Chips and chip vans

The inhabitants of the Nord Pas-de-Calais region love their chips – crunchy chips, crispy chips, rounded chips, long, thin chips, chips served in a paper cone, chips in a salad bowl, salted chips, or even chips with sugar on top. And the local people like to get together for a chat about life in the neighbourhood, and especially to eat chips, at an unusual spot - the local chip van, a popular place to go for a bit of fun.

What exactly is a chip van ?

Chip fans were made famous in France by the film “Bienvenue chez les Cht’is” (the English-language version of which was renamed “Welcome to the Sticks”), but they have been treasured by local inhabitants for decades. They take the form of a specially fitted-out van or caravan that moves around from one place to another, serving freshly cooked chips local-style, along with various other food. They were all the rage in the 1970s, ranging from slightly kitsch customised caravans to ultra-design vans, and subsequently giving rise to more generalised types of food van, but throughout they have acted as a key meeting place for locals.

They tend to be found strategically placed around the town, on the main square, alongside the town stadium, near university campuses, or else at traditional funfairs. They act as a place where people can meet up for a good old natter. Some chip vans, such as that dreamt up by Erwin Wurm, are astonishing contraptions that bring the institution up-to-date.

Chips for purists

The expression “French fries” dates from the First World War. Even though chips are a Belgian invention the idea was rapidly exported to France, where the Canadian and English troops discovered chips on the front line. And as the Army spoke French, they became known as French fries.

But careful! You can't just fry a potato any old way! Frozen chips are out! Ask any proper chip purist and aficionado, and they will explain that choosing the right oil and the right potato is essential to get the perfect golden crunchy chip. So even if vegetable oil is a better for your health, animal fat is far better for frying chips. Especially beef fat, no less! And when it comes to choosing your spud, opt for Bintje, Manon, Agria, or Charlotte potatoes - the choice is yours.