Fish and chips are among the most popular dishes in the United Kingdom, but there are many different ways to eat this iconic seafood dish. Ask five different British people how they take their fish and chips, and you’re likely to end up with five different answers.
Most people in Britain eat fish and chips dressed in salt and vinegar with a choice of condiment, such as tartare sauce or tomato ketchup. Some people however prefer lemon juice to vinegar, and many Brits choose additional accompaniments, such as mushy peas, curry sauce, gherkins or pickled eggs for example.
Even though it’s relatively simple food, fish and chips still command the loyalty of us Brits as one of the most consumed dishes across the Isles.
Because it can be cooked reasonably quickly through deep frying, fish and chips are a favourite food served in restaurants, pubs, street food stands and of course, fish and chip shops.
Read on to learn more about fish and chips and the typical British way of eating them.
What Are Fish and Chips?
Fish and chips are a popular fast food in Britain, usually made of white fish such as cod or haddock, deep-fried in batter with a side of sliced, fried potato chips. The first fish and chips stand was set up in Britain in 1860 by Joseph Malin, which means that this iconic street food has been around for almost two centuries. (Source: Historic UK)
Because it’s such a common and popular dinner, fish and chips are symbolic of British culture. It’s also one of the most popular foods in Britain with foreign visitors.
During World War I and World War II, fish and chips were one of the few forms of food in Britain that were not subject to military rationing. This easy access in stressful times made the meal more popular than ever.
Do You Eat Fish and Chips with Your Hands?
Eating fish and chips with your hands or a fork is a matter of personal preference (mainly when the dish is served in take-away form). However, since tartare sauce or ketchup is often eaten alongside the fish, many people in Britain will eat their fried fish with a small wooden fork and will eat the chips with their hands. As a more formal, sit-down meal, a regular knife and fork would typically be used.
What Do the British Put on Their Fish and Chips?
Malt vinegar and salt are the most popular condiments used on fish and chips, and many British people will eat fish and chips just like that. There are other condiments and sauces used on fish and chips though. Here are a few of the other condiments you’ll commonly find served alongside fish and chips:
- White/Onion vinegar: Malt vinegar is the most popular type of vinegar served on fish and chips, though plain white vinegar or onion vinegar is sometimes also used. Malt vinegar is created by malting barley and gives this vinegar type a tangy, unique flavour.
- Tartare sauce: Tartare sauce is a creamy white sauce composed of herbs, capers, pickles, and mayonnaise. Tartare sauce is often served with a wedge of lemon that is squeezed over the battered fish.
- Tomato ketchup – Frowned upon by some, but there’s no getting away from the fact that many Brits love tomato ketchup with their fish and chips.
Some people also put alternative condiments on fish and chips, such as curry sauce or brown sauce, but these condiments are not quite as popular as the traditional salt and malt vinegar.
What Side Dishes Are Served with Fish and Chips?
Some fish and chip stalls serve fish with nothing but chips for the sake of practicality, but if you get fish and chips in a traditional shop or in a sit-down cafe, pub or restaurant in Britain, you’re likely to be served some side dishes along with it. These are some of the items that are commonly served with fish and chips:
- Mushy peas: Mushy peas is a dish of mashed English peas. This provides a sweet flavour contrast to the rich salty flavours of the fish and chips, adding balance to the meal.
- Pickled onions: Pickled onions as a garnish for fish and chips act as a way to cut the richness of the fried foods with some acidity, texture and crunch.
- Gherkins: Gherkins are pickles that are essentially baby cucumbers. These small pickles are the perfect size to accompany a serving of fish and chips, or as a palate cleanser.
- Baked beans: While typically served with other traditional British dishes, baked beans are a popular side dish to fish and chips for some Brits.
- Saveloys: Saveloys are a special kind of long red sausage served as a side dish to fish and chips, or as an alternative to the fish. Saveloys are boiled like a frankfurter hot dog.
The thing that sides for fish and chips usually have in common is that they have strong flavours that contrast with the greasy, relatively neutral flavour of fried fish and potato chips.
Do The British Eat Anything But Fish and Chips?
Britain is known for many famous dishes, not just fish and chips. Fish and chips are just a dish that enjoys nationwide popularity because it’s reasonably inexpensive, easy to find, and downright delectable. Here’s some of the other famous dishes that can be found in Britain to try when you get tired of fish and chips:
- Bangers and mash: Bangers and mash is a popular pub dish consisting of fried sausages and mashed potatoes slathered in a brown gravy. (Source: Daring Gourmet)
- Full English Breakfast: The Full English Breakfast is one of the most well-recognised British meals outside of Britain other than fish and chips. Along with standard breakfast items such as fried eggs, sausages, toast, and bacon, a Full English Breakfast also includes items such as baked beans, roasted tomatoes, fried mushrooms, and black (blood) pudding.
- Steak and kidney pies: Steak and kidney pies are a savoury type of pie stuffed with diced beef, kidneys, onions, and gravy in a pastry casing. Meat pies are a popular dinner served in British pubs.
Even though fish and chips are the king of fast food in Britain, there are plenty of other tasty dishes to try in the UK while you’re there.
Can You Make Fish and Chips at Home?
Ordering fish and chips from a fish and chips shop may be the most traditional way to try this iconic British meal, but one of the advantages of fish and chips is that this dish can be easily reproduced in the home kitchen. Here is a list of ingredients you’ll need to make fish and chips no matter where in the world you live (Source: AllRecipes):
- 1.5 pounds fillets of white fish (cod is a popular choice)
- Fish frying batter mix or seasoned flour
- 1 egg
- 1 cup milk
- Oil for frying
- 4 potatoes, sliced
- Salt and malt vinegar for serving
Before starting, preheat your pot of oil to make sure it’s nice and hot before adding anything. A piece of potato can be used to test the oil. When it floats to the top of the oil, the oil is hot enough for frying. Fry your sliced potatoes before starting the fried fish so that they can be draining on paper towels. Mix the milk and egg together lightly with a fork in a shallow dish.
Wash the fish fillets in a mixture of milk and lightly beaten egg. After washing, dredge the fish fillets in flour or batter mix before deep-frying for several minutes until golden brown. Remove the fried fish and set aside on paper towels to drain off excess oil. Throw the fried potatoes back into the hot oil for one or two additional minutes to add extra crispness.
Once the fish and potatoes are fried and drained, salt generously and serve with malt vinegar. Congratulations, you made fish and chips!
Chicken Tikka Masala might be considered as the national dish of Great Britain, but if you asked British people what meal was closest to their heart, many would say fish and chips. It might be a simple meal, but there’s no denying its mass appeal to the British people as well as visitors from abroad.
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