In 2001 I found myself in a swirling neon centrifuge of euro club-kid culture—the final act of separation between my mind and the rhythms of American teenage life as I knew it.
My father and I moved to a quaint Belgian town named Waterloo (famous as the site where Napoleon had his final tantrum). I was to attend my senior year at the local English-speaking high school.
We lived in an apartment off of a house occupied by a British, fellow 18-year-old named Mick. I gathered evidence on what sort of scene I might be encountering: Mick was always perched in the room above a garage overseeing the comings and goings of zippy tricked out hatchbacks and scooters through the smokey light of a single-window; French language banter and pumping drum and bass music were audible at all times; before long I ventured up to check it out.
A dim, low-ceiled attic space with throw-away couches lining the perimeter harbored various international refugees from parental supervision. Between spliffs, chuckles and rounds of Tony Hawk Pro Skater; Mick, Fabby, and Tim; from England, Italy, and Holland respectively; and others from South Africa, Turkey, Serbia, and Belgium; were forever plotting weekend missions to Brussels to see Drum and Bass DJ’s at electronic dance clubs. These were a far cry from the house parties I was raised on in NY. A friend back home had recently told me about his adventures at the club Limelight in Manhattan so I was aware that there was a modicum of coolness attached to this sort of thing; I would just need a companion as I acclimated.
Mick introduced me to Joli Bois, a local friterie that sold the most long, steamy and sumptuous Belgian Frites wrapped in a paper cone and topped with a choice of sauces—the creamy, orange-colored ‘Andalouse’ was always my pick. As the crew talked techno I’d slouch into a futon mattress, gripping the hot paper cone, and space out within the obscurity of a mixed cloud of hash smoke and frites steam. I grounded myself in each bite of hot salty potato mush as the cacophony of French and electro-thumping carried on. Inevitably, the spell would be broken as me and my full belly were ushered into the cramped backseat of a Seat Ibiza for an express ride to the club.
The usual destination was Gare de Bruxelles-Chappelle—an abandoned subway station turned thumping underground rave venue, covered in decades of accumulated street art. It was a feast for my teenage appetite. After many consecutive weekends there my feeble and disgruntled fist pumps transformed into genuine grooving.
The music was dark, it was street, it was primal and it made you feel like the whole club was going to turn into to ecstasy dealing techno werewolves halfway through the night—and they sort of did. As the sun came up in the early morning I’d find myself confused and in strange places: once in a downtown office building watching army tanks rattle down the middle of the street, and another time at some enchanted forest park between Brussels and Waterloo; all part of the drum and bass mystery I suppose. Often times I’d hit the reset the next day by ordering another cone of frites—always from Joli Bois—and letting the warm steam re-hydrate my mind, body, and soul back at the garage. Their function had changed but, thankfully, their form had not.
Before I knew it that year was over and I was on a flight back to upstate NY. I haven’t listened to that music or come across a comparable frites stand since.
Total Science happens to be the only act I saw at ‘Gare’ that I can remember by name. After some quick research on the pair of DJ/producers , (Paul Smith and Jason Greenhalgh), it looks like they came together in Oxford, England in the late eighties, were initially interested in Hip-Hop and then followed a course of a dark, fast-tempo electronic music until eventually arriving at Drum and Bass, where they made their most significant mark. Greenhalgh is most famous for his Champion Sounds and the later drum and bass production he did prolifically as part of Total Science, most actively around 2001, the year I saw him. Thanks to Spotify, a quick listen brought the music and memories all back into focus even after 18 years (another whole lifetime!) drum and bass free. As I make the frites recipe below I am playing this album:
First a word on nomenclature: French fries should probably be called Belgian fries. One theory is they were named French because of the language Belgians were speaking when Americans encountered them eating this dish—likely around World War I. Call them French Fries stateside if you want, (nobody wants to sound like a snob), but understand the probable origins.
Ingredients: The frites from Joli Bois seemed longer than any naturally born potato I’ve ever known; maybe I’m just superimposing them in my mind, but each frites seemed to reach all the way to the bottom of the cone. In any case, I liked them this way; buy the longest potatoes you can. In Belgium they use Bintjes but American readers can just use Idaho. Older potatoes work better since they have lower water content. The only other ingredients are salt (Iodized works well here; fries are one of the few places I use it) and fat (animal fat is traditional but any low smoke point fat works fine).
- Peel and cut the potatoes as long as possible, just under a centimeter squared. Soak them in cold water for about 5-10 minutes to remove excess starch and then dry them thoroughly.
2. Fill oil about halfway up a large dutch oven and heat to 320 F (160 C) (use a candy or oil thermometer).
3. Add a batch of fries—1-2 handfuls—and fry stirring regularly until they are mostly cooked through. No more than 8 minutes.
4. Cool for 1/2 hour, spread them out if you can so they don’t stick. You can do more batches of the first frying as you wait. Just ensure the temp comes back to 320 after each batch.
5. Raise the oil temperature to 375 and fry again for just 2-3 minutes to crisp them up. They should be very light gold.
This is the king of all frites sauces and I would recommend keeping the condiment on hand to add to frites among other things—smeared over a burger for example. You can easily buy it here but making it is easy. Stir the following ingredients together vigorously and let them sit in the refrigerator for up to a day but at least a couple of hours.
1 cup mayo
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp minced onion
2 tbsp minced bell peppers (one red one green ideally)
1 tbsp of lemon juice
salt to taste
If you are going to make these often and you can get large quantities of the authentic paper cones here . Otherwise, do what I do and fold a brown paper bag down. Drop a hefty glob of the andalouse sauce on top and eat with fingers or a fork. Get small wooden frites forks here.