To celebrate National Fish & chip day, 2nd June, Anise gives you a brief history of a national institution – fish and chips.
In 1910 there were more than 25,000 fish and chip shops across the UK, and by the 1930s it increased to over 35,000.
Winston Churchill called them “the good companions”. To each other, yes, but also to the British public.
They sustained morale through two world wars and helped fuel Britain’s industrial prime. Cheap, easily accessible, tasty, filling and comforting this was a dish that has been feeding the masses since the 1860s and still continues to do so today.
George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) put fish and chips first among the home comforts that helped keep the masses happy and “averted revolution”. During World War II, ministers bent over backwards to make sure fish and chips were one of the few foods that were never rationed.
The story of the humble chip goes back to the 17th Century to either Belgium or France, depending on who you believe.
Oddly enough, the chip may have been invented as a substitute for fish, rather than an accompaniment. When the rivers froze over and nothing could be caught, resourceful housewives began cutting potatoes into fishy shapes and frying them as an alternative.
Around the same time, fried fish was introduced into Britain by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain.
The fish was usually sold by street sellers from large trays hung round their necks. Charles Dickens refers to an early fish shop or “fried fish warehouse” in Oliver Twist (1839) where the fish generally came with other carbohydrates – sometimes bread or baked potatoes but there was no sign of the golden battered fare yet…
Who was it who had the bright idea to marry the fish and the chips together? Some say it was a northern businessman called John Lees. As early as 1863, it is believed he was selling fish and chips out of a wooden hut at Mossley market in industrial Lancashire.
Others claim the first combined fish ‘n’ chip shop was actually opened by a Jewish immigrant, Joseph Malin in East London around 1860.
Whoever you believe, the idea caught on and captured the tastes of the masses. At a time when working-class diets were bleak and unvaried, fish and chips were a tasty break from the norm.
Outlets sprung up across the country and soon they had become a firm mainstay of Victorian life in England.
Italian migrants saw the queues and the potential of a successful business model and so shops sprung up all over the UK.
How they’ve changed being served over the decades:
Pre-1980s – To keep prices down, portions were often wrapped in old newspaper – a practice that survived as late as the 1980s when it was ruled unsafe for food to come into contact with newspaper ink without grease-proof paper in between.
1990s/2000s – Once the newspaper was deemed unfit to come into contact with what we were consuming, high-end restaurants and pubs wrapped their fish and chips in ‘designer’ newspaper: as a nostalgic nod to earlier times. The 1990s (like the 1960s) was full of working class people hitting the big time in all industries such as art, music, TV, film and so suddenly mainstays of working class life – such as fish and chips – had now become cool and trendy.
Now, there’s a trend emerging to serve fish and chips in disposable newspaper cones. And at fish and chip shops, it’s just grease proof paper.
How we serve them at Anise:
Fish and chip cones – traditional fresh fish and chips served in a newspaper cone, served with sea salt and malt vinegar. We serve fish and chip cones in the evening section of our menu, perfect for guests who require some tasty sustenance later in the evening.