Fish and chips were a bit of a treat when I was a lad. Maybe once a week I was sent to Pearson’s chippie with a deep dish to collect the family’s meal, getting a bag of batter scraps to eat on the way home as a reward.
As I grew older, this great delicacy came wrapped in old newspapers that soaked up the grease and vinegar and made a special scrunching sound when screwed up after you’d finished, the sound of the remains of the salt scratching against the paper.
In my early teens, we used to stop off at a chippie on the way back from the baths to school after our weekly swimming lesson. It was the first one I knew of that was run by a Chinese family. “Sal villiga? Twee low?” were the mostly rhetorical questions The first was redundant as the fish and chips were already being liberally sprinkled with salt and vinegar, and the second whether they were to eaten now or wrapped up to take home.
I suppose it was the Chinese run shops that started to expand the chippie repertoire. Curry sauce for a start. Then jumbo sausage, scampi, chicken, meatballs, chilli con carne and more exotic fish. Well, breaded plaice anyway. But cod and chips remained the staple, along with steak and kidney pudding and Holland’s pies.
Speaking of which reminds me of a chippie we used to go to in Manchester in the early hours after a night out. My mate fancied a meat pie and was asked whether he wanted it warmed up. When he said yes, they popped it in the basket and into the deep fat fryer.
The point of this nostalgia is that 2010 is the 150th anniversary of the union of fried fish and chips according to the Federation of Fish Friers. To be honest, they’re not too sure. The 1860 date only works if you believe that fish and potato first shared a hot fat dip in London’s East End. The Lees family of Lancashire beg to differ, claiming that John Lees opened the first chippie in a wooden hut on Mossley market in 1863.
Whoever is right, fish and chips has been such a permanent part of British life, 150 years doesn’t seem very long at all. Fish as a foodstuff has been around forever and we’ve had spuds ever since Walter Raleigh came back from America smoking one in his pipe in fifteen hundred and cold as sin. How come it took another 250 years for someone to think about slicing them up and popping them in the chip pan?
Still, it was a marriage made in heaven and I raise a glass of the finest malt vinegar to toast the couple’s continuing good health.