When we crossed the border into Antwerp, the fast food traditions of the Dutch were evident in numerous frituur around the city including frituur centraal in the bowels of the grand railway station with its architectural magnificence.
There was the obvious cultural meld — bitterballen, frikandel, shaslik, viandel, the shoarma we had in Rotterdam, the stoofvlees we would taste in Ghent, served with fries, and the usual cultural influence from across the continent. When we got to Brussels, the Dutch influence was less evident. It was there we noticed the anomally.
It was not the metamorphosis that had changed Dutch frikandels into fricadelles, from sausages into meatballs, and into a frituur food called mitraillette. Somewhere between the Dutch low lands and the Belgian hill lands, the frikandels had lost their ‘n’!
At the time we did not give it any thought, I think we passed it off as a spelling mistake, until some years later when the debate about these fast foods focused the minds of those who wanted to sound the alarm about the dangers of food additives – ‘certain additives present in fricadelles are not recommended for health,’ they said.
Dangers Alimentaires announced that ‘the fricadelle (or fricandelle) is a sausage known to all in the north of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Traditionally cooked in oil, this 18 cm sausage can be found in all friteries‘.
Of its composition they remarked, ‘everyone knows what is inside but nobody says it,’ that it is a top secret and they lamented, ‘Fricadelles were once made by butchers, now everything is industrialised’.
Did you see it? That ‘n’!
So we decided to resolve the mystery and soon found we were not alone in our quest. Frikadel, Wouter van Wingerden discovered, was a minced meat preparation – a ‘kind of meatball’ – with an old history. It had been in dictionaries for a long time and was still known in modern Belgian dictionaries as a meatball. He discovered something else.
Gerrit de Vries was a snack manufacturer from Dordrecht. In the 1950s he came up with a recipe for frikadel. But there was too much flour in his meatballs. He was told he was not allowed to use the name frikadel, so he changed the shape, put an ‘n’ in and the frikandel sausage was born.
Or was it?
Wouter van Wingerden revealed an earlier mention of the frikandel sausage from a 1943 newspaper?”
It does not really matter. The traditional frikandel will never rival the commercial frikadel among fast food aficionados, all they will do is show the other side of this culinary universe!
Meanwhile the frikandel Gerrit de Vries created lives on in this homemade fricadelle.