The History of Traditional English Fish and Chips

Guest Blogger: Kathryn Ward

Good old-fashioned fish and chips have had quite a journey to become Britain’s national dish of choice (if you ignore curry!). And despite our modern-day health obsessions, ‘fancy’ fish and chips are becoming increasingly trendy, with a few hipster chip pies being opened in Shoreditch and other areas of East London.

Remember, if you really want fish and chips, you don’t have to gratify your desires in an unhealthy way. You could always oven cook your fish and cook McCain home chips in the oven too. But before you chow down, take a moment to appreciate the rich history that traditional English fish and chips have enjoyed. They’ve come a long way and this deserves to be acknowledged!

In the beginning
The start of this story is shrouded in the mists of time, so some of the details are a little hazy. Both Lancashire and London claim to be the first to invent the meal. The meal became a staple amongst the working classes in the UK due to the expansion of trawler fishing in the North Sea. It is thought that deep-fried fish made its debut in Britain in the 17th century, cooked up by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain.

While Sir Walter Raleigh first brought potatoes to England from the New World in the 17th century, it is believed that the French came up with cutting them into chips and frying them. Although both Lancashire and London claim to have came up with the concept of putting fish and chips together as a meal, it is now accepted that in 1860, Joseph Malin opened up the first ever fish and chip shop in London.

In Oldham, Lancashire, three years later, a fish and chip shop opened up, with a sign that erroneously claimed it was “the first fish and chip shop in the world”.

Changing times
Originally, fish and chip shops were small family businesses, usually run from the ‘front room’ of the house. These were very basic operations that often just had a large cauldron of cooking fat, heated by a coal fire.

When the Industrial Revolution started, it was powered by the energy of fish and chips. Soon, the concept of a fish and chip restaurant was introduced by Samuel Isaacs, who ran a fish business in London in the late 19th century. His first restaurant opened in 1896, and became a popular chain.

Fun fishy facts

During World War II, fish and chips remained one of the only foods in Britain that wasn’t subject to rationing
There are currently 10,500 specialist fish and chip shops in the UK
We consume 382 million portions of fish and chips each year
We spend £1.2 billion on average a year on fish and chips

The food snobs can say what they like; it’s clear that fish and chips are still this nation’s favourite meal. Do you have any of your own personalised recipes? How do you like your fish and chips? Let us know!

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