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What is the History of Fish and Chips?

Who Invented Fish and Chips?

Crispy batter, flaky fish, and fat, salty chips come together for a dish that is quintessentially British and undeniably delicious. But how much do you really know about fish and chips? Who invented fish and chips? What makes this dish so popular, and why is it so firmly established as a British offering? Are fish and chips British? Here, fish! takes a deep dive into the history of this popular meal.

Timeline of the Evolution of Fish and Chips

The origins of fish and chips are not entirely clear. This dish has been popular in the UK for centuries, but where did fish and chips originate? While it could be argued that the French came up with the idea of frying potatoes into crispy, salty chips, there is no denying that pairing them with fish, and sometimes mushy peas, is a British innovation. How long has this been going on?

  • Possibly as early as the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese Jewish immigrants arrived in the UK, bringing with them the concept of eating fish that has been battered and fried. The dish they prepared with similar to pescado frito, fish coated in flour and fried in oil. It was the perfect option for Shabbat dinner, because it was palatable when eaten cold the next day, with no need to prepare another meal. 
  • Around the same time, chips made their way to the UK. They may have come from France, or perhaps from Belgium, but we know for certain that they have been popular for hundreds of years in England. The first known recipe for chips was published in 1817, in William Kitchiner’s cookbook, “The Cook’s Oracle”.
  • In the 1860s, fish and chips shops started popping up in the UK. Joseph Malin is credited with opening London’s first fish and chips shop, and entrepreneur John Lees sold fish and chips in industrial Lancashire, out of a wooden hut at Mossley market. However, fish and chips were certainly being consumed together before that, since Charles Dickens mentioned this dish in A Tale of Two Cities, written in 1859. By 1910, there were about 25,000 fish and chips shops in the UK, affectionally called chippies. Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, who was born in 1899, grew up over a fish and chips shop in London.
  • The first purposebuilt fishing vessels were built in the 1870s. David Allan designed and built these vessels, including the first steam trawler. The rapid development of trawl fishing, combined with the development of railways connecting ports to major industrial cities, led to fish and chips becoming a standard meal for the British working classes during the second half of the 19th century. Some might even say that fish and chips fuelled the Industrial Revolution!
  • By the 1930s, fish and chips was a dish well-established as a British comfort food. In “The Road to Wigan Pier”, written in 1937, George Orwell highlighted fish and chips as a home comfort that “averted revolution”. It was such a popular dish, in fact, that during World War II, ministers made sure that fish and chips were never rationed, and Winston Churchill referred to this classic combination as “the good companions”.
  • Fish and chips were often served wrapped in old newspapers. In the late 70s or early 80s, this practice was discontinued, as eating food with newsprint on it was deemed an unsafe practice. Now, the dish is served wrapped in food-grade paper, instead.

Fish and Chips Today

Though it is undoubtedly a British dish, fish and chips is a meal now enjoyed throughout the world. In the UK, this tasty meal remains incredibly popular, especially in seaside locations. The modern UK is a multicultural place, and fish and chips gets some healthy competition for “national dish”, notably from chicken tikka masala. However, if you ask most food writers, cooks, and chefs for the culinary symbol of Britishness, fish and chips will come out on top. About 25 per cent of all white fish consumed in the United Kingdom is sold by fish and chip outlets, along with about 10 per cent of all potatoes. The dish gets competition from Chinese food, curry, and pizza for takeaway favourite, but it is still beloved enough to warrant its own holiday: National Fish and Chip Day is held each year in June.

Fish and Chips, with Plenty of Options

When you are ready for mouthwatering fish and chips, we are ready to serve you a delicious beer-battered helping, for in-house dining, takeaway, or delivery. Established in 1999, fish! was the first restaurant in Borough Market and, indeed, the first restaurant of its kind in London. Our fish and chips offerings include cod, haddock, wild halibut, plaice, and more, fried in a beer batter and served with mushy peas and tartare. Of course, you might expect that we would serve this classic, simple, well-loved dish, because that is how we do things at fish! With a focus on providing our customers with the best quality fish, cooked in front of them, in simple and classic ways, we are committed to quality and responsible sourcing. Because we are centrally located in Borough Market, London’s best produce is easily accessible. We source most of our produce from Borough Market, and our fish is delivered daily from our own fishmonger, Jarvis, renowned for its extensive range of the very freshest fish and seafood. Our stunning glass and steel space was originally a Victorian pea-shelling warehouse, and diners enjoy 360-degree views of the market, Southwark Cathedral, and The Shard, as well as soaking in the atmosphere of our beautiful open kitchen. For those looking for a retreat from the chaos of the market, our heated terrace is open all year round, and it is also available for private hire. To make an enquiry or request a reservation, call 020 3376 6234.

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