Fish and chips on your lap, sat in the car, watching the sunset over the horizon. Memories of childhood holidays still come flooding back whenever I catch a whiff of fried fish and the tang of malt vinegar. Like an ice cream cone on a sunny day, fish and chips was an anticipated treat. Enjoyed only once during our caravan trips. A summertime novelty. Even though back at home Friday was fish supper night, with one of us sent on our bike to the chippy.
The chippy is the slang word we use to describe the local fish and chip shop. You’ll find them in towns across Scotland, even surprisingly in some tiny villages. My children will pipe up “can we have a chippy tonight?” Perhaps, a love of fish and chips is ingrained in our national DNA. Maybe that’s why it’s still a favourite supper for many households. And we never ask for fish and chips when we order. It’s always a fish supper in Scotland.
It’s not just childhood memories formed by fish and chips
Another childhood memory, other than blowing on nuclear-hot chips, is the greasy black fingertips. Before the health and safety police came along fish and chips came wrapped in an outer sheet of old newspaper. I guess it was an early form of paper recycling. Now they are wrapped in boring beige catering paper. However, it’s still remembered in the saying, “today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper”. Let that be a warning to anyone seeking the fame of today’s instant celebrity culture.
My memories aren’t limited to childhood. Other fish and chips moments can appear from nowhere as you tear into a piece of crispy batter-clad cod. Watching visitors browse the brightly coloured shops and cafe along the seafront in Tobermory. I’m sat, legs dangling over the harbour wall watching carefully for marauding seagulls. There’s the hundred-metre dash between the chippy and car in a bank holiday downpour in Troon. The car slowly steaming up from the heat of freshly fried chips and vinegar-laden breath.
Beware what you say yes to in an Edinburgh chippy
And an encounter in an Edinburgh chippy forever haunts my brain. Straight out of university, in my first job, with barely two pennies in my pocket. My employer put me in a bed and breakfast overlooking Leith Links, a place then still to experience the gentrification of recent years. Somewhere prostitutes loitered in bus shelters and you tiptoed through discarded needles in the morning. Somehow I scrabbled enough money together before the next payday to buy a fish supper. I had anticipated it all day as I worked at my office desk. That evening stood in line in the busy chippy, I focused on the treat in store, oblivious to the sounds of the city outside. The shop assistant scooped the chips into their carton, placing a golden nugget of fish on top.
“Salt n’ sauce?” she asked not looking up from her task.
“Aye!” came my cheery reply assuming salt n’ sauce was Edinburgh slang for salt and vinegar. “Lots please.”
A liberal dusting of salt sprinkled my supper. I realised something was wrong when the assistant reached for a brown squeezy bottle. Upturning the bottle, she squeezed hard smothering everything in a thick, syrupy slick of brown liquid. Instantly, I knew what it was, and I cried silently inside. My longed-for supper covered in something I loathed with a passion. Just the smell would turn my stomach. This “Edinburgh vinegar” was brown sauce. I had hated the vile stuff since childhood.
The wrapped package thumped down on the counter. “There you go.”
I smiled meekly, slumping outside, keeping a check on the tears that wanted to burst out. Stood on a street corner, next to a rubbish bin I carefully unwrapped this cursed meal. The brown sauce everywhere, seeping down through the layer of chips. Gingerly, I scraped off the top layer of contaminated batter from the fish. I picked away the spoiled chips in the hope to salvage enough to satisfy my hunger. This momentary culinary misunderstanding. This setback. It wasn’t going to prevent me from having my fish supper. Under the street light, I checked each chunk of fish before slipping it between my lips. Similarly, every chip submitted to a rigorous inspection.
Somehow, I rescued the situation. Dismay had turned to optimism. I ate next to that rubbish bin discarding spoiled bits and pieces. No Edinburgher, with their slapdash abomination of a condiment, was going to prevent me from savouring every rescued mouthful. You can’t stand between a man and his fish and chips. He got memories to make for the future.
This post was written to celebrate National Fish and Chip Day 2020. If you would like to make your own memories, whilst tucking into a fish supper, there’s fantastic chippies to discover. They come recommended by the team at Visit Scotland. There are quite a few of my own favourites on the list.
Fish and chips or a fish supper is a deep-fried culinary classic that goes back hundreds of years. There is some debate about when the UK’s first fish and chip shop opened, but it was certainly in Victorian times – some say the Industrial Revolution was fuelled by fish and chips.