In the age of clean eating, fad diets and an allegedly revelatory new superfood being championed each week, many of us often forgo some simple yet wonderful culinary delights. In these most confusing and dramatic of times one can be forgiven for finding comfort in a burger and not a plate of quinoa
Many of the most ardent spinach fiends I’m sure still occasionally slip in a chip (or twelve) and why not? Such foods bring millions of people joy, acting as a release from the monotonous drudgery of modern life . There is certainly nothing wrong with providing yourself a bit of escapism.
Yet in affording ourselves this hit of dopamine we rarely stop to contemplate the ingredients of our now forbidden fruit, let alone their historical and social significance. Foods that once defined or united classes have been culturally vaporised, when in reality their poignancy should make us enjoy them even more.
For clarity and also Americans, here chips and french fries are synonymous. Chips history, like the bodies of those who eat too many, is somewhat circular. The core ingredient; the potato was brought to Europe from the New World in the early 16th century were, it went on to culinary domination, if not quite sophistication. Despite many a chef giving it their best efforts serving them on a slate, in miniature-fryer or plant pot. Chips went full circle by returning to become a true all-American symbol; cultural imperialism and obesity, in no particular order.
It took almost 200 years for anything resembling a chip to emerge from the fryers of- well this is where an intense and still raging international debate still rages.
Belgium and France vie for the honour of being dubbed ‘’inventor of the chip’’. Although the French may have the edge in the nomenclature stakes. Both agree however that the chip emerged at some point in the late 17th century when, some anonymous peasant began using leftover fat to reinvigorate the stoic potato.
The French claim the new deep fried potatoes grew in popularity and were an increasingly popular street food on the eve of revolution in 1789. The fast-food of Paris then exported across the continent in the subsequent Napoleonic wars (1799-1815) where, unsurprisingly it caught on with Europe’s masses.
This version is given further support by U.S President Thomas Jefferson who had them served as- ‘’potatoes in the French fashion’’ at a Presidential dinner. To have such a historical figure providing legitimacy if not evidence to your case does you well in posterity.
Not perturbed by their neighbours international backers and with a similar lack of concrete evidence, Belgians assert their claim. In the 1970s Belgian journalist Jo Gerrard claimed to have a document taken from a cookbook dating to the 1660s, written in Flemish and providing a recipe for chips-or rather deep-fried potato strip. This key culinary scripture still however remains suspiciously hidden.
Many other disgruntled Belgians profess that, as has happened for many a cultural creation, poor Belgium gets lumped in with France due to the (unlucky) happenstance of geography , something not without historical precedent. Some may even say this is what Mr Jefferson is guilty of.
Of course it wouldn’t be a cultural battle if the English weren’t involved in some shape or form and so they are, if perhaps comically late. The industrial town of Oldham, claims to have invented chips in 1860. This despite all prior affirmations from the continent and contradicting statements from certain English-people. Charles Dickens referred to french fries in A Tale of Two Cities 1859, they also appeared in an E.Warren cookbook in 1856.
Whether Oldham council was claiming ownership of a fatter English chip is merely semantics. Something of course not at all to do with the regions claim to the first Fish and Chip shop.
No matter which anonymous Low-Countrymen first flung strips of potato into boiling fat the impact the chip on modern food and culture cannot be dismissed. What would McDonalds be without the french fry? And what would the west be without lurid fast-food joints? Is the chip both the cement and fuel of our civilisation, who knows?
What we do know is that the chip returned to America with the millions of Europeans who emigrated in the 19th century. In the USA it would become to become King of the Carbs- and of the gut. And it is without doubt the Americans who have sold the chip back to us in Europe as the ideal fast food, even if they are the overly skinny kind.