Belgium in Brief: The plight of the frituurs

Belgium in Brief: The plight of the frituurs
Credit: Belga

We have already heard of the exorbitant rise in the cost of some foodstuffs – mustard and spaghetti have been especially noteworthy. This might be thought of as an attempt to trivialise the inflation problem, reducing a macroeconomic crisis to overdue scrutiny of a handful of comestibles that are neither essential nor unthinkably expensive.

Though it is true that an extra euro for a condiment might pass unnoticed in the face of mammoth energy bills, economists have long been aware of everyday items as a measure of price fluctuations (hence the Mars Bar inflation index). For Belgium, few items could be more apt than frites/fries/frietjes to track how major international perturbations hit the individual.

The Belgian penchant for fried delicacies – potatoes in particular – is remarkable. No kitchen here is complete without a deep-fat fryer, but this doesn't dent the appetite to treat yourself in a dedicated frituur.

Yet if these veritable temples to chips have managed to stay in business thus far, it's not without overcoming gargantuan challenges. The chairman of Belgium's national organisation of friteries cites a "perfect storm" of factors that have made a trip to the chip shop twice as costly as 20 years ago: "Mayonnaise, potatoes, frying fat and oil, but also snacks and, the biggest cost, energy: absolutely everything has become much more expensive over the past year."

This isn't just the hard luck story of another sector struggling to cut it in a tough climate; the chairman made a pertinent point about the value we attach to certain products: "French fries are like a loaf of bread... a price increase of 20 to 30 cents does not seem like much, but it does feel like a drama. A much larger price increase for a dishwasher is less emotional."

Whilst we might jest about efforts to promote chips as haute cuisine, their importance as an everyman's treat is now be in jeopardy. What might once have been a weekly ritual that grandparents look back on starry-eyed risks being relegated to days gone by.

Things certainly ain't what they used to be and those in the trade are doing all they can to keep customers, some even writing to loyal clients explaining their plight. And whilst chips as a quick snack won't disappear, the cultural cornerstone that is the frituur is less secure.

Where do you get the best frites? Let @Orlando_tbt know.

Belgium in Brief is a free daily roundup of the top stories to get you through your coffee break conversations. To receive it straight to your inbox every day, sign up below:

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