Fish & Chips: The Dish That Defines a Nation

Traditional English fish & chips
Which bit is the fish?

As English folks, we can claim to be a nation of comfort food eaters. Pies, baked beans, roast dinners, hot pot, full English breakfasts etc.

We love a simple dish that doesn’t push the boundaries, but provides a stodgy oomph. And they don’t get more on it than today’s legend.

What is Fish & Chips?

It’s a very popular dish in the UK involved deep fried fish (usually cod) with deep fried chunky chips. The fish is battered up, dumped into a bubbling vat of oil, and left sizzling.

The dish is served in one of those plastic cartons clogging up the planet. Once together, the fish splatted atop the chips, it sort of looks like the facehugger gripping ahold of Kane in Alien (1979).

You can make it all look more appetising by adding a load of gravy and/or mushy peas and ketchup. It don’t get more English than that.

To be fair, it’s all rather tasty. It’s just hellish bad for you.

Regardless, it’s an example of fusion cuisine. Merging traditions from other countries. But it’s distinctly English in its simplicity.

And its abundance. The local Chippy is a common phrase in the UK, meaning wherever a nearby fish & chip restaurant is.

These aren’t sit in places, of course, more somewhere you rock up, make your order, wait a bit, and then clear off with it all wrapped in a beaming warm bunch of newspapers.

But Aren’t The English Fussy Eaters?

Yes, massively so. A lot of us, anyway. They’ll barf if you so much as mention fish in many instances.

We had an old colleague of 55. Let’s call him Bouncy Bob. He announced quite merrily that he despised all dish and would never eat it. Except, when quizzed further, for:

  • Fish & chips.
  • Fish fingers.
  • Prawn cocktails.

So, yes, he did like fish (and seafood). He just couldn’t realise that beyond his happily traditionalistic notion of food.

And we’re pretty sure lots of English folk order fish & chips and don’t even realise the fish is actual fish.

As many English sorts will scoff at the idea of eating fish, as it’s typically outside of our rather narrow sense of national cuisine.

I mentioned this once in 2008 to a housemate and he got really annoyed by that. And leapt to the defence of English food, stating it’s one of the best in the world.

His ferocity of defence startled us a bit and we just left him to it. Bastard.

Fish & Chips During the Wars & History

This dish is deeply ingrained in our heritage now, thanks in part to its role during WWI and WWII.

The UK government didn’t ration the stuff much and safeguarded it during both bouts of international fisticuffs.

Take that, Fritz, you Nazi bastards!

But the tradition for battering the fish probably came from immigrants to the UK, likely from Holland. As this was a popular way of cooking the stuff in the 16th century—”pescado frito”.

So, yeah, Brexit and all that. We hate immigrants and foreigners. And yet one of our most steadfast and legendary culinary efforts came about in Europe. Golly gosh! The Daily Mail won’t report that.

However, the whole Chippy shop bit is all very English. There’s a mention of a “fried fish warehouse” in Oliver Twist (1838). And the first one likely hailed from Lancashire or Manchester.

And in George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and his documentation of the extreme poverty of that era, he noted that it was a major comfort food for the scumbag, lazy, if they’re poor they should work harder working classes.

Fish & Chips Going Global

To be clear on this, it’s not just the English that dig the dish. We just have a particularly twee way of going about it.

Friday night. Work done for the week. Get to the chippy and watch Corrie on t’ box.

But the recipe is also popular in Australia, New Zealand, and in some part of the US.

However, for us, it’s something of a sad reminder of how unadventurous the English are when it comes to food. They refuse to try new things, steadfastly sticking to the home comforts they don’t dare break away from.

We went to Spain with work in 2017 and, yep, all along the exotic coast of the Costa Dorada were dodgy looking fish & chips shops.

The problem with that is it represents the lager louts who invade these rather nice regions of Europe, so they can soak up the sun… but not leave behind their beloved traditions for more than a few minutes.

As the one thing the nationalist Brit does resent about the UK, is that total lack of sunshine for most of the year.

And those dodgy chippies usually provide low-quality stodge. Filling up bellies already crammed to the rafters with beer. *Belch* Ho hum.

So, yes, if you’d like to try out this fish then do it in the proper sense.

Give it a whirl Gordon Ramsay style with all that extra panache. And you’ll realise how great the dish can be.

13 comments

  1. Fish and chips are definitely a thing here in NZ. We used to have them once a week when I was growing up – my Dad would bring them in every Friday from a chippie run by a guy named Mr Bone. Seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my favorite dishes! I’m pretty sure it’s popular here because I’m fairly close to the shore, you know that place where fish live? Almost every restaurant in the area has a rendition of it. Dammit! Now you’re making me want to order some! Do you use tartar sauce over there or is that an American addition XD

    Like

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