Saturday, April 30, 2011

The food of love

It's always astonished me, given the incredible range of fresh produce that Scotland can furnish (salmon, mackerel, langoustines, mussels, venison, oysters, beef, pork, lamb...), that we are so notorious for unhealthy eating. The fact that it gets very cold and the weather's often miserable may have something to do with it (as does enough heavy drinking to obliterate the most discerning palate); but somehow over the centuries Scots seem to have been magnetically attracted to anything deep fried (even the vegetarians can join in: I well remember my friend D's love of a white pudding, no doubt soused in animal fat, from a certain chippie in Leith Walk). I can understand the appeal, of course; and I was thinking about it again today, at Fish On Fire, Glebe's finest fish and chip shop.

The first time I went to a fish and chip shop in London, I was astonished to find that there was actually a choice of fish. In any Scottish chippie, it's just "fush", fish and chips is a "fush supper", and the "fush" is always haddock. On the east coast, where I grew up, you ask for, and receive, "saltnsauce" dolloped lavishly across everything. On the west coast, a request for saltnsauce is met with a blank (and frankly insolent) look. The "sauce" is a patented, secret mix, the ingredients of which are closely guarded by every chippie (I can exclusively reveal that it's statistically highly likely to be watered down supermarket own-brand HP sauce), usually kept in an Irn Bru bottle of dubious provenance and advanced years.

Anyone not used to a Scottish fish supper will usually be horrified by it: where there should be crispness, let me bring mush, because the fat, stodgy, barely cooked chips, when you manage to peel them away to eat them, have wholly absorbed the fat they've been cooked in, on account of the fat fryer's connection being a little bit dodgy and cutting out from time to time; where the "fush" should taste of fish, its precious aromas and delicate flavour is drowned in saltnsauce, and besides the batter's hardened to the consistency of concrete by overcooking or, and you have to take your chances, so undercooked it still tastes strongly of flour. But despite eating what is, by any reckoning, a vastly superior version in Australia (chips cooked just so: crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside; chicken salt – oh the sophistication! – used for flavour; fish perfectly white, flaky, and fresh – the pristine example above is, of course, Australian), somewhere in a foreign field, there's a part of me that will still forever long for a proper fush supper. At the end of the day, nothing beats sitting in a car in the pouring rain outside the chippie in a godforsaken little east coast town, bolting down pure deepfried goodness that tastes of nothing.


Mummy said...

I spy the Bunderberg Ginger Beer. Mine, and Eve's, favourite summer tipple.

You can't get good chips in HK :-(

LottieP said...

I know! It's a tragedy. I don't remember ever having good chips in HK, anywhere.

Claire said...

And nothing beats arriving in a coastal town such as Kyle or Ullapool, in the evening, after a long journey north, and getting fish and chips to eat out by the jetty, accompanied by the sound of seagulls and fishing boats and the smell of seaweed and diesel fumes. Sigh.

Charlotte said...

Oh, I know - it could be Oban, which means we're going to Iona; or any west coast seaside town. Stodgy chips = bliss.