Copyright (C) 2018 by Michael Rickard II
Fish and chips, an English tradition
My trip to England saw me enjoying some great food, but no trip to the U.K. would be complete without partaking of some fish and chips. For whatever reason, I hadn’t gone to any fish and chips shops while in London, but that changed when I got to Lincoln. As fortune would have it, I stumbled upon one of the best fish and chips shops in England—at least that’s what I was told. What would my experience really be like and what’s the deal with fish and chips anyways? Rare is the time when you go wrong by recommendations from the locals and this was no different. My Air BnB host asked me what type of food I was hungry for and I told her fish and chips. She told me I was in luck as the U.K. had hosted a “Best Fish and Chips” competition with a local restaurant, Burton Road Chippy, winning second place. I decided to check the restaurant out and hobbled my way over. This was one of the only times I was able to navigate Lincoln without getting lost. I walked to the restaurant, entering at a good time. A large party was just leaving so I didn’t have to deal with a scarcity of servers. My server asked me what I wanted and I told him I’d heard they won second place in the national fish and chips contest. I ordered a large order of fish and chips. Unlike fish fries in the States, this didn’t have the usual accompaniment of coleslaw, macaroni salad, and bread.
2nd place but still fantastic!
Fish and chips date back to the 19th century in England, but a 2009 BBC article suggests they originated in 17th century Belgium or France (Alexander). According to James Alexander, “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.” An interesting story, but what of fish and chips in England? Fried fish vendors can be found in Charles Dickens’ 1839 novel Oliver Twist and are mentioned in Henry Mayhew’s 1851 collection of his survey of London’s working poor, London Labour and the London Poor. Fish and chips were not served together, but that quickly changed, with the two becoming inseparable.
Like most firsts, there are competing claims to the title of where fish and chips originated in England. Northern England’s Lancashire boasts the first fish and chips were sold by one John Lees, sometime around 1863. However, London has laid claim to the original home of fish and chips, pointing to Jewish immigrant Joseph Malin’s fish and chips shop. While we may never know who had the first fish and chips shop, there’s no denying its popularity, becoming an integral part of English fare. Before long, fish and chips shops spread into Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Great Britain went out of its way to ensure fish and chips remained on the home front during both world wars, one of the few traditional meals not affected by rationing—although the supply could still be tight (Castelow).
Burton Road Chippy
So how was the fish at Burton Road Chippy? Did it live up to its 2nd place rank in the 2018 National Fish and Chips Award? I didn’t get a chance to sample the other eateries in the top five (although that would have been fun), but this was one tasty plate of fish. The chips, not so much. The fish was a generous portion of fried haddock that had a tasty batter (but not overpowering). The fish was tender and flaky with nothing to complain about. The fries were good, but I think I was expecting something more than what I got. There was a generous portion of fries but I’ve had so many different types of French fries that perhaps I’m spoiled. Burton Road Chippy was reasonably priced. I paid 9.75 pounds for my large dinner and a pound or two for my soft drink. There were a number of side dishes and fish fry alternatives but I was there for the fish and chips and didn’t care about anything else. The restaurant was clean and the service was excellent.
Excellent fish and chips!
If you’re ever in Lincoln, check out Burton Road Chippy. With fish and chips checked off on my UK “to do” list, I had one more remaining—presenting my paper at Bishop Grosseteste’s Monster Conference. While I felt I was ready for the presentation, I’d soon find myself lost in Lincoln.
Alexander, James. “The unlikely origin of fish and chips.” BBC. BBC News Magazine. 9 Dec. 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8419026.stm. Accessed 18 Sept. 2018.
Castelow, Ellen. “The History of Fish and Chips.” Historic UK. Culture UK. https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Fish-Chips. Accessed 18 Sept.
Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor. Penguin Classics, Reprint Edition, 1985.