Even if you are not the kind of person who would buy a picture of a potato for $1.08m, as a European business man did in January 2016, you can still be a potato lover.
Be it deep-fried, boiled or roasted, with all the preparing possibilities the tuber is as diverse as the world. And in the old days the potato was a fervent traveler himself.
Crops don't often come this multifaceted.
A guide for the adventurous traveler, that is not afraid of carbs:
The potato originated in the Andes region in South America. Over 4,000 different kinds are grown in Bolivia, where the crop has been a staple since before the Inca dwelled in the area. On markets and in shops, next to large bags of coca leaves, you can find equally huge bags with chuño, the freeze dried version of the leading staple. It is put out to freeze in the cold nights of the high mountains and left there to dry in the sun during the day. After the process it can be stored for a long time. Where other nations tend to mix their carbs with some protein and greens, the Bolivians stick to their starch: I have eaten a bowl of pasta with chunks of potato (and a sliver of carrot).
2. Bruges, Belgium
The Belgians love their fries so much, they have even attempted to get them declared as a natural heritage. Learn all about the potato's origins and their route to Europe in the French Fry Museum. In the beginning the crop was frowned upon. Europeans first thought of it as animal or poor men's food. Later it reached the golden plates of the nobility and it was used on long sea journeys because of its high content of vitamin C. In the beginning it was used for more than its nutritious value: There was an English surgeon who claimed to have planted some potatoes in his backyard because they were 'nutritious, strengthening and enticed fornication'. Combine this with the fact that monks spread the crop from Spain to the rest of Europe and planted them in their monastery gardens, and this might just be the vegetable with the most interesting history. Even Shakespeare had one of his characters proclaim: “Let the sky rain potatoes!”
There is a bright yellow French fry with huge eyelashes that points you the way through the museum; past frying pans, potato cutters, life size plastic versions and French fry art. The best part of the museum is the cellar, where you can order a paper cone filled with hot and tempting deep fried potatoes.
Wherever you go, visit a local supermarket and check out their potato chips flavors. There is a lot more to fried slivers than BBQ and sea salt. What may seem normal to the locals, could be a total surprise to tourists. In Canada they sell chips with the flavor 'poutine', which is a dish of French fries, cheese and gravy. So basically that means eating fried slivers of potato with the taste of fried potatoes topped with a little cheese and gravy flavoring.
In the United Kingdom they have burger and tomato flavored chips. I didn't make it past 2 pieces, but I guess that was not the point. The whole purpose of traveling is to explore and experience new things. If you want to maximize this, book a ticket to Japan and try some potato chips with soy sauce and mayonnaise flavor. Or the Caesar salad kind. And, to try things from another perspective, they have chocolate with the flavor of grilled potatoes. If that is too adventurous for you, stick with the Japanese chips tasting like German potatoes. Although you might better just book a ticket to Berlin.
Germans are known for eating lots of potatoes (mashed, boiled, first mashed and then boiled), but the further east you go, the more creative they get. Lithuania has a good share of potato mash balls, pancakes and sausages. Preferably combined with a fatty sauce and lots of meat.
5. Poznań, Poland
In this little know town in the west of Poland, there is a special restaurant selling only potato dishes. Supposedly the people in this city have their own word for 'potato', which is 'pyry' and the restaurant is this called 'Pira Bar' and consists of potatoes for about 78%. The posters on the wall are a parody of socialist propaganda, featuring the harvest of the tuber. The prices are low and service is fast. You have to order at the counter and then you will get an order number; a plastic card pinned in a raw potato. Try some potato dumplings with cabbage, onion and bacon or have them boiled with cheese, onion and herbs.
The Republic of Belarus is possibly one of the least known countries in Europe. It is situated east of Poland and north of the Ukraine. Their president is not a dictator, but has been re-elected 4 times with smashing numbers. Russian is their second official language and the Russian word for potatoes is bul'ba. Hence the Russians sometimes call the inhabitants of Belarus bulbashi. With good reason. The Belarusians have many different dishes featuring the tuber and with 400 pounds per person per year, they are the world wide number 1 potato consumers.
You are not the only one with a special interest in starchy food. There are 7 countries with potato museums. There are museums in Germany, Denmark, France and the US. The one in Italy has the best name, thanks to their cheerful language: Museo della patata.
Canada has two potato museums. One is in Florenceville-Bristol. As the home town of McCain Foods they are the French Fry Capital of the world. The other is in Prince County on the Prince Edward Island. It is said to have the largest collection in the world and even has a Potato Hall of Fame. They also offer farm tours where you can have a matching lunch and make your own potato fudge. If you are a true fan, you should avoid the gift shop, or bring a gold credit card and an extra suitcase. Who could refuse a potato peeler with a handle shaped like a smiling potato?
There were times when pictures were rare and people had to pick up a brush and paint the image themselves. So did Van Gogh. One of his most famous paintings is The Potato Eaters showing a peasant family eating boiled potatoes in their barely lit home. In honor of this, they sell overpriced 'potato eaters crisps' in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
You may have heard of the variety called 'Bintje'. This kind was bred by a Dutch teacher and he gave his potatoes names of his children en (former) students. Bintje Jansma was 17 at the time a potato was named after her. It is not known how she felt about a potato being more famous than herself.
Once you are here, have some French Fries. Ever since Pulp Fiction everybody knows that the Dutch eat these with mayonnaise, but there is more. When you are at a Fry Shack, there is a number of sauces and add-ons you can pick from: curry, hot peanut butter, 'Joppie' (mayonnaise, ketchup and spices), special (mayonnaise, ketchup and raw onions) and 'war' (hot peanut butter sauce and mayonnaise) to name but a few. There is even a weed sauce.
Should you get tired from all these solid carbs you can always turn to drinking. Some vodkas are made using potatoes.
The Russians like them in solid form as well. So much so, that the spud became subject of political discussion: Secretary of State John Kerry once gave the Russian Foreign Secretary Sergey Lavrov two large Idaho potatoes. Some time later, when visiting Russia, Kerry received a basket of potatoes himself.
10. United Kingdom
The largest spud ever weighed 8.4 pounds. It was grown by Peter Glazebrook in his back garden in Hallam, Nottinghamshire. He is also very good with tomatoes and onions. When you are here in August, go to Comber near Belfast for the yearly potato festival. But there are festivals on the tuber in the US and Canada as well.
When making your potato trip around the world, try to eat some veggies with your carbs as well. Even though the American Cookie Jarvis has the record on eating French Fries at 4.46 lb in 6 minutes, you may not want to try this yourself, either at home or anywhere else.
And, should you read this on August 19th: Happy Potato day!