Fish and chips at the seaside are what British childhood memories are made of, but whenever I've visited a UK seaside town I've found over-cooked chips offered in polystyrene burger boxes which hardly enhance their appearance, taste, or their reputation. It seems there are others who want that high standard back as I've recently discovered the National Fish and Chip Shop of the Year competition.
This annual contest is organised by Seafish and is judged by them along with the British Potato Council, the National Federation of Fish Friars, and preview winners. Each chip shop is assessed on more than just the taste of their fish and chips as fish quality and sustainable sourcing practices are checked, as well as customer service and hygiene standards.
The 2011 winner was 149 in Bridlington, East Yorkshire run by Matthew Silk and Tracy Poskitt who are both passionate about quality and raising the profile of fish and chips. I was impressed to see that even their Maris Piper potatoes are farmed locally.
History of Fish and Chips
Fish and chips became a common meal for the British working classes in the 19th century due to trawl fishing in the North Sea and the railways that connected ports to the cities. Charles Dickens mentioned fried fish in his 1837 novel Oliver Twist, and deep-fried chipped potatoes were gaining popularity in the north of England at the same time. Inevitably the ideas collided and combined and by the 1850s there were street traders who sold pieces of fried fish and cooked 'shaved' potatoes in newspapers on the streets of London. And over the following decade the idea spread across the country.
Other meals now vie for our attention, and the national dish of England has probably moved on from fish and chips, or even the Sunday roast, to the more internationally flavoured Chicken Tikka Masala. But it has not fallen completely out of favour as there are around 11,000 fish and chip shops across the UK which sell 382 million meals each year. The nice people at Seafish have worked out that's six meals from a fish and chip shop for every man, woman and child in the UK.
While burgers and fries have grabbed the attention of the young, it's clear why obesity levels are rising. The average high street chain burger has 14.8 grams of fat per 100 grams and French fries have 15.5 grams of fat. Fish and chips are hardly slimming foods but they actually only have on average 9.4 grams of fat per 100 grams so can still be enjoyed in moderation.
Next time you're in the UK, enjoy this traditional meal at the end of the day knowing 80% of all fish and chip meals from fish and chip shops are bought during dinner hours. All that's left to debate is what the best accompaniment is: salt, vinegar, tomato sauce, mayonnaise, or curry sauce?
Laura Porter exclusively for ISIC-IT( the mother ship of SEAS-IT). She writes the About.com London Travel site (which includes a list of the Best Fish and Chips in London) and is a regular contributor to the VisitBritain Super Blog. Follow her on Twitter at @AboutLondon