Friday, January 30, 2009

The Quest for Fish & Chips

One of the first things I do whenever I visit my family in England is to treat everyone to fish & chips. Invariably, I am craving them weeks before we go. My parents always warn me that the local "chippy" serves huge portions and not to get too much. I still end up with loads left over, even after we all have heaping plates. The chip shop near my parents' house is not the best, but it's not bad. They're nice people and it's close, so the food stays hot. They also serve mushy peas, the smooshed up processed peas, most often consumed in the North of England, that my Wife has inexplicably developed a taste for.

Since moving to the US, I have often been "tricked" into trying meals posing as fish & chips. My Wife was very excited when a fast food joint close to where we lived changed to a branch of Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips. The food was about as authentic as the premise that Arthur Treacher (an English character actor known for his portrayal of "The perfect English Butler" in movies of the 1930s) had anything to do with fish & chips. Encouragingly, they had malt vinegar, the best authentic condiment, on each table. However, the chips seemed to be made of extruded potato, and quite bizarrely, the meal came with hush puppies (fried cornbread balls) and coleslaw. I have frequently seen my favorite listed on menus, and just about every time I have been disappointed. The best fish and chips I tasted here were at O'Halloran's, the Irish pub I wrote about recently.

Nevertheless, the best fish & chips are British, and a little over a week ago, Chef Simon Rimmer announced the best of the best. Anstruther Fish Bar in Fife, Scotland, beat off about a thousand competitors to win the 2008 title National Fish & Chip Shop of the Year. The shop was frequented by Prince William when he was at university and has also been visited by Robert de Niro, Robert Duvall and Tom Hanks. Organizers Seafish said, "one in every £100 spent on food is in a fish and chip shop" and that chip shop profits are increasing as the economy gets worse. Chippies are caring about sourcing food responsibly too. The winner of the 21st annual award "serves ethically sourced North Sea haddock, Pittenweem prawns and Shetland organic cod from the world’s first sustainable solution to wild cod fisheries."

I'll settle for cod (or the more responsible choice, pollack) and chips at my parents' local chippy. How about you? Do you know a great place to have fish & chips? Please post a comment and let me know.

8 comments:

frugalfamilyjourney said...

We live by a place called Captain D's, which is nearly identical to Arthur Treacher's. My kids love it.

As far as malt vinegar goes, even Long John Silver's has that, and you would be hard pressed to tell their fish from their chicken or even shrimp! It's all an identical mess of deep-fried batter.

I once had shrimp there (Long John Silver's, not Captain D's or Arthur Treacher's) that was rancid and I complained at the counter. They asked if I wanted more. Why would I want more rancid shrimp? My brother said maybe they don't know what rancid means and thought it was something good. "This shrimp is totally rancid, dude!"

Suzi said...

Graham darling, do bring your family to Oregon for fish and chips. Yes, there are salmon f&c (which I don't love) but also superb halibut, cod and other f&c. And heck yes with malt vinegar!

Graham said...

@frugalfamilyjourney - see, the "mystery battered object" is exactly what I've had way too much of! Know any good places?

@Suzi - so there are some good places in the US to eat F&C.

You know, maybe I should start a resource for those with the craving. People could drop a pin in locations where you can get good F&C.

nigeyb said...

Hi, I can't find your map but the details are: Bankers Fish Restaurant, 116a Western Road,
Hove BN1 2AB. Great quality and never let me down yet.

nigeyb said...

Hi, I can't find your map but the details are: Bankers Fish Restaurant, 116a Western Road,
Hove BN1 2AB. Great quality and never let me down yet.

Anonymous said...

Well, the best pie and chips with curry sauce that I have had in America was in A Salt and Battery in Manhattan, NYC, down in the East Village. The owners are from the North, like me, make the pies themselves and I never felt more like at home than in their chippy. Well worth the $10. Now if I only I could find a good doner kebab with the onion relish and proper garlic sauce you get in Holland and Belgium.

Graham said...

Anonymous - since several people have mentioned A Salt and Battery, I feel I must try it some time.

Actually, there are some good Doner Kebabs to be found near where I live. It's not quite the late-night beer-soaked experience I remember from England, but they do taste good.

Anonymous said...

It's a funny thing how much you miss fish and chips when your a former Brit. It must be deeply bred into your bones. But like pizza, everyone has a different idea of what constitutes a good fish supper and tastes vary wildly. Having read your report on the winner of the "Best of Britain" contest, I'm sure it didn't hurt the winner that Prince William ate there. People are like lemmings. I have noticed one thing though, the longer I have been in the USA the less I long for this greasy method of cooking fish. The process inevitably overcooks the fish. Americans just have a better sense of how to cook fish. It says plenty about British taste that until recently most of the fresh fish caught in British waters was sent to France. But I still have happy memories of walking along the seaside and stopping by a little smokehouse and eating fresh smoked fish, or a bag or whelks and mussels. Yum!