The heat from the fish and chips, not to mention the healthy dollop of mushy peas had travelled through three layers of paper and was now warming my legs. Armed with only a wooden fork, the heat level soon disappeared as I eagerly tucked in. A few minutes later I remembered I hadn’t just popped into Pete’s Chippy for fish and chips – but inspiration – inspiration to tell you all about this delicious meal and its 150th anniversary.
It really is an uncomplicated dish – a hunk of golden brown fish served with thickly cut strips of deep-fried potatoes sprinkled with salt and vinegar. And its wonderful simplicity has secured its placed over time, as an icon of British food culture.
As I feast I find myself contemplating where this dish came from? Throughout time, its origins seem to have become a little cloudy…
Some say that a young businessman by the name of John Lees started selling fish and chips from a wooden hut in a marketplace in Mossley, near Manchester in around 1860. He then moved to a small building and (legend has it) he hung a sign in the window that read ‘This is the first fish and chip shop in the world.’
The Malin family in London might have had something to say about that however – a family of rug weavers they (for some reason) started frying chips in their home in 1860. Then thirteen-year-old Joseph Malin had the idea of combining them with fried fish and selling them to the poor on the streets of the East End.
But, if we were to look at fish and chips separately, their origins can be traced back even further. In Oliver Twist, published serially from 1837- 1839, Charles Dickens wrote about ‘Fried Fish Warehouses’ where fried fish was served with bread or baked potatoes.
And the birth of the chip can be followed all the way back to 17th century Europe, where in very cold weather, when the rivers were frozen over and fish were hard to come by, housewives were said to cut potatoes into the shape of fish and then fry them in the same fashion.
However as I sit contentedly, feeling rather full and staring at my empty fish and chip paper – I can’t help thinking how truly impressive it is that this fabulously simple dish has stood such a test of time. So no matter whether it’s 150 years or a few more – I think we should all raise our wooden forks and say ‘Happy Anniversary’ to this great British favourite.