Friday, January 26, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

The Tower of Confusion muddled the American and British words for fried potatoes the other day and offers his thoughts. After giving brief thanks that the "Freedom fries" thing never caught on, it's worth offering a few notes on American fried potato terminology.

French fry. When you take a slice of potato running the potato's length, and fry it in batter, you get a French fry. It is soft on the inside. It's crispiness on the outside depends on frying time, type of oil, etc, but there is definitely potato inside.

Potato chip. Once upon a time, a snooty diner complained that his French-fried potatoes were too thick and sent them back. The disgruntled chef cut some potatoes as thinly as he could, dipped them in the fryer and served the crunchy confection to the diner's delight. The potato chip was born.

Potato crisp. In an effort to get prettier and more regular potato chips, some companies started taking potato buds - i.e. reconstituted flakes from dried potatoes - and pressing them into perfect form before frying. Pringles is the most famous of these companies. For years, Americans unknowingly ate these as though they were the same as potato chips. Then the government saved us from our ignorance by renaming them potato crisps. We still call them potato chips but the packaging now has a label informing that you are not in fact eating fried potato slices, but molded fried potato stuff.

Baked chips. Only the packaging refers to them as such. They are potato chips that were baked, rather than fried, in order to reduce fattiness. And taste.

Curly fries. Sometimes potatoes are cut into thin curls, rather than in straight strips. They are then made into French fries. Except that the zaniness of curled fries seemingly demands the addition of spices beside salt to underscore by flavor just how zany the whole thing is.

In America's fast food eateries, chips are not usually available. French fries may come in the standard or curly variety. If both are available, there is usually a surcharge for the curly variety. In sandwich shops, including Subway, chips are usually served in single serving pre-packaged bags. They may or may not come with the sandwich. If French fries are available, there will usually be a charge, even if chips are free (and they won't give you chips if you get fries). Finally, in burger joints and greasy spoons - restaurants with an assortment of burgers and sometimes some sandwiches or small entrees as well - it's anybody's guess. The menu should have the details.

By the way, note that in America the entree is the main course, not the first course. We started having problems with French and eating terminology well before the Freedom fries debacle.

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