United Kingdom

18 (sadly :( I don't want to leeeaavve noooo)
pronouns unspecified
that's for you to decide I guess
physics student with a
tiny dream of being a writer too so
enjoy my words or something :)

Message to Readers

Any feedback is greatly appreciated :) I'd be worried that this is a bit heavy on the description but I suppose that's probably the nature of a piece like this.

The Nation's Favourite

June 13, 2020

My teacher once told me that there's a question on the UK citizenship test which asks whether Britain's favourite takeaway is a chicken tikka masala or a fish supper. Now, I don't have the foggiest idea whether that's actually the case, nor do I remember which the answer turns out to be, but I can tell you what the answer should be. It comes wrapped in an off-white not-quite-grease-proof paper package and it is the food of the Gods. British cuisine is not exactly known for... well, anything really. But I reckon our humble fish 'n chips is an exception, and soon you will understand why.

The excitement of a fish supper begins as you approach the chip shop (or 'chippy' as it is more fondly known). The smell is thick and sticky: it curls around you like a tendril, beckoning you inside and making your mouth water before you've even laid eyes on a single chip. On a Friday night queues around the country spill out of chippies and into the streets in long lines of of rumbling stomachs and ravenous eyes already devouring rows of battered fish behind perspex counters. While this was originally a nutritious source of calories for the working class during the industrial revolution, British people from every walk of life are clearly still infatuated with this timeless meal.

I use to go with my dad to the chippy on our mainstreet. I remember being lifted up to see the fish and battered sausages and the workers behind them wearing white aprons and blue hairnets, their fingers quick and nimble as they folded squares of paper around portion after portion of golden heaven. Then those blue-gloved hands would pass over the precious parcels and we'd clutch them to ourselves as we scurried home, basking in their radiated warmth to let it chase off the sharp evening chill.

After the chippy comes the best part. First the mushy peas and salt and ketchup are added, and beers cracked open for the adults. Then a silence descends as everybody tucks in, broken only by the crunch of layers of batter. The fish hidden inside is the real prize: always the perfect mix of fleshy and chewy with a healthy dose of salt, though you have to be careful of the bones. The chips are real chips, not the weedy wee things you get in fast food chains but fat, greasy, misshapen chunks. Inside your mouth their thin, crispy crust offers a little resistance before the mush inside oozes out in a delightful explosion.

But beware, for this meal is best served as warm as possible, which means you have to eat quickly. This is not food to be eaten with etiquette, but rather to be feasted on with vigour. You should wolf it down, as my mum would say, shovelling into your mouth as though it were your first meal in weeks. No matter what cutlery you start out with, you will inevitably end up tearing at it with your fingers instead, and licking the salt off them with satisfaction after all the chips have disappeared. It makes for less washing up that way anyway.

What cutlery one intends to use depends on the circumstances in which one is eating it. At my grandparents house we used to have it served on big floral plates with a proper silver knife and fork and salt and pepper on the table in matching shakers, although the pepper was never used. Sometimes the adults had glasses filled with white-wine, which apparently goes well with fish although I always thought it tasted like nail-varnish.

Sometimes we eat with a tiny wooden two-pronged fork. This is saved for times when we're packed in between bags of boots and maps and telescopes in a parked car at the side of the motorway, or at midnight in a hostel room in Oban the night before an early morning ferry, or anywhere else where stickyness is inconvenient enough to be worth the sour taste of wood with the fish. If there's one thing I've learned on all my travels, its that there aren't enough paper napkins in the world to wipe the chip grease off your hands after a fish supper.

Other times we have no cutlery at all. These times are best, usually accompanied by wet hair and sun-creamed skin after a day spent wandering the wilderness; the sun resting low in the sky over the great unbounded shimmering blue. On these days we are ravenous and we devour our meal gladly: perched on a harbour wall amongst lobster pots and herring gulls, or sat cross-legged on a picnic bench with the black, jagged Cuillins of Skye like teeth on a saw behind us.

But the most magical time of all was one glorious, gold-painted evening on the Isle of Tiree. We'd had the beach to ourselves and after hours of splashing and squealing in the Atlantic and running about like wild things to shake off the cold we were famished. Sprawled out across tickly, sheep-grazed grass we were lining our stomachs with the fat-filled fishy meal we had all been craving. Pure Bliss. I remember Mum squeezing me close, her skin sandy and warm against mine in the cool evening breeze. 'All we need now is for some basking sharks to turn up and then it will be perfect,' she laughed. And it was as though they could hear her, for ten minutes later they came.

After nearly two decades of fish suppers I am still in love. In all of these places; in a red-bricked suburbia or the wilds of Scotland or a car park on a motorway somewhere; a fish supper is a source of comfort and satisfaction which never fails to delight. So I encourage you, dear reader, to find yourself a bench with a view and some good company and indulge in the luxury of a good old-fashioned fish and chips.

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1 Comment
  • avoiding the big bang

    great work! your descriptions are stellar -
    "The smell is thick and sticky: it curls around you like a tendril, beckoning you inside."
    "These times are best, usually accompanied by wet hair and sun-creamed skin after a day spent wandering the wilderness; the sun resting low in the sky over the great unbounded shimmering blue."
    are a couple of my favorites, but the whole thing is nicely, heartwarmingly written. i particularly love the idea that fish and chips are not meant to be eaten politely but wolfed down. i really hope this wins! it's a lovely piece!

    6 months ago