The European commission has been accused of a crime against the people of Belgium for trying to ban the national dish, the frite – or frieten, as they say in the Flemish-speaking north of the country.
Whether eaten with mayonnaise or taken au naturel, the Belgian chip is up there with chocolate, beer and the national football team in the nation’s psyche. No public square is complete without a frietkot, or chip stand, where sellers swear by double frying bintje potatoes in beef or horse fat to achieve the ideal combination of a succulent centre and crispy exterior.
In a move that appears to demonstrate a dazzling lack of common touch on the part of EU officials in Brussels – which is both the capital of Belgium and the home of the union – the commission is proposing that the potatoes must be blanched first to prevent the formation of acrylamide, an allegedly hazardous compound that can form in the frying process when certain foods are heated to a temperature above 120C.
Belgium, which claims to have invented frites, says the move will spoil the taste and destroy the country’s “rich gastronomical tradition”.
Ben Weyts, the tourism minister and a member of Belgium’s ruling coalition, has beseeched the commission to think again for the sake of his country’s cultural integrity. “It is important to be mindful not to take measures that have unintended and far-reaching consequences for our rich gastronomic tradition,” he wrote in a letter to the food policy commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis.
“Our fries owe their flavour to the craftsmanship of our chippies, who fry chips raw and then fry them a second time. I understand that outside our country they have different cultures. But we have our own cultural tradition. It would be a shame if the European Union prohibited it.”
The double-frying process – once for the soft inside, then again at a higher temperature for the crunchy outside – is regarded as the key to making the perfect chip. Belgian chips are not thick and hearty like the English variety, nor thin and elegant like the French. Belgians regarded theirs as a cut above.
To add insult to injury, the consultation paper refers to chips as French fries, a term to which some Belgians take great exception. It is believed American servicemen in the second world coined the phrase after eating chips in Belgium, where they were confused by being in French-speaking Wallonia.
A commission spokesman said they were consulting on how best to reduce the intake of acrylamide. A similar risk to that posed by the Belgian frite is found in roast potatoes, biscuits, porridge, coffee, crackers and bread. The European Food Safety Authority has said children are most at risk.
“In order to protect consumers, we recommend that potatoes are blanched, but of course we do not want to ban Belgian chip,” the spokesman said.