Fish and chips is definitely the favourite takeaway in Britain, but there has been an attempt to make it a trendier dish.
When asking for fish and chips in a rather upmarket hotel in Liverpool, I was amazed when they came wrapped in a copy of the Daily Catch, a fictitious newspaper, with chips in a little pail and the mushy peas in a small china dish. It was initially quite interesting. I’m the sort of person who reads the labels on sauce bottles, sad I know, but it was a difficult to read the history of fish and chips when most of the chips were stuck to the greaseproof paper.
Michael Jackson loved fish and chips with mushy peas
However, I embraced the idea behind it of the old-fashioned way of serving them wrapped in newspapers, although I fear that quality may often be sacrificed in the name of trendiness, but foreign visitors to the city will be delighted at what they perceive to be something typically British.
As long as they don’t mess about with our fish and chip shops.
There are often complaints about the cost of fish and chips, but it is possible to get a really good value meal for under a tenner.
Of course they were cheaper in the old days when the fish were caught by trawlers in the North Sea.
I think in the days when the average weekly wage was around £10 a week, it was possible to buy a fish and chip supper for 3d for chips and 7d fish.
Purists may argue that things are not the same now most of the cooking is with oil and not dripping, but with 80 per cent of the British population visiting their local chippy frequently it does not seem that we are getting fed up (no pun intended) with our national dish.
Winston Churchill called them ‘The good companions’, John Lennon covered his with tomato sauce, and Michael Jackson loved them with mushy peas.
Even George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier puts fish and chips among the home comforts that keep the working-class masses happy.
We all have fond memories of dark winter nights, coming home from the cinema, calling at the chippy, lashings of salt and vinegar, greaseproof paper and newspaper, with the chips so hot that they burnt our fingers.
During the 1950s there was a custom called ‘cobbing’, when school children purchased small white loaves from the bakers, the bread from the middle scooped out and then presented over the chip shop counter where it was filled with chips, and another delicacy, scraps.
Everyone in Sheffield has their favourite fish and chip shop and some of them have been around for a very long time. The Two Steps on Sharrowvale Road boasts of being the oldest in Sheffield dating from 1895. It was opened originally by James Bolton and Nan and Graham ran it for 34 years up to the 1980s.
The name originates from the Second World War when there were soldiers stationed in the area. There were at that time, five chip shops locally and so they identified their favourite by referring to the two steps leading up to the shop.
Customers can learn a bit of Sharrowvale history by looking at the old photos while they are waiting.
Another well-known purveyor of our national dish was Chip Shop Tony who had a considerable number of shops dating from the 1950s.
Today, Richard Pearce with an excellent fish and chip restaurant/takeaway in Attercliffe is the third generation of the family whose Great Aunt Eliza opened their first fish and chip shop in Sheffield in the 1930s, using a special batter recipe that is still used today.
One of my favourite cafes was always the Mary Gentle on Howard Street, famous for fish and chips and which later became The Harlequin which also had a restaurant in the back. It was much missed when it closed in 2003.
Tales are also told of the chippy in the row of shops leading down to Pond Street Bus Station where it was possible to lean on the wall and drop chips down onto the unsuspecting passers-by.
In Sheffield chips especially are immortalised by the Greasy Chip Butty Song chanted at every Sheffield United football match. Originating in 1985 and to the tune of John Denver’s Annie’s Song, the song waxes lyrical about many of the dubious delights of Sheffield, like Magnet Bitter (no longer available.) Woodbines which were very strong cigarettes, Wilsons Snuff, made for many years in Sheffield, and chips in a butty, which is local dialect for sandwich.
Unfortunately there was no room in the song for Henderson’s Relish.
In 2007, in tribute to a visit to the club by Sheffield United’s Chinese sister team Chengdu Blades, the words were changed on that occasion to the Greasy Egg Noodle Song.
There is no doubt the thought of mouth-watering moist white fish in crisp golden batter served with a generous portion of hot fluffy chips is one of the things you most look forward to when you come back home from a holiday overseas.