Belgians have various different terms for a snack kiosk. Flemings use the terms ‘frituur’, ‘frietkraam’, ‘frietkar’ and ‘frietkot’. Walloons alternate between ‘friture’, ‘barraque à frites’ and ‘friterie’ but ‘fritkot’ is also commonplace and therefore a Belgian term par excellence. In the German-speaking part of Belgium they call it a Frittenbude or Pommesbude. Frietkotten are usually named for their operators, for example ‘Frituur Jean’, ‘Dikke Willy’ or ‘Chez Roger et Liliane’. Another group of names simply indicates the location: ‘The Bridge’, ‘The Tram Stop’, ‘Midway’ or ‘Forest Edge’ and naturally there are references to the product or the experience at the snack kiosk such as ‘The Treat’, ‘The Cone-shaped Bag’ or ‘The Thick Fries’.
After World War I, the outside snack kiosk was completely integrated into our towns and villages. The snack kiosk experienced its heyday between the nineteen fifties and nineteen eighties. From the nineteen eighties on, the number of snack kiosks on market squares, near to churches and stations reduced following new urban development laws. The snack kiosk is (was…?) often seen as a blemish on the urban landscape that disfigures the entire surroundings, especially on pretty squares and near to historic buildings. After all, snack kiosks prefer to nestle at the foot of a monument or a square, or against a station building, town hall or church. So, it is no coincidence that above all the stand-alone stalls have disappeared. An increasing number of operators moved to fixed premises. In Flemish cities such as Leuven, Eeklo and Dendermonde, the number of snack kiosks declined rapidly in the last few years. In Ghent and Brussels that was less the case and in Wallonia the number remains fairly constant.
All our snack kiosks are different from each other and yet – or perhaps precisely for that reason – each one of them is recognisable as being typically ‘Belgian’. Snack kiosk connoisseur Paul Ilegems designed a typology of the most common ‘types of snack kiosk’: from the snack kiosk at the fair and in a porchway, via the cart, truck, caravan, bus or shack to the chalet, the fry annex and those in a house or villa, the fry salon and design snack kiosk.
The snack kiosk, most typically in the form of a shack, can be seen as a symbolic expression of our (lack of) spatial planning, as a reflection of the Belgian soul. Our country, with its improbably chaotic urbanised landscape, was often reviled as ‘the ugliest country in the world’ (Renaat Braem). A country without spatial planning, it would appear. Compared to the Netherlands, for example, here homes, shops and companies intermingle loosely.
And as Paul Ilegems says:
“A wide variety of houses and dance clubs, farms and fairy-tale villas, wine bars and brothels alternate, and every now and then a snack kiosk completes the scenery. In the middle of all this, it is the smallest but also the most typical element. It can feel perfectly at ease and wherever it appears it never looks out of place. The country is just as suitable for snack kiosks everywhere; it seems almost to have been designed especially for the snack kiosk.”
New snack kiosks are now being planned in some towns, often at the government’s request, designed by an architect although the lack of any planning remains one of the typical characteristics of the ‘frietkot culture’. That is why the snack kiosk is sometimes called the mirror of the Belgian people. But there’s more: the entire frietkot culture, the entire experience surrounding it, is after all inextricably linked to our intangible cultural heritage. The fact that an increasing number of snack kiosk operators of Turkish, Moroccan and Chinese roots have appeared in the past few years is the clearest proof of excellent integration.
The city of Antwerp played an important pioneering role in the protection of snack kiosks and the accompanying intangible culture. An official Council decision recognised the frietkot culture for its contributions to a feeling of security and cultural image. Antwerp not only protects the existing outside snack kiosks, the city council wants to once again integrate snack kiosks into the cityscape. Eeklo is also an encouraging example. In 2006, the Monuments and Landscapes workgroup chose outside snack kiosks as the theme of the Open Monument Day. Brusselicious 2012 as the year of gastronomy in Brussels, dedicated an entire month to fries. Today, we are increasingly aware of the importance of preserving snack kiosks and guaranteeing the accompanying frietkot culture which revolves around taste experience and ‘simple’ enjoyment.