If you eat out fairly often in Rotterdam you might have noticed that “Fish & Chips” is being offered ever more frequently on menus. These two English words jump out of the otherwise Dutch menu suggesting that no further explanation is required. Indeed, what you will get is fish, deep-fried in batter, and chips (the English definition of the word “chips”). Fish & Chips seem to be the “must have” dish of the moment, with many chefs trying to put their own “twist” on it. My advice, coming from a Brit, is please don’t change what is already perfect!
I lived in London up to the age of 25 and remember the time when the queue for fish and chips stretched outside the shop and around the corner; especially on Friday evenings at “frying time”. All shops used to display the times of frying so that you could be sure of taking home a piping hot Fish & Chip supper and, of course, it was always wrapped in newspaper. Newspaper!!!! By today’s standards that would have been enough to make Health & Safety shake in their boots. Chips were always thick and never crispy, covered in salt (like it or not) with the option of shaking on a good helping of malt vinegar from the bottle standing on the counter (no fancy schmancy vinegars, just good old malt). A pickled boiled egg (ugh!) or a large pickled gherkin could also be purchased as an accompaniment to the dish. Nowadays mushy peas seem to be the favoured side.
London and Lancashire both lay claim to opening the first shop in the 1860’s selling fish and chip together. However Charles Dickens wrote about a “fried fish warehouse” in his novel Oliver Twist in 1839 and mentioned chips in A Tale of Two Cities in 1859.
Like most foods these days, Fish & Chips has taken its turn under the spotlight and has, in the past, received a bad press by health food critics. But in actual fact it seems that the dish is a good source of nutrients; containing protein, fibre, iron and vitamins and is no longer seen as a dish which was once considered a meal for the, so called, working classes. It has even been seen on the menus of prestigious restaurants in London such as The Ivy, Le Caprice and Scott’s. Apparently even Winston Churchill referred to Fish & Chips as “the good companions”.
Of course, the Dutch are not strangers to a good piece of fried fish themselves, calling it “lekkerbekje”. The batter is not exactly the same as you would find in Britain but is equally as delicious. Many fish shops choose panga fillets to fry in batter but they are usually happy to fry you up a piece of fish of your choice while you wait. I have not yet come across any Dutch fish shop which also sells chips. I think they are missing a trick here! You might also like to try the delicious Dutch snack “kibbeling”. These are made from the off-cuts of fish which are also battered and deep fried. Lekker!
A good plate of fish and chips is a culinary delight and it doesn’t have to be prepared in any fancy cheffy way with triple-fried chips or batter made with champagne. It can be equally as mouthwatering cooked in your own kitchen following a simple recipe. Fish & Chips is one of Britain’s favourite dishes and long may it remain so. Perhaps it will soon become one of Holland’s favourites as well. I can’t imagine Pie & Mash or Jellied Eels making an appearance on Dutch menus any time soon. Londoners out there will know exactly what I’m talking about.