A NICE dispute has arisen between the French and Belgians over the question of who invented chips.

It's odd. I'd always assumed chips were a British, particularly Scottish, thing. But the Continentals put it about that we were late to the party. Maybe it's just as well. Chip-eating is excoriated by Scotland's self-hating bourgeoisie as a source of shame, whereas the Belgians and even the food-haughty French regard the delicacy with pride.

On yonder Continent, public debate has broken out over who has paternity of the fried potato. The French maintain Parisian street vendors invented the "frite" as a treat just after the revolution of 1789. Hmm, sounds radical. The Belgians paint a more intriguing picture of fishermen chopping potatoes into slices to resemble leetle fishes after the river Meuse froze in the 17th century. Might take that with a pinch of salt.

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At a food festival in Brussels, culinary experts looked at the competing claims. But paternity seemed hard to prove. London's Independent newspaper quoted Pierre Leclerc, of Liège University, saying: "Belgians adore chips but serious scientific research on the subject has only just begun." That said, the Belgians came across as more passionate on the subject. You might imagine the Belgian coat of arms to consist of a bag of chips crossed by a bar of chocolate. You sense that the French, while proud, are more insouciant on the subject. Whatever the case, it's hard to imagine a world without chips.

Previously, a colleague on this column waxed lyrical about their all-round yumminess. But they're not worth fighting about. True, we're talking about a war of words, conducted in a civilised manner. But chips can arouse great passions, as anyone knows who has tried filching a few from somebody's plate.