How Time Fries – The History of Fish And Chips.
Known worldwide as traditional British food, the classic combination of fish and chips, together with salt and vinegar, pickled onions or mushy peas, has become the national dish we all love. It’s the simple, cheap and cheerful comfort food that has seen us through dismal days at work, is a treat at weekends or after a night out, and becomes a must-have on trips to the seaside. Although preferences may vary from person to person and in region to region (gravy is the popular Northern accompaniment, whereas Londoners love their mayonnaise and the Scottish go for brown sauce) 80% of people visit fish and chip shops at least once a year.
But how much do we know about the origins of the mighty national staple?
It turns out it may not be as ‘British’ as we thought.
The history of fish and chips roots back to the wintery 17th century, in the French or Belgian regions, where resourceful housewives would fry potatoes cut into fish shapes to boost spirits when rivers froze over and nothing could be caught. Though fried fish was introduced to London by Jewish immigrants from Portugal and Spain, it wasn’t until the 1860’s when the idea to combine fried fish with fried potatoes, or the chip, transformed the nation. There’s fierce debate around who first had the brilliance of serving the two together, whether it was in Lancashire or London, however the majority agree that the first fish and chip shop was set up in East London by Jewish immigrant Joseph Malin.
Despite where the dish originated, news about the scrumptious food spread quickly, and from the 1870’s the fish and chip trade boomed with many of the working class delighting in the abundance of the hot, fried fish and chips which became a saviour from their bleak diets.
Why have fish and chips become a lasting staple?
- The rise of trawl fishing in the North Sea, along with the development of rail lines connecting ports to large industrial areas inland, meant that the vast supplies of fresh white fish could be easily transported to all the busy workers sustained by fish and chips.
- At 35,000 nationwide, fish and chip shops were at an all-time high in the late 1920’s between the wars. In industrial areas there was nearly a shop on every street!
- The popularity of fish and chips continued throughout the war, as some say that the dish played a significant role in feeding the population and providing satisfaction. During the Second World War, it was ensured that fish and chips were one of the few foods to never be rationed.
Fish and chips of the present
With the influx of takeaways sweeping the nation, selling foods from curries to pizzas, fish and chips is one of the healthiest takeaway options. With organically grown cod or haddock and natural, additive-free potatoes simply washed, peeled and chipped, the meal provides a third of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins for men and just under half for women. With a side of peas and a little less added salt it’s one of the most balanced meals available within the takeaway market!
With many fish and chip establishments passed down through family generations, nowadays there are around 10,500 businesses serving the British staple that have become a focal point in the local communities. It’s been reported that 10% of the UK’s potato crop and 30% of all white fish is used in the fish and chip trade, however firm control regulations manage the uptake of cod and haddock stocks to support an ethical and sustainable market. We believe it’s one that will continue to be sustained and thrive, giving the nation contentment for years to come.