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Fish and Chips


Portion of white fish, about the size of a hand, deep fried in batter, with potato chips about the size of a finger, served with the choice of salt, vinegar, brown sauce, curry sauce, tomato ketchup.

Photo: Andrew Dunn

Fish and chip shops are a relatively recent invention. Potatoes did not become commonplace in Europe until the 17th Century while the availability of cheap white fish in cities was depended on the development of trawling and of railways in the early 19th.

One of the contenders for 'first fish-and-chip shop', Joseph Malin's in Cleveland Street, London, was advertised in the 1860's as offering 'fish fried in the Jewish fashion', though, some twenty years earlier, Charles Dickens mentioned a 'fried fish warehouse' in Oliver Twist, published in 1838.

The other possible 'first' was Mr Lees of Mossely, near Oldham, Lancashire who is known to have sold fish and chips from a wooden market kiosk and, around 1863, transferred to a permanent shop which long afterwards advertised itself as the first fish and chip shop in the world.

Lee's Chip Potato Restaurant
(Photo origin unknown)

Henry Mayhew's vast 'London labour and the London poor' of 1865 estimated that there were around 300 fried fish sellers in London, mostly operating from carts or tiny shops where; "a slice of bread, 16 or 32 being cut from a quartern loaf, as they are whole or half slices, is sold or offered with the fish for a penny. The cry of the seller is "fish and bread a penny". For the itinerant trade a neatly painted wooden tray slung by a leathern strap from the neck is used the tray is papered over generally with clean newspapers and on the paper is spread the shapeless brown lumps of fish. Parsley is often strewn over them and a salt box is placed at the discretion of the customer." There is no mention of chips.

Either way, it seems certain that the first fish-and-chip shop was some fifty years after the first English Curry Shop

The National Federation of Fish Fryers say that, in 1995, Britain had about 8,500 chip shops and consumed some 300 Million portions of Fish and Chips, equal to about six for every man, woman and child.

Under the old Public Health Act of 1936 fish frying was an "offensive trade", often requiring licensing and prohibited on the Sabbath. This meant that buying fish and chips from someone whose trade was fish frying was prohibited on a Sunday (or Friday to Saturday in the Jewish areas of London and Manchester) but you could buy fish and chips from a Chinese take-away.

Auguste Escoffier created a rather grand version of fish-and-chips called 'Lord Nelson Sole'

See also: 'Chip-Shop Fried Fish' and 'Potato Chips'

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