Food · Lifestyle

The great British dish

Often wondered what our cousins from around the world think about Fish and Chips. The UK itself is now a cosmopolitan world and a myriad of different cultures and eating habits. How do the ‘new’ British settlers view our deep-fried delight, and is it still our national dish? And where did the dish originate? Well, long, long ago, back in the mists of time… Zzz

Actually, not that long ago. It all started in around 1860-ish. Our country was thriving and dripping in money, give or take a few million ordinary labourers who were still starving and unhelpfully dying of cholera, lung disease and leprosy etc. But apart from them, we had what we now call, on reflection, the Industrial Revolution. It was amazing! The poor were given jobs and mostly died for the cause. Well done to the destitute. You’ll always be remembered for your contribution. Erm… anyway… steam power and the railways opened up the country, and both people and fresh food such as fish were on the move and delivered to all parts of the country including the cities. But back to Fish and Chips.

So who invented them? As per usual there is continuing debate, but it was pretty much a draw between the Londoners and the North. As immigration gathered place, it is thought that the dish of fried fish was brought to our country by the Spanish and the Portuguese. That rich old social reformer, Charles Dickens actually mentions fried fish sold in restaurants in his novel, Oliver Twist. A Jewish immigrant called Joseph Malin is credited with selling the first actual dish of fish and chips. But where do chips come from, I hear you ask? Supposedly from France and Belgium is the answer. Fish and chips were cheap, became the staple diet of the industrial north and a huge relief from the drab starvation diet of the masses.

Skip a few years and we find that the fish and chip shops of Britain had flourished to the point where, in the 1940s this humble culinary masterpiece, wrapped in newspaper, was being queued for along the streets. Did you know that, during the war, fish and chips were one of the few foods not to be rationed during these austere times. The American soldiers came over, won the war, won our womenfolk and pinched our fish and chips. Except they refused to call them chips seeing as a chip in the states is a crisp. So they got fish and ‘fries’. Weird or what?

Don’t tell me I don’t teach you nothing!

There are still many questions unanswered. Why ‘mushy’ peas with fish and chips? Why are they best with a slice of bread and butter? Why salt and vinegar? Why do Southerners insist on calling it a fish shop when we Northerners call it a chip shop or ‘chippie’? Why do Southerners insist on calling it a fish supper? Anybody got any answers?

What’s that all about then? Nine chips in a stack…

… or in a basket? What?

Thin chips? T-h-i-n chips? Do me a favour!

Yes, that’s more like it! An ‘original’ dollop of mushy peas!

In the 90s and ‘noughties’ there was only one way for our national dish to go. All those pretentious TV foodies who ran out of ideas, and media health fascists (where would we be without them?) decided to try and ‘posh’ things up a bit. So now, in restaurants, we have to have big square cut chips, stacked into squares of nine on the edge of our plates, or stacked in a silly little metal basket. And ‘thin-cut chips! Thanks USA! Now they’re fried in vegetable oil, not lard. And don’t mention the tartar sauce! (I said not to mention it!). And suddenly you end up paying twice the price.

Of course, to be fair, we can no longer eat our chips out of newspaper for health reasons, but the original dish remains the best. On a cold, winter’s day, with steamed-up windows, and spots of rain falling, it’s time to pass the salt and vinegar, a steaming mug of tea and a proper plate of fish and chips. Lovely!

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