Nothing in British cuisine is as iconic as the fish and chips meal. Fresh out of the frier and served with mushy peas in old newspaper, fish and chips came from humble origins to become England’s national dish. And with “chippies” strewn throughout Britain’s towns and cities, you’re bound to have the chance to try some for yourself on your trip to the island! But how, when, and where did this dish come about? Compared to Britain’s long history, the fish and chips dish is a relatively recent phenomenon dating only to the late 19th century.
Fish and Potatoes in Great Britain
Despite the nation’s location on an island, British cuisine historically hasn’t placed a lot of emphasis on fish. The Romans introduced foods such as sausages and rabbit, and by the time of the Anglo-Saxon kings, bacon was popular. Both fish and potatoes didn’t really enter the picture of British food culture until the discovery of the New World in 1492. Potatoes were brought over to the British Isles from America, and the British enthusiastically adopted it into their diet, alongside luxuries like sugar and chocolate. The practice of frying fish is thought to have been brought over from Spanish and Portuguese Jewish immigrants to the island.
The First Fish and Chip Shop
The title of “first fish and chip shop in the UK” is hotly debated. Charles Dickens mentions a “fried fish warehouse” in Oliver Twist, so there may have been shops open around this time. Many point to the shop opened by Jewish immigrant Joseph Malin in London in the 1860s, or the shops opened by John Lees in Lancashire, as the first chippies in the country. However, the shops of this time period were often operated out of the front of one’s home, not as the dedicated establishments we might think of today.
Growth in Popularity
Fish and chips were primarily seen as a working class meal in Britain up until the time of World War II. During the time of the war, Britain’s population had to ration most basic foods and goods – however, fish and chips were not subject to these restrictions, and so many people, regardless of class, began to love the meal. In some places during the war, the queue at some chippies could be a couple of hours long! Nowadays, fish and chip establishments are everywhere in the country, and most people associate the dish with a nice weekend seaside in towns such as Brighton. If you want to visit the oldest fish and chip shop in England, check out The Rock and Sole Plaice in Covent Garden, London, which opened way back in 1871!
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