The traditional fillet of fish fried in batter or rolled in breadcrumbs and served with chips probably started in London around 1860. This British fast-food favourite that is as emblematic of the UK as the double-decker bus and the red telephone box and now even has Michelin starred chefs falling for it!
It’s difficult to pinpoint the actual birth of this iconic British dish that has now, in one form or another, spread around the globe - from Australia to New Zealand and South Africa to Canada. In Oliver Twist, Dickens in 1839 was the first to mention a shop selling fried fish. Chips were also known at the time yet there was no indication of any association between the two. It’s also said that a primitive version of the dish (pescado frito) was introduced to England in the 17th century and 18th century by Sephardic Jews from Portugal.
With the development of trawl fishing in the North Sea, the consumption of fish was widespread amongst the British working class during the second half of the 19th century. But it wasn’t until 1860 that a Jewish merchant named Joseph Malin instigated the marriage of fish and potato and sold it directly from his shop in London. There is also a noteworthy claim from the city of Lancaster as the birthplace of this jewel in the British crown.
Cod is the usual fish of preference for English Fish and Chips but you’ll also find plaice or skate on offer, whilst in the North, haddock is predominantly used.
Now an example of hygiene, Fish and Chips was, for a long time, served wrapped in newspaper - perhaps one reason why the British press was keen to conserve the broadsheet format. These days it’s served wrapped in plain paper or cardboard Big Mac style packaging.
In fact, faced with competition from the all-pervading American hamburger, Fish and Chips is shaping up remarkably well and remains the pillar of take away fast food in the UK.