PPFF #138: Fish and Chips

Good morning,

I know Friday fish and chips as a topic have been written about to death, but as they are one of those quintessentially definitive features of British life, I’ll repeat the same information others have already disseminated. And also someone asked me at the end of last week what was the reason behind the peculiar practice of eating fish and chips on Friday in Britain. At first I thought it was obvious; because the combination of crispy golden batter and soft, succulent white meat of fish, the joy of which is only multiplied by accompaniment of steaming hot, crisp chips, is basically perfect and irresistible, duh – and if we ate these gastronomical wonders every day, first of all we would make everything else unbearably boring hence end up killing ourselves, or we would probably die of heart attack in the 10th week of eating them every day, double duh!

Well, neither of them is actually the reason. Here are the facts. As with most things British, in their origin they weren’t British at all, though they have been successfully appropriated and integrated into the collective British cultural fabric (which also reminds me to mention that Fabric got shut down this week). There are more than a few articles about them online and reading any number of them would reveal the following in common:

  • Eating fried fish on Friday was practised by 16th century Jewish refugees from Portugal who came to Britain.
  • Chips (fried potatoes) came to Britain from 17th century Belgium or France; maybe that’s why they call them French fries in the US
  • Fish and chips were very rarely (if at all) sold together until apparently first sold together by a shop that opened in Bow, East London in 1860, by a Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin.
  • These were later ‘exported’ from England to Scotland and Wales by Italian immigrants.

It’s also claimed that the reason behind fish and chips on Friday in Britain (or at least the fish part) might be the old Christian tradition of meatless Friday meals in commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. This does sort of tie in with the Jewish thing mentioned earlier, as a lot of Christian things have been borrowed from Judaism and it’s possible that they have been post-rationalised for legitimacy.

Enjoy your fish and chips. Have a good Friday