Scottish fact of the week: Fish and chips

Australian Geraldine Gallagher enjoys a fish supper. Picture: Callum Bennetts
Australian Geraldine Gallagher enjoys a fish supper. Picture: Callum Bennetts
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Are fish and chips from Scotland or England? Those chewing over this burning question north of the Border may be disappointed to know that, despite the abundance of cod and haddock in the North Sea in the 19th century, references to the dish appeared in England first.

Charles Dickens wrote about a “fried fish warehouse” in Oliver Twist, published in 1838, while chip shops in Lancaster and London - John Lees in Mossley, near Oldham, and Joseph Malin’s establishment in the capital’s East End, respectively - contest the right to be known as Britain’s first ever chip shop.

That said, Scotland has its own distinctive relationship with the dish - otherwise known as a fish supper - which is perhaps second only to haggis, neeps and tatties in the tradition stakes. Dundee lays claim to having sold fish and chips first in Scotland in the 1870s - it was supposedly sold by a Belgian immigrant in the city’s Greenmarket area.

The dish, which celebratred its 150th birthday in 2010, may be popular across the country, but the consensus over the meal in Scotland ends there.

In Edinburgh, fish and chips is traditionally coated in salt ‘n’ sauce. The sauce is a mixture of brown sauce and malt vinegar or water, and is simply called chippy sauce. Beyond the capital, and especially in Glasgow, vinegar tends to be the dressing of choice. This gastronomic divide was recently put into sharp relief by Glaswegian Tony Winters’ claim that a 25p surcharge for ketchup levied upon ordering fish and chips from an Edinburgh chippie amounted to racism.

Though there are thousands of fish and chip shops in the country, there are a few that have made the headlines more than others. Leaving aside Edinburgh’s Gold Sea, which made national news thanks to Mr Winters’ complaint, the Anstruther Fish Bar in Fife is often celebrated as one of the country’s finest establishments, while The Carron Fish bar is most famous for a culinary innovation that has been the scourge of Scotland’s health professionals and legislators - the deep fried Mars bar. In 2004, an estimated 22 per cent of all of Scotland’s fish and chip shops sold the artery-tightening delicacy.


Euan McColm: Unpicking the chip shop condiment row