fishy business - fish and chips

History of Fish and Chips
In the United Kingdom, fish and chips became a cheap food popular among the working classes with the rapid development of trawl fishing in the North Sea in the second half of the nineteenth century. Before then, fishermen had used long lines to target only large, high-quality demersal (bottom-dwelling) fish, especially valuable sole. Trawlers, on the other hand, landed a mixed catch of high-quality "prime" and cheaper "offal" fish, most of which fishermen initially threw back into the water due to the lack of a market. However, as railway charges fell, it became viable to transport this cheaper fish inland, and demersal fish became a mass-market commodity rather than a costly luxury.

Deep-fried "chips" (slices or pieces) of potato as a dish may have made their first appearance in Britain about the same period: the OED notes as its earliest usage of "chips" in this sense the mention in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (published in 1859): "Husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil". (Note that Belgian tradition, as recorded in a manuscript of 1781, dates the frying of potatoes carved into the shape of fish back at least as far as 1680.)

The modern fish-and-chip shop ("chippy" in modern British slang) originated in the United Kingdom, although outlets selling fried food occurred commonly throughout Europe. According to one story, fried-potato shops spreading south from Scotland merged with fried-fish shops spreading from southern England. Early fish-and-chip shops had only very basic facilities. Usually these consisted principally of a large cauldron of cooking-fat, heated by a coal fire. Unsanitary by modern standards, such establishments also emitted a smell associated with frying, which led to the authorities classifying fish-and-chip supply as an "offensive trade", a stigma retained until the interwar period. The industry overcame this reputation because during World War II fish and chips remained one of the few foods in the United Kingdom not subject to rationing.

Deep-fried fish and deep-fried chips have appeared separately on menus for many years, though potatoes did not reach Europe until the 17th century. The originally Sephardi dish pescado frito, or deep-fried fish, came to the Netherlands and England with the Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the 17th and 18th centuries. (History credits the Portuguese with introducing the dish to Japan: see tempura.)

The dish became popular in wider circles in London and South East England in the middle of the 19th century (Charles Dickens mentions a "fried fish warehouse" in Oliver Twist, first published in 1838) whilst in the north of England a trade in deep-fried "chipped" potatoes developed. The first chip shop stood on the present site of Oldham's Tommyfield Market. It remains unclear exactly when and where these two trades combined to become the fish-and-chip shop industry we know today. Joseph Malin opened the first recorded combined fish-and-chip shop in London in 1860 or in 1865 while a Mr Lees pioneered the concept in the North of England in Mossley, Lancashire in 1863. For more information go to the Wikipedia fish and chips page

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