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Fries or chips? (Pic: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Fries or chips? (Pic: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
Fries or chips? (Pic: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

Language is fiddly, particularly around food. One man’s eggplant is another man’s aubergine, and that same man’s courgette is the first man’s zucchini, even if both men are using their vegetables to make a dish that they freely agree is called ratatouille.

It’s even more confusing to try to work out which food is which if there’s a vague suggestion that the names for similar things might suggest different methods of cooking. For example, let’s have a quick look at the most popular side dish in both U.K. and U.S. cuisine, the humble fried potato sliver, or frite. Is there a difference (beside spelling) between what Americans would call a french fry and the British chip?

The answer this question at its broadest, no there’s no difference at all. You take a potato, peel it, cut it into slices, cut those slices into slivers and then deep fry them. There’s some discussion as to how many times you fry them for the best results and for how long, but essentially the golden pile of hot spud fingers at the end is the same, whatever you call them.

However, while all frites are french fries, not all french fries are chips, not from the British perspective at any rate.

To British eyes, these are chips. You can tell they’re chips because they’re quite thick, they look like they were once a potato and (this is the giveaway) they’re lying next to a fried and battered fillet of fish:

Fish 'n' chips (Pic: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Fish ‘n’ chips (Pic: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Now, you can take those and put them between two slices of buttered bread (a chip butty), smother them in grated cheddar (cheesy chips) or coat them in curry sauce, chippy sauce or meat gravy (the brown kind). So long as they’re relatively thick cut and never, ever curly, they’re chips.

However, these things here, the golden spindly fingers that look like what happens when the potato is mashed up and squeezed through a Play Doh-sized garlic press directly into a deep fat fryer (note: don’t actually do this unless you’re wearing splashback protection), these and their curly brethren are fries. Even the Brits have taken to calling them fries, having been forced to do so—with some personal embarrassment—when American fast food chains first arrived in the U.K.

Fries or chips? (Pic: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
(Pic: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The only other thing to remember is that no one in the U.K. calls potato chips—meaning the cold, seasoned wafer-thin slices of potato in a bag—potato chips. Those are resolutely and always crisps.

Should you wish to make the kind of British chip you’d be happy serving to the Queen, try this preposterously involved recipe from ChefSteps.

See more:
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By Fraser McAlpine