March 12, 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FISH & CHIPS (AND WHY BRITISH FOOD IS EVIL IN A GOOD WAY)


It was 150 years ago that they met, and fast food was never again the same. Now, the battered and fried fish – at least according to legend – was brought to the shores of Britain by a Jewish emigrant, and that alone already became a sounding success.

But only when somebody somewhere thought, he, let's put some potato sticks into the same frying oil... and then put it together with said fried fish in yesterday's newspaper was a national dish born.

I admit that when I first came into contact with British comfort food, I thought to myself, oh dear god, this is the nation that brought forth Shakespeare and Dickens? And they put what on their chunky, strange-looking fries? Vinegar? Are you kidding me? Don't they know that fries are served as what we in the Ruhr/Rhine area call "red/white"? That means with ketchup and mayo. And a curried sausage?

Curried Sausage Red/White. That's our regional comfort food dish, or at least used to be before everybody discovered Kebab. I have my own theories on why the Kebab has become so popular in a lot of European countries, especially in the ones that have a high usage of alcohol by teens on Fridays and Saturdays.

Want to know?

It's because you can cradle a Kebab like an early-born baby as you stumble back from the pub or dance club at 3 AM while you are completely and utterly piss-drunk. And if you don't believe me, I invite you to go to a typical Friday night out in a place like Edinburgh and observe. Don't drink yourself. Just observe.

You'll see more fatherly love towards a bread filled with choppy meat and onions than anything you'll see in a hospital. Drunk men are like that. They love their comfort food.

But nothing beats a proper fish & chip meal. It's greasy, and you know it's bad for you, but when the people frying the fish are really good, it then becomes cross and soft at the same time, and even the malt vinegar on the chips... tastes surprisingly good, especially when they sprinkle the chips with proper sea salt.

I admit that over my time that I lived there (and was in love with a Scottish woman who was a borderline alcoholic and quickly turned from lovely to mean-spirited with each new glass of white wine and each new cocktail... of which there were many on a Friday night) I have come to appreciate some things that the traditional British and also Scottish serve up.

Spicy, fried Portobello mushrooms? Heaven!

Or, if you are in Scotland, try haggis. Really. Honestly. I know, it sounds gross, but ultimately, haggis is not too much removed from a sausage, and deep fried it is absolutely delightful.

Black pudding is also something that at one point was food for the poor (I know I grew up with the German equivalent, Blutwurst) but is no almost a delicacy.

But the two things other than Fish & Chips that I am most grateful for when it comes to British food?

The Jacket Potato... because of its versatility. Filled with bacon and cheese, or spring onions and cheese or tuna salad or... or... or... simple, tasty and something you can buy at every corner.

And the enormous variety of sandwiches they have invented.

The Ploughman's sandwich! Awesome!

Camembert/Bacon/Apple? Whoever put those three things together... thank you!

And their salmon sandwiches? Hell, yes.

For all that.... and for your fish & chips, thank you, Britain.

Happy birthday to your national dish.