Are French Fries and French Toast French?

It is unclear where French fries originated. Both the French and Belgians have claimed ownership of the invention, which is no surprise given their close proximity to each other and the common language.  Belgian journalist Jo Gérard references the popular side dish in his family manuscript from 1781, stating that in the Meuse Valley (present-day Belgium), potatoes were often deep-fried. They had a custom “of fishing in the Meuse for small fish and frying, especially among the poor, but when the river was frozen and fishing became hazardous, they cut potatoes in the form of small fish and put them in a fryer…”

Some people also claim Belgian introduced this popular side dish, “French Fries” or fried potato batons, to American soldiers during World War II. Given the rural landscape and given the official language spoken by the Belgian Army was French, these American soldiers erroneously assumed they were in France.

The French term for French Fries is “frites,” which simply translates to fries.

French toast was first mentioned in the Apicius, a collection of Roman recipes dating back to the 4th or 5th century. The recipe only mentions soaking bread in milk and it was given no special name. Throughout the middle ages in Europe, dipping stale bread in eggs and milk was a method for dealing with bread past its prime.

Were the French the first to dip and fry their bread, or did other Europeans discover this method on their own? According to an article titled “Is French Toast Really French,” by Brendan Koerner, “a similar dish called suppe dorate was popular in England during the Middle Ages; it’s unclear, however, whether it was brought over from what’s now France by the Normans, who may have delighted in something called tostees dorees before toppling King Harold II in 1066.”

Regardless of the origin, the usual French name is pain perdu, “lost bread,” because it is a way to recoup bread that is stale or otherwise “lost.”

Linda Kovic-Skow is the author of The French Illusions Series, My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley and From Tours to Paris. You can purchase a copy of her books at Amazon.com. They are also available in audiobook.

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