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Are Fried Potatoes a Cultural Treasure?


Yucel Bas prepares fries at Bas Frietjes frites stands in Sint Pieters Leeuw, Belgium, Dec. 4, 2014. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Yucel Bas prepares fries at Bas Frietjes frites stands in Sint Pieters Leeuw, Belgium, Dec. 4, 2014. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Belgium is divided into three communities. Each one has its own language and traditions. But the people of Belgium are united in their love for Belgian potato fries. The fries are prepared and sold the same way in all areas of the country.

The Reuters news service reports that potatoes reached Belgium in the 16th century. But it was not until the 19th century that restaurants and others began selling fried potatoes throughout the country as a separate meal.

Recently, a Belgian group launched a campaign aimed at getting the United Nations to recognize the popular treat. The group wants the U.N.’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to place the food on its cultural heritage list.

The UNESCO list recognizes more than 300 objects, beliefs and practices. They include Turkish coffee and the traditional Chinese theater known as Peking opera. The list also includes a dance, the Argentinian tango, and the singing of the Aka pygmies of the Central African Republic.

UNESCO says the list is “made up of intangible heritage elements that help demonstrate the diversity of…heritage and raise awareness about its importance.”

To appear on the list, each item needs an expression of support from a minister of culture. Belgium has three such ministers -- one for each part of the country.

Last year, the government of the Dutch-speaking area of Flanders recognized Belgian fried potatoes as an important part of national culture. The French- and German-speaking communities are expected to debate the issue this year.

Belgian potato fries are traditionally sold in a paper wrapper, or cone, in a “fritkot,” a small building or shack. There are about 5,000 fritkots in Belgium. That means they are 10 times more common as a percentage of the population as McDonald’s restaurants in the United States.

The national organization of fritkot owners says the small, often unfinished buildings are much like Belgium itself. It says these buildings combine the country’s acceptance of disorder with a dislike of structures that all look the same.

The group says 95 percent of Belgians visit a fried potato shack at least once a year.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This report was based on a story from the Reuters news service. Christopher Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited the story.

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Words in This Story

practices n. something that is done often or regularly

pygmies n. a member of a group of very small people who live in Africa

intangible adj. not made of physical substance; not able to be touched; not tangible

diversity n. the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization

awareness n. the state of knowing that something (such as a situation, item, condition or problem) exists

wrapper n. a thin piece of paper or plastic that covers or surrounds something to protect it

cone n. a container or package that has sides that form a circle at the top and has a pointed bottom

shack n. small house or building that is not put together well, or not well built

Are there objects, beliefs or practices from your heritage that you believe should be on the UNESCO list? Do you believe Belgian fried potatoes should be on the list? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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