Ode to the Chippie! or From Odeon to Chip Shop

It’s a magazine about Food, Places and Faces, OK? Sometimes all of those things will come together and today is one of those days when memories flow! I am not going to tell you the story of how my friend Tony set light to his car seat (adding a whole new meaning to the word “arson”), nor the story about why my Aunty Lilly can’t eat Custard Creams, and not even about how my dad almost killed me with a shed – the memory of which is still too painful to share! This one is all about Fish and Chips.

Mum and Dad fish and chipsMy parents grew up in London at a time when there was an Odeon, Roxy, Essoldo, or Regal cinema at almost every street corner. The routine was that you would get home from work, have a wash, (note: no showers and only baths once a week), eat the meal your mum had cooked and then go off to see “Ice Cold in Alex” with John Mills or the like. But the evening didn’t end there! The usual practice was to go to the Fish and Chip shop for, at least, some chips and probably a nice bit of fish – cod for dad and plaice for mum. Beats me why people didn’t seem to get fat! I think it has to do with the calories used when shivering in houses with no central heating.

For me, the memories of Fish and Chip shops and the 1950’s are inseparable. I guess it’s because most of the remaining shops are very much the same as they were in that long-past era. Always white tiles and a high counter, the same waft of heat on entering, and the same expectation of an appropriately greasy and succulent meal.

There are obviously things that have changed. When I was a kid a Fish and Chip Shop sold….you’re right….fish and chips and perhaps a saveloy or a meat pie if the demand was there. The condiments were a bit thin on the ground and consisted of salt from a big shaker that always delivered too much in one shake, and malt vinegar. Don’t remember seeing little wooden forks and the packaging was real newspaper.

Fish and chipsThere were often two half-gallon glass jars on the counter, one containing pickled eggs and the other gherkins. I am not quite sure what has been going on in the gherkin world but there seems to have been a change in either cultivation methods or varieties available. Perhaps we have a more genteel taste for pickled vegetables so it’s now the cornichon or crinkle-cut versions that are around. The gherkins or “wallies” (no, don’t ask) were huge in those days and I couldn’t understand why anyone would want one!

Although the basic shop is very much the same all over the UK, the goods on offer can be subtly different. Mushy peas are popular in the North of England and everything fried in beef fat (although that’s changing) which is said to give a much better flavour…….unless you’re vegetarian!

Scotland has such a love affair with the “chippie” that it demands that every food product be available, deep fried in batter. Anything from haggis to Mars Bars! Now, don’t criticise till you have tried it. If they were doing the same thing in Paris we would probably think it very “Chic”.

Fish and chips was “the” fast food and the only kind I had access to till I was into my 20’s. There were no take-aways, no huts selling Italian cheese-topped bread, no chicken cooked in a southern US state, no meat patties hailing from a northern European seaport. How things have changed!

An old fashioned Fish and Chip supper is real comfort food for me. I smile when I think of Mum and Dad and hope that the next generation will have the chance to enjoy a piece of fast-disappearing heritage. Its not for every day but once in a while…!


Article and images by Chrissie Walker © 2018