Potatoes occupy an exalted position in the cuisine of West Flanders and Belgium in general. Frieten or frites—what people in other parts of the world call fries or chips—are a culinary staple. They can be drenched with mayonnaise, devoured alongside a wide array of friterie offerings, or used as a base over which to pour stoofvlees or carbonnades, the classic Flanders beef and beer stew.
But what if you need some spuds after hours? Well, you’re in luck—rural Belgium has you covered. Vending machines have sprouted up in small villages around the countryside, where anyone can purchase potatoes and onions around the clock.
This automaat is outside Wijtschate, a quiet village that was reduced to rubble by four years of fighting in the Ypres Salient, an area within Belgium that saw some of the most intense fighting during World War I. During the war, the British forces took to calling the village “Whitesheet.”
Wijtschate isn’t the only place you can spot a potato vending machine. Germany, France, and Scotland have caught on to the idea as well. The growth of these unusual fast-food options appears to be in response to a desire for local, organic food, as well as being an economical way for farm markets to extend their hours without having to pay a staff member to constantly be on sales duty.
Automaten with fresh sliced bread from local bakers as well as strawberry vending machines are also popular and have been around for many years.
Update as of August 2020: The machine is now located outside a farm a short drive from the junction listed. Follow the narrow road and take a signpost right turn.
Know Before You Go
The GPS coordinates lead to the junction of Ieperstraat and Langebunderstraat. A sign there points to the vending machine.