Ah! The famed Frites, or Frietjes! Belgium's national pride has taken the world over. It's delicious, it's addictive, it's not very healthy, but I think it's high up on many people's favourite food item.
The Friterie or Fritkot is a common fixture of the Belgian landscape. It's usually very small and consist of a small caravan or shed where the fries are made and people get them to go. Sometimes, it'll be a real snack with tables and chairs but the number of sitting-down options seems inversely proportionate to the goodness of the fries (don't know why). Usually, fries are made so you can bring them back home and enjoy them while watching TV.
To make real frites, the Bintje variety of potatoes (THE variety of choice for frites) MUST be used. They are freshly cut (not frozen, run away if you notice bags of frozen fries), and they use beef fat to fry them in two steps (fried once until they are becoming a little crispy but still white then a second time until golden so they are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside), as frites must be prepared. They will be flipped over several times in a metallic pan to drain the excess fat, and salted (twice if served in a cone) with a usually battered metallic salt container. Of course, your frites will be served in a paper cone, but you can also find them served on paper trays. You may ask for a big dollop of sauce on your fries or, in a separate plastic cup. The choice of sauce in Belgium is humongous: mayonnaise (of course), ketchup, curry ketchup, andalouse (one of the most popular), americaine, cocktail, samouraï, tartare, garlic, brésilienne. One tiny detail that often surprises visitors: you have to pay for the sauce. Not much but it's the general rule.
You can also order some meat to go with your fries and again. It's usually deep-fried and unhealthy but hey, once in a while! It's all part of the frites experience. The most traditional of meat is the fricadelle. I'd be hard pressed to say what's it's made of! All I know if that it is meat, looks like a sausage and it needs to be fried before serving. "Frites et fricadelle" are THE Belgian combination. Funnily enough, everybody eat a "fricadelle" but ask anyone what's in it and you'll get a blank stare. You'll also find different kind of kebabs (brochettes): regular, gipsy (tzigane), chicken wings, ardennaise (my favourite, with pieces of bacon), fish and even merguez (middle-eastern spicy sausage). All of the following also need to be fried. There's also a lot of different others weird stuff such as poulycroc or mexicano which I never dared to try... and then there is the cervelas, a cold sausage. It's quite old fashioned but one of the few non-fried meat option. The item known as mitrailette (shotgun), or baguette, is simply fries and a meat of your choice inside half a French baguette. Not for the faint of heart!!! Of course, you will also find hamburger and the famous bicky burger (named after the bicky sauce) and even pita or durum (becoming widely available). On the opposite, the famous bowl of mussels (without the shell) is seldom seen these days. The possibilities are endless, really!
One last detail (but it has it's importance), if you ask your fries to go, they will be covered by a layer of paper to keep them warm. Real professionals know that a cut has to be made so the fries can breathe. Otherwise, they will turns all soggy because of the steam imprisoned by the paper and you don't that to happen. If that happens, then your fries guy/gal doesn't know what's it's doing. Bon appetit!
Best fries places to visit:
Maison Antoine: Place Jourdan. Still said to be the best in Brussels despite some claims of the opposite. Read my tip.
Friterie de la Chapelle: Place de la Chapelle—rumored to have taken Maison Antoine's crown. Have to try to confirm.
Friterie de la rue Tabora: in this little street tucked between the Stock Exchange and Grand'Place, you will find the best fries closest to the Grand' Place. It's small so, you might miss it. The friterie is ran by a Portuguese husband and wive.
After hours: OK, you've been out all night and need to eat? Fritland next to the Stock Exchange is open all night. For a quick fix when nothing else is open. The fries have improved since I came back a year ago and are more than edible.
In Ixelles: Friterie de la Place Flagey: Some (amongst them famous novelist Amélie Nothomb) claim it's one of the best in Ixelles and even in Brussels. Sorry, I've found better, but it's surely one of the busiest! Everybody in Ixelles goes there. With all the construction going around on Place Flagey, it's reputation is enough to sustain the business. It managed to keep a little spot in all the chaos.
Friterie Bompa: When I moved to Ixelles, I noticed this real neighbourhood fritkot and tried it on my first night, not having anything in my fridge. Turned out to be a very serious contender to the best fries in Brussels! They are even better than the ones made on Place Flagey (crispier and tastier). You can even order a half-chicken and crushed apple to make a real meal of your fries.
71, Avenue de la Couronne - http://www.fritkotbompa.be/
For the real "Frites" lovers : http://www.frites.be