Much like a good cup of tea in London, gelato in Florence, or a stroopwafel in Amsterdam, it’s not hard to come by frites during a visit to Brussels – there are allegedly upwards of 4,000 fry shops throughout Belgium, with a fritkot seemingly on every corner within Brussels city limits. They’re the perfect strolling snack, with most frites served in a paper cone or “cornet” with a tiny plastic fork for easy eating. They’re also an affordable indulgence for when you’re hiking to your next museum, walking off that fried goodness, as most cones run for 2 or 3 Euros, with sauces sometimes costing extra.
However, the quality of such frites is another matter. As with any regional specialty in any part of the world, it’s easy for popular dishes to become too bland or expensive in tourist areas, with the locals knowing that visitors will pay for the experience simply to have a buttery croissant in Paris or spicy paella in Majorca. The local fritkots in Brussels are no different, despite their more modest origins, but there are several that are a cut above the rest.
A major fixture of the local fritkots is their variety of sauces, and we’re not just talking basic ketchup and mayonnaise (the latter is a popular European dipping sauce for fries). This can make or break your frites experience, for even the most subpar of frites can be saved by an adventurous new sauce, like adalouse, a spicy tomato mayonnaise sauce, béarnaise sauce, curry ketchup, mustard, and piri-piri, a spicy East African creation. Maison Antoine (1040 Etterbeek on Place Jourdanplein, near the EU compound) is one of the most revered fritkots for its vast variety of sauces (50 and counting) and perfectly rendered frites. As an added bonus, the pubs surrounding this famous fritkot welcome diners to bring their cornets over and enjoy their frites with a cold Belgian beer. Antonine’s is open into the early hours of the morning Monday through Saturday each week.
Certain neighborhoods are hailed as fritkot meccas, including the Barriere de Saint-Gilles and Place Saint Josse/Sint-Joostplein. La Friterie de la Barrière on Rue du Parc-Parkstraat is a popular spot, with its eclectic façade, typically delicious frites and positively staggering business hours (it’s open 11am to 6am daily). La Friterie de la Place de la Chapelle, on rue Haute-Hoogstraat near Les Marolles, is notable for its larger-than-usual chunks of golden, fried potatoes. Frit Flagey is a tiny stand near Place Eugene Flagey, and is perfectly situated near a lake and park for some scenic noshing, and look for Clementine on Place Saint Job in Uccle, where the frites are fresh and the service is friendly.
A final note. Part of the taste perfection of the Belgian frites lies in its preparation, as most frites are cooked in a methodical, leisurely fashion – in beef fat. For vegetarians and vegans who like to get their occasional junk food fix in fry form, be sure to ask proprietors how the frites are cooked. They won’t quite be proper Belgian frites without the extra beefy bite, but they’re always going to be a step above the fast food variety.