On National Fish and Chip Day - Make mine rock eel and chips with scraps...
- Credit: PA
It's National Fish and Chip Day. Lynne Mortimer has been eating really healthy food for a week so that she can treat herself to a feast from the chippie.
Fish and chip supper day falls, naturally, on a Friday – traditionally the day for fish and chips.
Once upon a cholesterol-unaware time, fish and chip day was every Friday. I would cycle round to the local chippie and order for the whole family and that was cod and chips for dad, rock eel and chips for mum and me, and a battered sausage and chips for my younger sister.
The queue was often out of the door and into the street and, as you reached the doorway, the fryer of the day would take your order and put your fish into the seething hot vat of dripping to fry. The fat would bubble up as the fish went in.
In the queue, there was rarely much chatter. Everyone would be fixated on watching through the glass-sided counter for their fish to arrive in the holding bay.
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Meanwhile, someone would be serving and, as you approached the till, you would keep an anxious eye on the chips... would there be enough or would you have to wait for the next batch?
As the fish was cooked, the fryer would scoop the stray crumbs of batter out of the pan and put them to one side. These were the 'scraps' and you had to know about them to ask for them.
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There was none of that mushy peas nonsense in our chippie (there's a mushy pea stall on Norwich Market for that – it's been there since 1949). Pickled eggs, pickled onions, buttered rolls, scallops (battered slices of potato), and bottles of White's lemonade were the usual extras. Later came pineapple rings, saveloys, pickled wallys, chicken nuggets, pies and peas, then gravy (gravy with chips? Noooo!), curry sauce (double noooo!), and today, just about anything goes – spring rolls, tartare sauce, a sprig of parsley for the posh, veggie burgers for the meat-free. In Dundee in 1979, I was treated to white pudding and chips... don't ask. I understand you can also get deep-fried Mars bars in northern parts and I hear tell dark tales of deep-fried Creme Egg and Snickers.
In the purist 60s, the fish supper would be wrapped in a sheet of white paper before being double-wrapped in real ink-printed newspaper. It was usually this newspaper but sometimes we got the Financial Times and I always wondered how come. It seems unlikely the newsagent over-ordered – he probably needed only one a day.
I would put the parcel of fish and chips into a carrier bag, load it into my bike's saddle bag and pedal home like the very clappers so supper didn't get cold. My hands would be slightly greasy and smeared with newsprint... I'm pretty sure that's not why I wanted to be a journalist.
At home, the table would be set with non-fish knives and forks and side plates. The glass bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup and the Sarsons vinegar would be placed beside the salt and pepper, and a plate of buttered, white sliced bread made the entire set up look mouth-wateringly good.
We always decanted our fish and chips on to plates and ate at the table. This made it a respectable meal rather than the country's first fast food.
In the 80s, I was still eating rock eel. My husband (since 1978) would also have rock eel although he occasionally had skate. Our daughter was a pineapple ring and chips and our son had chicken nuggets. The cat, which would sit patiently under the table as we ate, would get the bone out of the rock eel. By then, fish and chips was a once-a-month treat. Today, we go to the chippie maybe three or four times a year.
In the noughties, we enjoyed a weekend on a narrow boat with friends and, stopping off at a canal-side pub, we ordered fish and chips. 'Do you want real peas or mushy peas with that?' asked the waitress.
I tentatively asked for 'real peas' and was presented with tinned garden peas... hadn't seen those since 1975.
Over the years, I imagine takeaway fish and chip frequency has waned although there are still queues... more people, fewer chippies, I suppose. Real newspaper is gone although some chip shops use newspaper-patterned paper.
The best fish and chips, I think, are still the ones eaten out of paper on the seafront (as long as the gulls aren't about). For elegant seafront dining, you may get a polystyrene or recycled cardboard tray and a little wooden spear. Light vegetable oils have replaced those hefty slabs of beef dripping but it is essentially the same and as delicious as it has always been, the sea air giving a dusting of extra salt.
National Fish and Chip Day: Following the success of last year's inaugural National Fish and Chip Day, The National Edible Oil Distributors' Association (NEODA) has announced this years fish and chip day is on Friday, June 2.