Fish and chips, photographed in Norfolk, United Kingdom.
A reinterpretation of the classic dish, photographed in Karachi, Pakistan

Fish and chips (sometimes written "fish 'n' chips") is a popular take-away food that originated in the United Kingdom in 1858 or 1863.[1] It consists of deep-fried fish (traditionally cod, haddock or plaice) in batter or breadcrumbs with deep-fried chipped (slab-cut) potatoes.

Popular tradition associates the dish with the United Kingdom and Ireland, to the point of becoming a cliché. The dish remains very popular in the UK and in areas colonised by British people in the 19th century, such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. It has also been popular in the Faroe Islands since the time it was introduced during the British occupation of the Faroe Islands in World War II.[citation needed]


Main article: British cuisine

Service counter in a Dublin, Ireland, fish-and-chip shop
Fish and chips in a kebab shop in Helsinki, Finland.

In the 1500's, persecuted Portuguese Jews came to the UK, bringing Pescado frito with them, and adding it to British cuisine. Secondly, British cooks learnt how to make French Fries from France, with British housewives developing a tradition to cut a piece of potato shaped like a fish on Friday if their husband failed to return from fishing with a suitable meal.

Fish and chips became a popular meal among the working classes with the rapid development of trawl fishing in the North Sea in the second half of the nineteenth century.[2] In 1860, the first fish and chip shop was opened in London by Jewish proprietor Joseph Malin[3] who married together "fish fried in the Jewish fashion"[4] with chips.

Deep-fried "chips" (slices or pieces of potato) as a dish, may have first appeared in Britain in 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.)[5]

The modern fish-and-chip shop ("chippy" or "chipper" in modern British slang[6][7]) 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.[citation needed] 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. Insanitary 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",[citation needed] 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.[8]

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the Fish Labelling Regulations 2003[9] enact directive 2065/2001/EC and generally means that "fish" must be sold with the particular species named; so "cod and chips" not "fish and chips". The Food Standards Agency guidance excludes caterers from this;[10] but several local Trading Standards authorities and others do say it cannot be sold merely as "fish and chips".[11][12][13]


A blue plaque marking the first chip shop in Britain, in Oldham, Lancashire

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.[14] 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, Greater Manchester in 1863.[15]

The concept of a "Fish Restaurant" was introduced by Samuel Isaacs (born 1856 in Whitechapel, London; died 1939 in Brighton, Sussex) who ran a thriving wholesale and retail fish business throughout London and the South of England in the latter part of the 1800s. Isaacs' first restaurant opened in London in 1896 serving fish & chips, bread & butter and tea for nine pence,[16] and its popularity ensured a rapid expansion of the chain. The restaurants were carpeted, had waited service, table cloths, flowers, china and cutlery, and made the trappings of upmarket dining affordable to the working classes for the first time. They were located in Tottenham Court Road, St. Pancras, The Strand, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Brixton and other London districts, as well as Clacton, Brighton, Ramsgate, Margate and other seaside resorts in southern England. Menus were expanded in the early 1900s to include meat dishes and other variations as their popularity grew to a total of thirty restaurants. Sam Isaacs' trademark was the phrase "This is the Plaice" combined with a picture of the punned fish in question. A glimpse of the old Brighton restaurant at No.1 Marine Parade can be seen in the background of Norman Wisdom's 1955 film One Good Turn just as Norman/Pitkin runs onto the seafront. Coincidentally, this is now the site of Harry Ramsden's fish restaurant.


Fish and chips traditionally wrapped in white paper and newspaper, Stromness, Orkney.

Main article: Scottish cuisine

Dundee City Council claims that " the 1870s, that glory of British gastronomy - the chip - was first sold by Belgian immigrant Edward De Gernier in the city’s Greenmarket."[17]

In Edinburgh a combination of Gold Star brown sauce and water or malt vinegar, known either simply as "sauce", or more specifically as "chippy sauce", has great popularity.[18]


Main article: Irish cuisine

In Ireland the first fish and chips were sold by an Italian immigrant, Giuseppe Cervi, who had stepped off an America-bound ship at Cobh and walked to Dublin. He started by selling fish and chips outside pubs from a handcart. He then found a permanent spot in Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street). His wife Palma would ask customers "Uno di questa, uno di quella?" This phrase (meaning "one of this, one of the other") entered the vernacular in Dublin as "one and one", which is still a common way of referring to fish and chips in the city.[7]



Frying range

Traditional frying uses beef dripping or lard; however, vegetable oils, such as peanut oil (used due to its relatively high smoke-point) now predominate. A minority of vendors in the north of England and Scotland and the majority of vendors in Northern Ireland still use dripping or lard, as it imparts a different flavour to the dish, but it has the side-effect of making the fried chips unsuitable for vegetarians and for adherents of certain faiths. Lard continues in use in some other cases in the UK, especially in Living Industrial History Museums, such as the Black Country Living Museum.

In the UK, waste fat from fish and chip shops has become a useful source of biodiesel.[19]


Fish and sliced crisps served with coleslaw in the US
Fish and chips, photographed Williamstown[disambiguation needed], Australia.
Fish and chips at a Hesburger fast food restaurant in Finland, advertised as particularly British.

The British usually serve thicker slabs of potato than the french fries popularised by major multinational US hamburger chains, resulting in a lower fat content per portion. In their homes or in non-chain restaurants, people in or from the US may eat a thick type of chip, more similar to the British variant, called "home fries" or "steak fries".[20][21]

Cooking fat penetrates a relatively shallow depth into the potato during cooking, thus the surface area reflects the fat content proportionally. Thick chips have a smaller surface area per unit weight than French fries and thus absorb less oil per weight of potato. Chips also require a somewhat longer cooking time than fries.

Despite the differences in terminology, the combination of strips of potato flesh served hot with fish still has the name "fish and chips" in most US restaurants which serve the dish, but a few US restaurants will offer "crisps" instead of "fries" when a consumer orders "fish and chips".[22][23]


UK chippies traditionally use a simple water and flour batter, adding a little sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and a little vinegar to create lightness as they create bubbles in the batter. Other recipes may use beer or milk batter, where these liquids are often substitutes for water. The carbon dioxide in the beer lends a lighter texture to the batter, and also an orange-brown colour. A simple beer batter might consist of a 2:3 ratio of flour to beer by volume. The type of beer makes the batter taste different: some prefer lager[24][25] whereas others use stout and bitter. In all cases, the alcohol itself is cooked off, so little or none remains in the finished product.

Choice of fish

In Britain and Ireland, haddock and cod appear most commonly as the fish used for fish and chips,[26] but vendors also sell many other kinds of fish, especially other white fish, such as pollock or coley; plaice; skate (called "ray" in Ireland, where it is popular); and huss or rock salmon (a term covering several species of now endangered dogfish and similar fish). In some areas of southwestern and northern England, and throughout the vast majority of Scotland, haddock predominates. Indeed, in one part of West Yorkshire, the area between Bradford, Halifax and Keighley known as the "Haddock Triangle", very few shops offer cod on their menu.[citation needed] In Northern Ireland, cod, plaice or whiting appear most commonly in "fish suppers". Suppliers in Devon and Cornwall regularly offer pollock and coley as cheap alternatives to haddock due to their regular availability in a common catch. As a cheap, nutritious, savoury and common alternative to a whole piece of fish, fish-and-chips shops around the UK supply small battered rissoles of compressed cod roe. In Bradford most of the fish served here is haddock as is the same in leeds and other parts of west yorkshire.

Australians prefer reef-cod (a different variety from that used in the United Kingdom), barramundi or flake, a type of shark meat, in their fish and chips, although having shark in some places may be illegal, due to some members of the species being endangered.[citation needed]. In recent years, farmed basa imported from Vietnam has also become common in Australian fish and chip shops.

In New Zealand, at first, snapper was the preferred species for battered fillets in the North Island, but as catches for this fish declined, it was replaced by hoki, shark (marketed as lemon fish), and tarakihi. Gurnard and blue cod predominate in South Island fish and chips.

In the United States, types of fish used depends on the availability of the region. Some common types used are cod, halibut, flounder, tilapia, or in Southern states, catfish.


In the United Kingdom, free salt and vinegar is traditionally sprinkled over fish and chips at the time it is served.[26] Suppliers may use malt vinegar or onion vinegar (the vinegar used for pickling onions). A cheaper product called "non-brewed condiment" (actually a solution of acetic acid in water with caramel colour) substitutes for genuine malt vinegar in many fish-and-chip shops. Traditionally fish and chips are served with a portion of mushy peas.[27] Additionally, areas such as Wales and Northern England add sauces such as curry sauce or gravy, these are often referred to on a menu as 'wet chips'. The local differences in fish and chips can be found in much British media including Gavin and Stacey

In Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife, salt and sauce - usually pronounced "sottensauce" - is the normal accompaniment that is traditionally sprinkled over fish and chips or almost anything else bought from the fish-and-chips shops. The watery "sauce" is a mixture of malt vinegar and/or water and Rowat's or Gold Star brand brown sauce, and it is mixed and bottled - often in an old glass fizzy drink bottle with a hole pierced in the screw-cap - by each fish-and-chip shop to their own secret recipe.

In Australia and New Zealand, seasoned salts (including chicken extract known as chicken salt) are often sprinkled over fish and chips at the time it is served, although many shops now allow customers to choose salt themselves either on site or at home, given public health concerns about salt intake. Another common accompaniment is the condiment tomato sauce, similar to Ketchup but sweeter and less stringent. Tartar sauce is also very popular for the fish. Both tomato and tartar sauce are usually sold in small plastic tubs on the shop counter. Slices of lemon are also frequently provided free within the parcel of. Inherited from the British tradition, vinegar is also a condiment of choice of many Australasian fish and chip lovers.

In Canada, fish and chips may be served with the traditional salt and vinegar, but a lemon wedge is often the accompaniment found in restaurants.

In the United States many restaurants serve fish and chips with tartar sauce. However recently the more traditional malt vinegar has become popular as well.[citation needed]


Fish and chip stalls in West Bay, Dorset, England

In the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and North America fish-and-chips usually sell through independent restaurants and take-aways. Outlets range from small affairs to chain restaurants. Locally-owned seafood restaurants are also popular in many local markets. In the United Kingdom, punning names for the shops, such as "The Batter Plaice", "Assault and Battery", "The Codfather", and "The Frying Scotsman" often occur.[28] Fish-and-chip outlets sell roughly 25% of all the white fish consumed in the United Kingdom, and 10% of all potatoes.

The existence of numerous competitions and awards for "best fish-and-chip shop"[29][30] testifies to the recognised status of this type of outlet in popular culture.[31]

Fish-and-chip shops traditionally wrapped their product in an inner layer of white paper (for hygiene) and an outer layer of newspaper or blank newsprint (for insulation and to absorb grease), though nowadays the use of newspaper has largely ceased on grounds of hygiene, and establishments often use food-quality wrapping paper instead— occasionally printed on the outside to emulate newspaper. Fish and chip meals once came wrapped solely with a couple of layers of newspaper, but concerns over ink poisoning (especially relating to the use of lead type in newspaper production) meant the phasing out of this practice. Printing industry workers, however, state that modern newspaper-inks pose no such health risk.[32]

Fish-and-chip shops typically offer other hot fast food which customers may eat in place of the traditional battered fish.

The British National Federation of Fish Friers was founded in 1913. It promotes fish and chips and offers training courses.

Cultural impact

The long-standing Roman Catholic tradition of not eating meat on Fridays - especially during Lent - and of substituting fish for other types of meat on that day - continues to influence habits even in predominantly Protestant, semi-secular and secular societies. Friday night remains a traditional occasion for patronising fish-and-chip shops; and many cafeterias and similar establishments, while varying their menus on other days of the week, habitually offer fish and chips every Friday.[33]


German biodiesel company Petrotec have outline plans to produce biodiesel in the UK, from waste fat from the British Fish and Chip industry.[34]

See also


  1. ^ "Food History Timeline", BBC/Open University.
  2. ^ "Fish and chips - A great British tradition". Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  3. ^ Rayner, Jay (2005-11-03). "Enduring Love". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2003-01-19.
  4. ^ "Icons of England". Retrieved 2003-01-19.
  5. ^ "La Frite est-elle belge?". Retrieved 2007-10-22. According to Jo Gérard, our people already cooked chips prior to 1680. The historian offers as a proof a family manuscript dating from 1781 (Culinary curiosities in the Belgian Netherlands, signed by his great-great-uncle Joseph Gérard)
  6. ^ "Chippy smells of chips complaint". BBC News. 2006-11-07. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  7. ^ a b Hegarty, Shane (3 November 2009). "How fish and chips enriched a nation". The Irish Times. Dublin, Ireland. p. 17. ((cite news)): Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  8. ^ "Resources for Learning, Scotland: Rationing". 1998-01-05. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  9. ^ Fish Labelling Regulations (England) 2003, The Stationery Office, 2003, retrieved 2009-04-04 (equivalent similary-named legislation applies in other countries of the UK and in Ireland)
  10. ^ Guidance Notes for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (PDF), Office of Public Sector Information, 2003, retrieved 2009-04-04 (Section A.2)
  11. ^ Food Labelling For Catering Establishments (PDF), Blackpool Council, retrieved 2009-04-04
  12. ^ Business Advice Fact Sheet (PDF), Norfolk County Council, retrieved 2009-04-04
  13. ^ Labelling & Pricing, Nationwide Caterers Association, retrieved 2009-04-04
  14. ^ Chaloner, W. H.; Henderson, W. O. (1990). Industry and Innovation: Selected Essays. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0714633356.
  15. ^ Historic uk - the heritage accommodation guide. "Tradition Historic UK, Fish and Chips". Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  16. ^ England Eats Out by John Burnett - Published by Pearson Education, 2004 ISBN 0-582-47266-0
  17. ^ "Dundee Fact File". Dundee City Council. Retrieved 20 March 2007.
  18. ^ SiteWise - Content Management System - "Did You Know?". Federation of Fish Friers. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  19. ^ ""German Biodiesel Firm To Use Chip Fat"". 2008-03-19. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  20. ^ "Online recipes". Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  21. ^ "More online recipes". Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  22. ^ Townsend, Bob (2005-02-09). "Neighborhood Nosh". Atlanta Journal. Retrieved 2007-01-04.
  23. ^ "Whitey's Fish Camp - Restaurant". Menu. Whitey's Fish Camp. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  24. ^ "Deep fried fish in beer". Retrieved 2009-03-23.
  25. ^ Hix, Mark (2008-01-26). "Gurnard in beer batter". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
  26. ^ a b Alan Masterson, tictoc design. ""Seafish. On Plate. Fish & chips" (UK Sea Fish Industry Authority website)". Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  27. ^ BBC. ""Crispy fish & chips with mushy peas recipe - Recipes - BBC Good Food". Retrieved 2010-03-07.
  28. ^ Swillingham, Guy (2005). Shop Horror. London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 0-00-719813-2.
  29. ^ "The Fish & Chip Shop of the Year Competition". Seafish. Retrieved 2007-01-04.
  30. ^ "Frier's Quality Award". Seafish. Retrieved 2007-01-04.
  31. ^ "Couple scoop best chip shop award". BBC News. 2006-02-01. Retrieved 2007-01-04.
  32. ^ Huber Group (2003). "Newspaper inks and the environment" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-10-27. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  33. ^ "Icons of England". Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  34. ^

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