I’m going back to the UK for the Summer Holidays. So when I recently called home, my mother asked what I wanted to eat when I arrived. I instantaneously answered with “Fish and Chips”. Whether it be sitting in the garden of our family house back when I was a kid, or in the pub before an away football game, I have fond and delicious memories of eating them. In Japan, it’s not uncommon to find a rather underwhelming offering in Irish Pubs. But for a nation that slaps tempura batter on everything from prawns to asparagus, it’s strange that they’ve yet to understand the beautiful romance between the potato and white fish. That’s not to say the Japanese have no idea about the dish. On the contrary, if there’s one thing that Japanese people know about the UK aside from the Queen, Peter Rabbit and David Beckham, it’s “Fish and Chips”.
The basic concept of “fried fish” was brought to Britain in the 17th Century by the Jewish communities of Spain and Portugal. But the actual beginnings of “Fish and Chips” are hotly debated. There’s a plaque in Tommyfield Market stating that “the first chips were fried in Oldham around 1860”. Though that only relates to fried potatoes. Apparently the first fish and chip shop, or “chippy” was started in London during the 1860s. Others say it was founded in Mossley, Lancashire. Meanwhile others claim that a Mr. Lees was the pioneer of the traditional concept in the North of England. But to be honest, who really cares. The British working-class’ love for fish and chips “united a nation” during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, historians believe that the British government safeguarded fish and chips during the First World War because of it’s patriotic symbolism and importance in maintaining morale. Even during the Second World War, fish and chips were one of the few things that weren’t rationed.
Now depending on where you live in the world, the type of fish used will be different. In England, it’s a common choice between cod and haddock. In Australia and New Zealand, you might get snapper, bass or shark. The basic batter is a mix of water, flour, salt and baking powder. Modern variations have added beer in place of water, though whether it adds anything to the overall flavour is something I’ve yet to notice. After dipping in the batter, the fish is placed into boiling lard, beef drippings or vegetable oil along with the chips. Now, as a Brit the term “chip” refers to a chunky cut of potato or what American’s call “steak fries”. No French Fries or Potato Wedges!
Now for some important questions;
1) What condiment is suitable with Fish and Chips?
As a kid, I’d put tomato sauce on just about anything. There was a short stint during my teens when I’d always buy curry sauce alongside my haddock and chips. For some strange reason, the taste and consistency always reminded me of Japanese-style curry. But now I’m a bit of a traditionalist, preferring salt and vinegar or a good tartare sauce.
2) What accompaniment?
Mushy peas? Garden peas? Baked Beans? Salad? Bloody coleslaw?!
As a child, mushy peas were a common item on the school menu. The taste never bothered me, instead the colour and texture did. At that young age, it was only natural for us to compare them to the contents of our noses. But over the years, I’ve grown rather fond of the green gloop. If you go to a real fish and chip restaurant, buttered bread and a pot of tea are traditional accompaniments, adding to the obviously healthy nature of the dish.
Fish and Chips is the quintessential dish of Britain, and I can’t wait to get back and stuff my face.