I was on a mission. A mission for potatoes. Not just any potatoes, but the specially fried potato known as frites. You might think that they are the same as simple french fries…but don’t be fooled into thinking that. They are more than french fries, they are special. And in Belgium, they are king. Belgians consume on average 75 kg (165 lbs) of fried potatoes per person each year, a third more than Americans.
Belgium is known for a few things; the EU, waffles, beer, mussels, chocolate, and frites. When I arrived in Brussels and saw people carrying around paper cones full of steaming frites I knew I wanted to find the best the city had to offer. I had read in a recent Reuter’s article:
“there are more than 5,000 frites vendors in the country of 10 million people, which means there are 11 times as many stands per capita as there McDonald’s per American.”
So how do you find the ‘best’ out of those 5,000? Where do you start? If you go to the touristy part of Brussels, around the Grand Place, you’ll find plenty of friteries, but pass them all up. Yup, that’s right, walk right on by. Don’t waste your grease quotient for the day on the tourist joints. Instead you need to go where the locals go. I decided to do some research on this so I first started with the tourist office. I went inside and asked the woman for a map and where the best place to eat frites was. But before she could answer, I quickly corrected my question “Where do you go eat frites in Brussels?” She quickly circled a place on the map called Place Jourdan outside of the main city center and near the EU buildings. “You’ll find the best frites here.” She said.
For a second opinion I looked at my Use It Brussels map (cool free map with tips from locals) and it had sarcastically listed 6 places as the ‘best frites’ in Brussels. So clearly there was some debate on this. However the Place Jourdan friterie was on their list.
I also asked other locals where they ate their frites. My friend Alison (an expat blogger in Brussels) said that she used to eat them in Place Saint Josse, but recently the man there who ran the friterie retired from frite making. “Really? Retired from frites?!” I said thinking it weird that making frites was looked at as a profession to retire from as well as sad he had no one to pass on his friterie to. Alison now goes to Place Jourdan to Antoine.
Love Frites? Try other Belgian Food!
One of my good friends & former Brussels expat, Alison, spent years researching the Brussels food scene – including frites! She wrote a guide to the best food in Brussels – a must have item if you are traveling to the region!
The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities
Place Jourdan seemed to be coming up again and again as I talked to locals, so that was my answer. I would go have the frites fried up by Antoine at Place Jourdan.
I made the walk past all of the modern EU buildings which loomed over the old Brussels’ homes. Here in the middle of an old Brussels neighborhood stood the EU headquarters, as if they had plopped the White House in the middle of Brooklyn across the street from family homes and restaurants.. The walk was worth it just to see the old/new mixed together, plus it worked up an appetite for frites!
Finally I arrived in Place Jourdan. At the far corner, there was a stand-alone octagonal building with exhaust fuming out of it. The fumes of grease beckoned me nearer. Like any good Belgian friterie it had a long line snaking around it.
I got in line and started to read through the large list of choices. No, there weren’t different choices of frites just petite and grande; the myriad of choices was for sauce! Curry, mustard, ketchup, pickle, pita, Chinese, Bicky (??), and of course Mayonnaise. I decided to stick with the traditional way to eat them, with mayonnaise. Sounds weird – but it’s strangely tasty.
What make potatoes frites? And more importantly, what makes the ones from Belgium so damn good? There’s an art to Belgium frites. First it starts with fresh Bintje potatoes and next you have to do a double cooking process in vegetable oil, sometimes with beef or duck fat added.in. Frites are fried once, allowed to cool, and then fried again before serving.
After Antoine shaked a healthy amount of salt on the twice fried frites, he handed over my cone of petite frites with a side of mayo complete with a little plastic fork. I now needed to find the other half of the Belgium couple – beer; a marriage made in Flemish heaven.
I held my cone of hot frites like it were ice cream and wandered around the square to see if there were any bars. I didn’t have to walk far to find a little bar with a sign in the window reading “Frites Aceptees” I deduced that this meant it was ok to eat my frites at their bar…perfect! I found a great seat outside where I could watch the square, and had a beer at Chez Bernard while eating my frites from Chez Antoine.
I took the hot salty frite out of its little cone using my plastic mini frite fork, dipped it in the side of mayo, and sampled Chez Antoine’s recipe. When I bit into the first frite, it was perfectly crispy on the outside and mushy in the middle!
Half the fun was the journey which lead me to meet locals and explore new neighborhoods. I don’t know if they were the best frites in town – but they were clearly the best frites I had ever had!
By Anna September 2, 2010 - 8:37 am
Love it! Thanks for taking me back. I miss Brussels.
By Donna Hull September 2, 2010 - 11:09 am
I’ve yet to visit Brussels but I’ll know where to go for frites when I do.
By Amy September 2, 2010 - 11:52 am
Glad to see you were steered in the right direction. You definitely had the best frites in Brussels at Chez Antoine! According to me anyways, and I’ve done my research these past 2 years. 🙂
By islandmomma September 2, 2010 - 11:52 am
You made me SO hungry!! What I want to know is how you keep so slim with all this food sampling??? Come to think of it, I have several Belgian friends here in Spain, and they are all slim——-ah maybe they had to get away from the frites and chocolate and beer to stay that way :=)
By Jen Laceda September 2, 2010 - 11:53 am
I’ve not been to Brussels but the fries there look awesome! Great with a stein of monastic beer, perhaps?
By Amy @ The Q Family September 2, 2010 - 2:49 pm
I have never been to Brussels but now I know where to get the best Frites.
So does it taste like french fries?
By Cornelius Aesop September 2, 2010 - 3:41 pm
I love fries, yet I don’t think I’ve known anyone to put so much love into making their fries. I feel as if I have been cheated out of truly meeting my love, with a cheap substitute.
By Mark H September 2, 2010 - 7:49 pm
How gloriously Belgian – beer and chips (but where is the chocolate). The french fries I had in Belgium were the best I’d tasted anywhere – clearly the animal fat and cooking process (but super tasty anyway). I wonderful photo to reminisce over.
By RickGriffin September 3, 2010 - 7:23 am
Great article – LOVE IT! We’re adding a trip to Brussels to our bucket list!
By Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels September 5, 2010 - 7:27 pm
Well, now I finally have a reason for going to Belgium. Never been on my list before, but your post reminded me, strangely, of fish and chips with malt vinegar in newspaper cones in Toronto when we were kids. It’s a good memory, so maybe that’s why the Belgian frites story appeals so much.
By Alison September 7, 2010 - 5:04 am
I’m glad you made it to Antoine! They are amazing 🙂 I wish you could have gone to the spot in St. Josse if only to see how methodical and cranky the guy was. Only one batch of frites at a time no matter how big a line it was 🙂
By Craig Zabransky September 10, 2010 - 11:47 am
I laughed at the photo… where the EU magic happens…? but wait, I wonder what magic that is… If it was the magic of Frites…then it is truly magic indeed.
You took on a noble mission here.. And I can speak as someone who tested and plans to continue test many friteries (love that, friterie is now in my vocab), there is a magic in those fries. So, thank you for a job well done. and thank you for now I know my next stop when I get back to Brussels 🙂
stay adventurous, Craig
By Kyle September 10, 2010 - 11:10 pm
Good beer and good fries, how I miss thee. I think you should triple try them next time 🙂
By Andy Hayes | Dream Travel Jobs September 16, 2010 - 3:40 pm
Wow, you did very well. I would have suggested all of these things. Brussels is FANTASTIC for gastronomy – I never understood why so many people are down on it, it’s one of my euro-favourites.
By Molly September 17, 2010 - 10:36 am
Frites in Belgium are simply the best. Andy, I agree with you, Brussels has amazingly good food across the board. Happy to keep it our secret. Shhhh! 🙂
By Geert October 11, 2010 - 5:59 pm
For people who want to eat fries in the centre of Brussels, try Fritland near La Bourse/De Beurs. And make sure they don’t put too much salt on it. And oh yes, let’s get one thing straight: frites must not necessarily be eaten with mayonaise!
By PurpleTulip June 2, 2011 - 12:13 pm
Thank you so much for sharing! I’m a student doing an exchange program here in Belgium. I enjoy the frites so much! (Though I have to say, I had to stop after my first semester because I started to feel my jeans a bit too tight! 🙂 )
By Mary October 20, 2011 - 11:51 pm
We definitely missed out on Chez Antoine and chocolate frites when we were in Brussels 2 years ago. Thanks for sharing a great post. It makes me want to go back to Brussels and eat all their great food again.
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By rene borquez September 4, 2015 - 3:04 pm
Estuve en Belgium!
Me gustaron sus frites, y sus banana kuchen.