It’s food month and, while I was trying to think of some obscure meals not even I’d heard of (and I like my worldly foods!), I decided instead to stick to a staple classic, born from England’s Industrial Revolution.
The good old potato – too starchy to count as one of our five-a-day but still everyone’s favourite vegetable – found its way to England in the seventeenth century by Walter Raleigh. One day, many years later, a very smart and beautiful person decided to fry them and created the chip (although they’re referred to as a denomination of ‘fries’ in nearly every country but England and Australia).
Chips became a common, cheap food in Lancashire in the nineteenth century as it was an affordable and quick meal for a population that was becoming heavily industrial. Fried fish is believed to have been thought up somewhere in London’s East End.
Fish and Chips have become synonymous with England in popular culture, but it’s not an exaggerated stereotype that it is incredibly popular in the UK. Traditionally in Christianity, Fridays are usually days to substitute meat with fish. This tradition in England has stuck with many families, even with decline in religious beliefs, and in England it’s pretty traditional to have fish and chips on a Friday. Chip shops are incredibly common in England so that no estate goes without one. The Hull Daily Mail claimed in 1936 that the fish and chip trade in England “is one which plays an important role in the lives of the people in this country”, not only by being one of the biggest customers of the British fishing industry but because of its cheap and easy availability. In 1926, one particular enthusiast about the British diet claimed in the Essex Newsman that more fish and chips was consumed by thousands of families than bread. Although not exactly held up by actual statistics, this still gives a rather strong image of the meal’s popularity.
Fish and Chip shops were originally small family businesses, which actually operated out of the front rooms of family homes. In the early days of Chip shops, regulations were lax and accidents occurred more than often. The same Hull Daily Mail article mentioned earlier underlines how at the time (1936) new regulations were being put in place to stop any old shop popping up where it pleased, without adhering to health standards. By the end of the nineteenth century, fish and chips were commonplace, and the trade was heavily expanded due to the growing demand of the growing industrial population (and, of course, by holiday-makers who craved their chips on a seaside getaway).