The Potential Reason Belgium Tops Its Frites With Mayo

You'd be forgiven for mistaking Belgian fries with French fries, provided you don't do so in Belgium. The Belgians take their fries — or "frites" — very seriously. According to Vice, there is approximately one Frietkoten (fry stand) per 2,500 persons in Belgium, and the country has petitioned UNESCO several times to have their frites and mayo added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Inclusion on this list would put the frites and mayo alongside the likes of kimchi, Turkish flatbread, and, most recently, the French baguette, per NPR.

What is it about Belgian frites that makes them so beloved and special the world over? And yes, those things you think are French fries were actually invented in Belgium. Part of it has to do with how they are made. The fries are pre-cooked and then cooled before serving. Once the order has been placed, the frites are then reheated in oil, which gives them their trademark outer crispy golden shell and beautifully fluffy interior (via Expatica). Then there is the mayonnaise. No, the Belgians do not prefer ketchup with their frites. They're all about the mayonnaise — hence why they wanted it enshrined along with the fries. In Belgium, the two go together and there is no separating them. The question is, why?

The origin is a bit murky

There are a few potential theories that exist as to why the Belgians are so mayo crazy when it comes to their frites. The prevailing story, according to Expatica, is that the port town of Mahon, on the Spanish island of Minorca in the Mediterranean, was liberated from the English by the French. Apparently, as a result of this, residents began putting mayonnaise on fries. However, the towns of Bayonne and Mayon also lay claim to starting this tradition. Regardless of these claims, the fact remains that to put mayonnaise on frites is a decidedly Belgian thing to do, despite none of the towns claiming to have invented the combination actually being in Belgium.

Hazy origins aside, the question of why mayo remains open. Mayonnaise, according to Amazing Belgium, enhances the taste of the fries. By contrast, the ever-popular ketchup is thought to dilute the flavor, making the fries soggy and sour. Having the mayonnaise, with its natural eggy flavor and a hint of acidity, elevates the starch and salt in the frites. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Belgians know what they're doing when it comes to starches. They are famous for their waffles, after all. Though, we wouldn't recommend putting mayonnaise on those.