Wednesday, January 3

After the Star Wars, Begium Strikes Back

Loyal readers will be aware of the recent furore in Belgium caused by the shameful confiscation of several of their highly treasured Michelin stars. Whilst the immediate cause of the hostilities between the French Michelin Guide and the Belgians appears to have been the comical granting of a first star to a non-existent restaurant, culinary hostilities between the two neighbours go back much further. The real source of the rivalry is the popular chip. Or frite. Or - and spitting while saying this in either Belgium or the US is common - french fry.

The Secret History of the French Fry is a fascinating tale involving a world war, an extinct people, an American President, royalty from an array of European countries, and, less surprisingly, the Irish. Unfortunately it is not able to clear up the confusion over where the fry originated. What it does do quite well though is to illustrate the depth of the feeling surrounding the issue and tell us why anybody might care.

Passions have, of course, recently been most enflamed in the US, where not only did they insert Freedom Fries onto the Congressional menu but Freedom Toast too. Go figure. It is with this controversy that the pendulum might have started to swing in the direction of the Belgians. At the height of the contretemps, Wikipedia reports that the French embassy made no comment, except to point out that French fries actually come from Belgium.

The French should have held their nerve. A quick glance at the history books would have told them that anti-German sentiment during the First World War resulted in the sauerkraut temporarily becoming the liberty cabbage, while hamburgers were christened liberty steaks. Sure enough, by July 2006 French Fries were back on the menu.

Emboldened by the increasing recognition of the actual birthplace of the fry, the Belgians are pressing for a full renaming. Belgianfriesdotcom is even offering you the opportunity to get involved in f-commerce. Reminiscent of the concept of the Irish pub, this crowd will hook you up with whatever you need to get your very own Belgian Fries joint up and running. Ingenious.

A word of warning, however; you are unlikely to be in the running for any Michelin stars.

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