I love fish and chips. So, when visiting a new town I would ask a local ‘Is there a good chippy around here?’. You generally used to get an answer, these days it seems the question is greeted with bafflement.
Well sometimes, you didn’t. I remember visiting a village in Norfolk, which had two chippies and discovered that the village was bitterly divided between the two chip shops! Sometimes, particularly recently, people seem to neglect the ‘good’ word in the question and just direct to a chip shop. It used to be wonderful when you’d ask and be told such things as ‘Yes, but it only opens from 7-9pm, don’t bother with the other one’. Or even , ‘sorry, not in this town, hasn’t been a good one for years now’, giving me the exact local knowledge I needed.
I think that visitors to the UK and people who didn’t grew up with a chip shop culture (urban types mainly) don’t realise, or care that there are vast differences in quality when it comes to chip shops. The town I grew up in had an excellent chip shop, until a new chip shop opened on the high street, which wasn’t nearly as good. Surely,’market forces’ would prevail and the good chippy survive and the poor one fail. But no, I grew up in a somewhat tourist town in Wales and the good chippy was hidden away on a back street, so didn’t pick up the tourist trade. Why didn’t the tourists just ask ‘Is there a ‘good’ chippy around here? The good chippy closed, and left me with a lifelong distrust of ‘market forces’.
There are just too many bad chippies, who didn’t seem to care about the quality of their product and bad consumers, who just wanted the convenience of location even if what they were eating was vile. Bad fish and chips truly are disgusting.
What annoys me, is that there is an art to making fish and chips, but the basics are fairly simple: The oil needs to be hot , the oil needs to be fresh, select potatoes that are good varieties for chips, fish should be fresh, not frozen and ruddy cook fish to order, fish kept warm for more than a few minutes rapidly loses it’s taste and consistency. Oh and be good, only source fish from sustainable fisheries such as MSC certified (Marine Stewardship Council). This isn’t that difficult surely when it’s your livelihood? Locals do notice, and learn such things as not to go for chips on a Thursday as they know the oil will be gone by then and produce horrid pale chips.
When I first discovered that you could put your own pages on the internet, I tried to set up the ‘Good chippy guide’, whereby people could submit reviews of chip shops and establish a database of good chippies throughout Britain. No-one found it or contributed and i’m surprised that no such service exists to this day. There is a good beer guide for pubs though. There should be an app for this? I’m left with my local knowledge of places, near the main roads, where I know good chippies are. For example, if visiting Wales, use the old bridge (M48), pop into Chepstow town and go to Weeks chip shop, they are excellent!
Before anyone comments with such gibberish as ‘Yorkshire chippies are the best’. Obviously, Welsh chip shops are the best! I am something of a purist, generally preferring salt and vinegar as my condiments, though occasionally I have brown sauce. A good chippy should have all possible condiments and not charge extra for them. i do like curry sauce too and even gravy (though as I’m mostly vegetarian I tend to avoid these unless I know they’re really veggie). I can see the point of ketchup and mayonnaise although they only work well, I find, with pub chips as opposed to chippy chips.
So, my advice is ask the question, help the businesses that care about and put the effort into their product thrive. engage with the locals in places you visit, and not just hop to go somewhere convenient. Engage with places, don’t just pass through, this and good chippies make life worth living.