Even though you can eat (and usually also cook) fries all over the world nowadays, in only one country does an institution symbolise this living tradition as intensely as the ‘frietkot’ (the snack kiosk). The frietkot experience, ‘frietkot culture’, is informal with numerous unwritten rules, but also unique and social. The art of being able to enjoy simple, delicious things is a savoir-vivre we have to (learn to) cherish. Authentic frietkot culture is inextricably linked to our intangible cultural heritage. It will probably never be possible to determine the exact origin of fries as such, but we are the only country where fries have developed into something really symbolic. It is a typical, living, cultural phenomenon that comes from over here and that with the exception of the border regions of Northern France and the Southern Netherlands is unrivalled abroad.
Belgium is a country of natural epicureans. Our country is often associated by foreigners with the famous cone-shaped paper bag of fries with mayonnaise, that together with chocolate and beer is a typical Belgian food icon. And I suppose in effect we are quite proud of that. Almost every Belgian regularly goes to eat a portion of fries at the snack kiosk or buys them to take home. Many a household has a ‘fries day’, a fixed – almost ritual – day of the week on which they go to the snack kiosk. And the first thing a lot of Belgians do after staying abroad is to go for fries at the snack kiosk. After all, many of them miss their fries and their snack kiosk when they are abroad. Although fries are served pretty much everywhere, in Belgium the fries are the main attraction, with possibly a few side dishes. In contrast to outside Belgium, ‘real fries’ are the main course for us, and so they have to be perfect; everything else is merely a side dish.
However, that universal, perfect fry does not exist. One of the main elements of our frietkot culture is precisely that all snack kiosks are different, both with regard to the product, preparation and interior. But each snack kiosk does have the best fries, at least according to its customers. It is essential to acknowledge and preserve this diversity. All our snack kiosks are different from each other and yet - or perhaps precisely for that reason- each one of them is recognisable as being typically "Belgian". The snack kiosk, most typically in the form of a shack, can be seen as a typical expression of our (lack of) spatial planning, as a reflection of the Belgian soul. But there is more: the entire frietkot culture, the entire experience surrounding it, is inextricably linked to our intangible cultural heritage.