French Language Blog

Are French Fries French? Part 3 Posted by on Feb 15, 2017 in Culture

The history of how English words use French as an adjective can be surprising and interesting. We’ve already looked at quite a few words in part 1 and part 2, and in this final part we’re going to look into la polémique (the controversy) surrounding the French origin of les frites.

D’où vient les pommes de terre frites ? La Belgique ou la France ?
Where do French fries comes from? Belgium or France?

La question is harder to answer than you’d think! There are conflicting reports in history and les deux pays (both countries) claim les frites as their own.

Flag of France


Perhaps the most romantic story, les frites are said to have been sold during la revolution française (the French Revolution) on le Pont Neuf where they were known as les pommes Pont-Neuf. There are other earlier French claims to les frites leading the French journalist, Maurice Edmond Sailland, to declare in 1927 that:

Les pommes de terre frites sont une des plus spirituelles créations du génie parisien
French fries are one of the most witty creations of Parisian genius.

There are other references to les frites in historical cookbooks dating as far back as 1794. Cependant (however), they tend to all be slightly different than what are now French fries.

A recipe from 1823, par exemple (for example), has la recette suivante (the following recipe) for des pommes frites:

« Vous coupez vos pommes de terre crues en tranches, vous les jetez dans une friture bien chaude ; quand elles sont bien cassantes et de belle couleur, vous les retirez, les saupoudrez de sel fin et servez chaud. »
“You cut your raw potatoes in slices, you put them in hot oil; when they are brittle and of a good color, you take them out, sprinkle fine salt on them and serve them hot.”

While la recette clearly includes fried potatoes, they are cut into des tranches (slices) and not des bâtonnets (sticks), but it could still be an early version of les frites.

Another interesting source for the “French” name comes from Thomas Jefferson. He wrote about les frites in one of his manuscripts:

Pommes de terre frites à cru, en petites tranches
Potatoes deep-fried while raw, in small slices

Thomas Jefferson received la recette from his French chef, Honoré Julien, adding to the idea that les frites came from France.

Flag of Belgium


The Belgian claim for les frites is a bit stronger because les Belges see them as a part of their national identity. A common idea is that they became “French” instead of “Belgian” when les soldats américains (the American soldiers) entered Belgium pendant la Première Guerre mondiale (during the First World War), but because everyone still spoke French, they didn’t realize they were in Belgium.

Les soldats Américains les appelaient « French fries » parce qu’ils pensaient qu’ils étaient en France !
The American soldiers called them “French fries” because they thought they were in France!

There are historical claims for les frites en Belgique going back as far as 1680. Cependant, the claims going back that far doesn’t seem to be possible because it’s unlikely that les pommes de terre (potatoes) made their way to Belgium before 1735.

Aujourd’hui (today), les frites are an important part of la culture belge and in 2014 les friteries (French fry vendors) were declared a part of l’héritage culturel immatériel flamand (Flemmish intangible cultural heritage).

Peu importe l’origine (no matter the origin), one thing everyone can agree on is their taste! Whether they are called French fries as a reference to la France, la cuisine française, la langue française ou la culture française (France, French cuisine, French language, or French culture) doesn’t change what les frites are and doesn’t stop either country from enjoying them.

If you want to learn more about words that use “French” as an adjective in English, be sure to check out the other parts in this series:

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.


  1. Alice Pamies:

    Another translation of “spirituelle” is “witty”, which might be a better fit here.

    • John Bauer:

      @Alice Pamies Merci pour votre commentaire Alice ! I think you’re right and I’ve changed it in the post 😀

  2. Sunshine:

    Belgians eat their fries with mayonnaise and yes it is delicious!