You'd be hard pressed to find someone in America, or arguably anywhere in the world, who hasn't had a French fry. These greasy little potato nuggets are a fast food staple and have even taken on different forms depending on where in the world you are while eating them. But where did they actually originate? No offense, but this doesn't exactly seem like something the French would invent...
Many claim French fries originated in Belgium.
In the late 1600s, villagers along the River Meuse ate a lot of fried fish. Then, during winter when the river froze and the fish weren't plentiful like they were other times of the year, the villagers turned to frying potatoes instead. Supposedly, American soldiers then discovered the fried potatoes in Belgium during the first World War, and since Belgians predominantly speak French, dubbed it the "French" fry.
If you consider yourself somewhat of a fry connoisseur, I will say that Belgium has the best French fries I've ever tasted. They pride themselves on making and serving fancy fries, and -- fun fact -- actually have the most French fry vendors per capita of anywhere else in the world. Oh, and they opened the first French fry museum.
Frites Atelier in Antwerp quite literally changed my life. That's all.
There is a slight chance they're Spanish?
The Spaniards are known as the first people to encounter the South American potato. So, if anyone was going to invent something from said potato, it would be them...right? The first written record of the spud is by Pedro Cieza de Leon, a historian who published a memoir in 1553 describing “a kind of earth nut which, after it is boiled, is as tender as cooked chestnuts.” The Spanish loved to fry things in oil, so Incan potatoes easily could have been brought back to Spain and fried with everything else.
We do know that fries didn't come to America until the late 1700s.
Sometime between 1784 and 1789, to be exact, when Thomas Jefferson was serving as the American Minister to France. So, in his case, the fries were definitely French, except he referred to them as pommes de terre frites à cru en petites tranches, aka "potatoes deep-fried while raw, in small cuttings." They were usually round back then, but likely tasted similar.
Fun fact: Jefferson is also credited with introducing America to vanilla ice cream and macaroni and cheese, a few of at least 150 recipes he collected, transcribed and passed down after his travels.
And...there is a slight chance they actually <i>are</i> French?
A small-crop farmer, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, encountered the potato as a Prussian prisoner in the 18th century. As the story goes, he returned to France with a rare spud and went so far as to hire guards to stand watch over his potato patch. He'd allow select civilians to "steal" from the patch occasionally, only to increase the allure of the mysterious vegetable he was growing. As it gained notoriety across the country, some believe peddlers invented the fry to sell by bridges in Paris.
We may never know who truly invented the French fry as we eat it today. But if I was a betting woman, I'd say it was the Belgians, considering they even petitioned UNESCO to endorse the fry as an official icon of Belgian cultural heritage. And if I was going to travel anywhere to get some potatoes fried to perfection, it'd be to Belgium.