Fish and chips, now who can resist them? Crisp, golden batter covering delicious flaky white fish, served with hot, steaming chips, wrapped in newspaper. (Well not exactly newspaper any more, but Brits of a certain age will remember that) They are practically an institution in the UK; the original fast food, bought from the ‘chippy’, smothered in salt and vinegar, then eaten with your fingers straight off the fabulous chip-shop white paper.

Our local chippy has gone all posh and you can now sit inside on snuggly-placed tables (ok with just an inch between), to enjoy your fish supper, using an actual knife and fork! It’s almost like a pub where complete strangers become your life-long friends, sharing their problems or joys over a plate of hot cod and chips, with of course the obligatory ‘side’ of mushy peas.

Brits have been enjoying fish and chips for generations, on holiday by the seaside or for a weeknight treat. I remember being sent up the road to Lionel Street Chippy on Wednesday nights to bring back the family tea. I can now confess to my brothers that I actually nicked a few of their chips on the way home every week for years. (You didn’t know that, did you boys?)

The history of eating fish and chips goes back to the 17th Century and the custom did not even begin in the UK. Historians are not in total agreement, but the roots probably began in Europe, possibly in France or Belgium. The humble ‘chip’ may have started its life as a mere substitute for fish. When the rivers froze over and fishing was impossible, housewives would cut potatoes into fish shapes and fry them as a replacement. Is it so easy to fool the men?

About the same time fried fish was introduced to the UK by Portuguese and Spanish immigrants. So who first put the fish and chips together? Well if you are from the north of England, obviously it was a northerner. A Lancastrian, John Lees from Mossley, is known to have been selling fish and chips at his market stall from about 1863. My southern friends insist that the honour goes to Joseph Malin, who they say opened the first ‘fish ‘n chip’ shop in East London around 1860.

Whoever it was, the fish and chip shop was a popular outlet in Victorian Britain and is still popular to this day, despite now having to compete with other popular takeaway foods, such as burgers, pizzas, fried chicken, Indian, Chinese and much more. All have their place, but oh, when you are beside the sea and you haven’t eaten all day, that overwhelmingly mouth-watering smell of fish and chips is difficult to resist.

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  1. Thanks Jenny, memories galore on that one. Check this out, I remember that we ate fish and chips throughout the Second World War without having to hand over food coupons. Is my memory failing – was that true! Winston Churchill was reputed to have said it was because when a family was bombed out and lost their coupon books they could still get a hot meal! .

  2. Love this! I’m sad to learn, though, that the newspapers have gone away. One of my life-long goals was to get to London and eat “real” fish and chips wrapped in newspaper! Thanks for sharing this cultural history.

    • Thank you Charli, I think newspaper was banned as fish and chip wrapping in the 1990’s-for health and safety reasons. The grease and print were not apparently too healthy together! Like you, I am nostalgic about old traditions.

  3. I don’t think I’d want what’s printed in some of those Rupert Murdoch papes to be anywhere close to what I am eating – even if the ink is soy-based and recyclable!

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