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…