A Guide to Fish and Chips

fish 'n chipsAn integral part of British life for 150 years, the traditional take-out meal of Fish ‘n Chips famously sustained us through both world wars. Although its popularity has undeniably declined in the past decade or so, it continues to satisfy our craving for familiar comfort food.

It’s a mouth-watering combination: soft white fresh fish, and a coating of bubbly, crisp golden batter, served with a steaming pile of fluffy fried chips. Controversially usually doused with a liberal sprinkling of salt and brown vinegar.

The aroma of a portion of fish ‘n chips conjures up magical memories for most of us. whether it is eating them greedily out of a paper wrapping on a seaside pier or tipping them onto a plate to save cooking on a Friday evening.

The local “chippie” (the traditional name for a fish ‘n chip establishment) may be losing out to pizzerias, burger joints, Chinese restaurants and even delicatessens in the health-conscious modern fast-food world, but it’s a sure bet there’ll always be a demand for this old favourite.


A Tale of Two Cities

Cover of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, as published in All the Year Round (July 1859) – fried potato chips were mentioned in this novel for the first time!

Fried chips were on sale in London in the mid-19th century as a sort of “street food” enjoyed by the working classes (the idea of fries – Pommes Frites – having been imported from France and/or Belgium). We know this because Charles Dickens mentioned them in his novel “A Tale of Two Cities” in 1859.

Fish ‘n Chips may be a marriage made in heaven, but the courting took some time. Both ingredients of the quintessentially British “fish supper” started life as popular individual favourites, and there is some dispute as to how and when this early form of “fusion” cuisine came about.

Around the same time a Jewish immigrant living in London’s East End, Joseph Malin, was inspired to pair the hot chips with a fishy favourite from his homeland, floured fried fish, which was also being sold on the streets of the capital. The story goes that this was an instant success. Shops like his began to proliferate and soon everyone was indulging in this new fast-food delight. Malin no doubt died a happy, wealthy man as a result of his profitable “chippie” – but there is another claim to the fame of having been the first to sell fish ‘n chips in England. That is a man called John Lees from Mossley near Manchester. He apparently did a roaring trade in the pairing of fish ‘n chips from a stall in a local market from around 1860 and went on to open his own “chippie” not long after.

Fish 'n Chip shop

A typical neighbourhood “Chippie” in the UK.

Factory and dock workers loved being able to buy fish ‘n chips “to go”, and the nutritious, tasty meal soon became a staple. It was even better when Sam Isaacs opened the first sit down fish ‘n chip restaurant in Whitechapel, London, in 1896, and you could enjoy your meal just like a “posh gent” at white cloth-covered tables, along with bread & butter and a cuppa, all for ninepence! No wonder Isaacs ended up with a vast chain of restaurants across greater London.

With the coming of the railways and the growth of the fishing industry fresh fish ‘n chips moved from the seaside inland, and by the 20th century, there was a chippie on just about every street corner throughout the UK. During WW II fish ‘n chips were excluded from food rationing, to keep up the nation’s spirits.




There is no doubt that fish, of itself, is a good source of essential vitamins C, B6 and B12, omega 3 fatty acids, along with a bit of iron, zinc, calcium and iodine. Potatoes, too are unquestionably a source of good stuff, in particular vitamin C, potassium and fibre.

The problem comes in because of the fact that both the fish and chips in a portion from your favourite “chippie” are deep fried in oil, and usually drenched in salt. So does this make fish ‘n chips a write-off when it comes to eating healthy? Not according to the Federation of Fish Friers (the organisation that runs the annual Fish ‘n Chip Shop of the Year competition. The Federation asserts that “An average portion of fish, chips and peas contains only 7.3% fat of which 2.8% is saturated¬†fat. This compares with 10.8% fat in a pork pie and 16.8 grams you will find in a tuna mayonnaise sandwich.

A guide to fish and chipsIt has to be said that measuring the fat, salt and other unhealthy ingredients in takeaway fish ‘n chips depends on so many things, such as the type of oil used, the size of the portion, the type of batter, the thickness of the chips (the thicker they are the less oil/fat they will absorb), and so on.

Another source (Seafish UK) states that: “Compared to other takeaway foods Fish and chips have 9.42 grammes of fat per 100 grammes. The average pizza has 11, Big Mac meal with medium fries has 12.1, Whopper meal with medium fries has 14.5, chicken korma 15.5 and doner kebab 16.2.

Fish and chips have 595 calories in the average portion – an average pizza has 871, Big Mac meal with medium fries has 888, Whopper meal with medium fries has 892, chicken korma 910 and doner kebab 924. ”

No-one could categorically say that fish ‘n chips are the healthiest meal you could eat, but it is certain this great British favourite is probably not the worst offender on the takeaway block, and – like anything – will do no harm in moderation.

Continue to read The Best of British Fish ‘n Chips

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