably see a beefsteak with a giant pile of fries in customers’ plates. There is even a lineup at L’Entrecôte, a restaurant famous for its all-you-can-eat fries. On the Atlantic Coast, the most popular dishes are “moules-frites” (mussels and fries) or “saucisses-frites” (barbecued sausage and fries). The only dish where fries are not offered is galettes, Brittany’s favourite savoury thin pancakes.

Ketchup doesn’t seem to be the favourite dipping sauce here. White sauces, like mayonnaise or cream-based dips, are equally popular. Even McDonalds’ offers packs of some kind of mayo and herbs I haven’t seen anywhere else but in France.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Fries are cheap to make, easy to eat and they please even the pickier eater. Still, I find it ironic that French are always so quick to brag about their superior food and eating habits when they munch on North American fast food’s 101!

This is about the only deep-fried food French eat, though. They have yet to discover onion rings, mozzarella sticks, sweet potato fries or zucchini sticks. One day, maybe…

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French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

11 Comments

  1. Sauce tartare of sort! (They serve in mc donalds)
    I don’t know, even if I have the same experience as you do (eating fries at la cantine like a special treat!), to me, they’ve always been around as much. Fries have always been here with “steak-frites” dishes in brasseries for lunch, or “moules-frites” have always been here in the seaside. Same goes for fries with kebab or burgers… Maybe the quality of it changed. I find it harder to have homemade fries (and I only eat those at restaurants, it’s still a special treat to me!)

    • Yes, that’s the one! Totally forgot the name… tartare.

      Funny our experiences are different, especially considering we are about the same age. Maybe it’s a regional thing? Brittany wasn’t as much into fries. But it’s a matter of perspective and mine may be skewed!

  2. What about pakoda (or pakora) “Indian fries”; do you get those in France? I know you used to get samosas; they are kind of a similar genre.

    We have huge list of fries; which are not potato. Ever heard of fried green chilly 🙂 fried cauliflower. We have all sorts of fries; what surprised the kites out of me was Banana Fries, I am not talking about Banana Chips, but a freshly peeled banana, split across its length, dipped in batter and deep fried et voila! I saw it in Chennai, I was fascinated and then I decided to click a photo instead of eating it 😀

    Vive les Frites!

    • No pakoras around here in Nantes, I discovered them in Ottawa. Used to buy them at Herbs and Spice, on Bank street!

      French don’t eat that much deep fried food. They are more into sauces, butter and olive oil in the South. We used to eat cod beignets (deep-fried cod) and celery beignets (deep-fried battered celery) but I don’t see these foods as street food.

  3. I’m not a huge fan of fries. Growing up it was a special treat when we were allowed to have fried “potimarron” (really good) or fried kombu algae (weird I know, but actually pretty decent). Potatoes (in all forms) were forbidden.
    I do love sweet potato fries though!
    And I still don’t understand the British love affair with fries and vinegar.. Or the Scottish fried Mars bar and fried pizza… That’s one aspect of Scotland I don’t miss 😉

    • Like you, I can’t eat fries (or chips) with vinegar. Way way too sour for me… and I love sour stuff! Deep-fried pizza doesn’t sound appealing either. I’ve heard of it… yep, not my kind of treat. Just pizza is fine 😆

  4. This made me curious thinking why deep-frying hasn’t been incorporated into French cuisine. You’re right, I found a few, but they are rare indeed. There’s pommes dauphine, pommes soufflees, and beignets, but that’s about it!

    • I’m not sure! It’s cultural, I guess. Traditional French food is all about sauces. Meat and sauce. Sauce tartare, sauce blanche, béchamel, etc.

  5. French Fries are actually Belgian fries! The legend has it that when the US army was marching through Europe to kick German butt, they “discovered” fries in the French-speaking area of Belgium. Naming them French… well, close enough 🙂

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