French fries, freedom fries, frites, chips—regardless of what you call them, one thing is clear: they are no longer just the sidekick to a meal, or a salty afterthought. Forget about a burger and fries, fish and chips, or moules frites; now is a time when fries have sides and toppings of their own. Fries are creating national identities and writing their own histories across the world. These are their stories.
The origin of this particular type of cheese topping—melted and usually orange—is ultimately unknown. However, with processed, pourable cheese being a popular choice, perhaps the introduction of Cheez Whiz in 1953 had something to do with it. But cheese fries aren’t fussy—any melted cheese will do. In England they’re called “cheesy chips,” and you’ll find them at kebab shops and the occasional “chippy” (fish-and-chip shops), café, or pub.
As with cheese fries, the origin of this dish—in which a giant heap of chili is placed atop a mound of fries, then topped with cheese—is left to our imaginations. What we do know is that chili varieties differ from state to state. Texas-style chili con carne is traditionally made with chunks or slices of beef and no beans; Detroit’s signature chili uses ground beef hearts and no beans; and New York and Chicago embrace the humble kidney bean. Chili borders are thin, however—chili con ground beef sin beans has become a popular topping choice nationwide.
Animal Style fries
Order your fries “Animal Style” at In-N-Out Burger and you’ll get fries topped with melted cheese, grilled onions, and a boatload of “spread.” Authentic Animal Style fries need to be from an In-N-Out, not made at home—so if you’re located near an In-N-Out, kudos.
While you can find poutine topped with guacamole, pulled pork, or foie gras, purists believe that poutine should remain a three-part dish: fries, gravy, and cheese curds. The most vital part of this Quebecois dish is that the cheese curds are fresh and squeaky. They should be rubbery between your teeth like the neck of a tied balloon—in a pleasant way—but soft enough to gradually melt from the heat of the warm gravy. Thicker fries that won’t collapse into a soggy mess are recommended. And as for the gravy, it really comes down to personal preference—beef or vegetarian versions are the most common.
Usually found in Northeastern cities of the United States, below the Canadian poutine fields, disco fries are topped with melted cheese and gravy. But like the music genre whose name they share, disco fries couldn’t be contained in one area. They’ve been embraced around the country, from Texas to California. There are those who argue for mozzarella, while others prefer the neon hue of American cheese. But like cheese or chili-cheese fries, there’s room for improvisation: any melted cheese, any gravy. Just don’t call it poutine, please.
These are potato wedges dressed like fully loaded baked potatoes: cheese, bacon bits, green onions, and sour cream. Even though the name says “wedges,” there’s nothing wrong with adding the ingredients on top of any type of fries. Potato skins are a popular choice, too. You’re almost guaranteed to find these on a menu that includes wings or nachos—sports bars and TGI Fridays are safe bets.
Carne asada fries
The credit for carne asada fries usually goes to Lolita’s, in San Diego, who started serving them in the 1990s. However, the owners say they got the idea from their tortilla distributor, who had heard of a place in Arizona already selling fries topped with carne asada, guacamole, cheese, sour cream, and the optional hot sauce. As of this year, LA’s Dodger Stadium added carne asada fries to their menu.
Kapsalon means hair salon, which alludes to the dish’s founder: a hairdresser in Rotterdam. It consists of fries topped with döner meat, Gouda cheese, shredded lettuce, and sometimes a medley of tomatoes, cucumbers, and/or onions, and then finished with a creamy garlic sauce and sambal. It’s available in any self-respecting “snackbar,” which is a place to get all sorts of fried snacks, like bitterballen.
This Kenyan dish is composed of hand-cut fries coated in a spicy tomato sauce and garnished with generous amounts of coriander leaves and freshly squeezed lemon. Don’t think of a thick arrabiata sauce poured on top—picture a thin, translucent sauce that coats each individual fry, turning the whole mass into a gloriously slippery snack.
Chipsi mayai (or chips mayai)
Mayai means eggs in Swahili. But this Tanzanian street food is not a Spanish tortilla—this is a straight-up French-fry omelet. A smattering of hand-cut fries is added to a frying pan, and beaten eggs are poured on top. It’s served hot and greasy. Eat it with toothpicks or just go for it with your hands, and don’t forget the bottle of spicy tomato sauce and the traditional mixture of tomatoes and onions, called kachumbari, on the side.
Curry sauce—made with curry powder or chip-shop curry-sauce mix—is a popular topping for chips in the UK and Ireland, and you’ll find said curry chips at any “chipper,” another name for a shop selling fish and chips and other fried foods. It’s quite salty, sweeter than an Indian curry, and has a sharp acidity. And what about cheese on curry chips? Anthony Bourdain describes the combination of curry sauce and cheese as “Guy Fieri in a kilt.”
Available at the Irish fast-food chain Abrakebabra, taco fries are smothered in ground beef, shredded cheese, and “taco sauce” (a mysterious mayo blend, thought to be flavored with taco seasoning). It’s most often a late night decision when you can convince yourself that taco fries are an acceptable ratio of creamy, cheesy meat to definitely not enough fries.
Kartofi sus sirene
Hailing from Bulgaria, these fries are covered in grated or crumbled sirene: a white cheese that is brined, also known as sirenje or Bulgarian feta. This salty, almost lemony cheese is no stranger to Bulgarian cuisine—it’s used in salads, with eggs, and in banitsa, a traditional cheese-filled phyllo-dough pastry.
Chaat masala fries
Chaat masala is a spice mix commonly used in Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani cuisine, and it’s usually made with amchoor (a sweet and sour green-mango powder), kala namak (black salt), hing (asafetida), cumin, coriander, dried ginger, red chili, salt, and pepper. You could put chaat masala on any type of fries, but the traditional version is made with unevenly cut fries that are slightly soggy with crunchy edges. They should be greasy enough to coat your fingers in a gritty, tangy paste after a few bites.
Fries in Vietnam
If you happen to order fries while in Vietnam, there’s a good chance they’ll be served with a spoonful of creamy butter and granulated white sugar sprinkled on top: a warm, sweet, greasy hug.
This Spanish staple can be found at tapas bars. The potatoes are cut into thick chunks, like oversized home fries, and covered with a spicy pimenton-based oil and a creamy allioli. The nature of these sauces varies from place to place. Some add chorizo the dish; some use a tomato-based sauce; some stick to a traditional Catalan allioli; others just use mayonnaise.
In Spanish, salchicha means sausage and papa means potato. So salchipapas is exactly what it sounds like: slices of pan-fried sausage mixed in with fries. The dish started out on the streets of Lima, Peru, but is now a popular dish around Latin America.
Shake Shake fries
Order “Shake Shake fries” in China, India, or Australia, and you will be handed the flavor packet of your choice—from seaweed to zesty tomato—and a paper “Shake Shake bag” with instructions on the back. Pour your fries and flavor packet into the Shake Shake bag, seal the bag with a tight fist, and shake it like a maraca. Voilà: seasoned fries. McDonald’s has recently started to test the concept in the United States (renaming them “Shakin’ Flavor Fries”), starting in Northern and Central California and, more recently, in Nevada, with three flavors: garlic parmesan, spicy buffalo, and zesty ranch.