Let's make it clear once and for all: there really is no such a thing as "French" fries. It may seem futile to protest, but the tremendously popular side dish's origin in Belgium is supported by what little evidence there is. Much of it is on display at the Frietmuseum ("Belgian Fries Museum") in Brugge (Bruges), the first and only of its kind in the world, and in itself indisputable evidence of Belgians' passionate preoccupation with the deep-fried potato strips.
However, it's the Americans — the people responsible for coining the specious misnomer — who have done the most to popularise the dish worldwide. Having themselves become obsessed in the latter half of the 20th century, to a point where only 16 of the 54 kg of potatoes each American consumed in 2006 weren't deep-fried or otherwise processed, they have acquainted the world with fries mainly through their fast food franchises; becoming the world's largest producers as well as consumers of fries in the process.
Unfortunately, their frozen, pre-packaged, pre-fried slices — often dusted with natural or artificial flavours — soaked in animal fats for 15 to 20 minutes, and treated with a sugar solution in order to caramelize the cooking fat to provide the "golden" colour Americans have been taught to expect, have very little in common with fries the inhabitants of the Meuse (Maas) river valley, somewhere between Dinant and Liège (Luik), began supplementing their diet with toward the end of the 17th century.
Genuine Belgian fries, as every Frietmuseum visitor is informed, are made from freshly sliced potatoes, cooked in unrefined beef tallow for six minutes at 130 - 140˚C, then left to rest for ten minutes, before being cooked a second time at 165 - 170˚C for at most another three minutes. While this procedure still results in high absorption of fat and significant reduction in mineral and ascorbic acid content, it makes for a culinary experience far removed from the mushy sticks of lard dished out in North American slop-shacks.
Established by the Van Belle family, who've also created Choco-story (the Belgian Chocolate Museum) and Lumina Domestica (a domestic lighting museum), the Frietmuseum opened to the public in May 2008. It's housed in the Saaihalle (Serge Hall), the oldest building in Brugge displaying a date (1399) on its façade, and though it was expanded in the 15th century to house the Consul of Genova (Genoa), the structure retained much of its original form, and required very little alteration in order to be converted into a museum space.
The museum's first two levels trace the history of the versatile, propitious tuber, from its humble South American origin to its current position as the world's fourth-largest food crop (after rice, wheat, and maize), through its metamorphosis into Belgian fries, and the impact the dish has had on Belgian culture, while its third level essentially is a friet shop. So while it seeks to educate a little through its entertaining displays, the Frietmuseum chiefly provides a venue for savouring the world's best fries — satisfying more than a craving for knowledge.