So what have immigrants ever done for us in the UK?
Apart from providing competent plumbers and increasing the number of working youngsters to pay for baby boomers’ pensions — they have hugely improved the quality and variety of the food we now regularly enjoy.
We have Jewish refugees to thank for fish and chips while Britain’s other national dish — chicken tikka masala (photo above) — was invented by Bangladeshi immigrants.
Now DonQui has a rather problematic relationship with fish and chips. Every once in a while he gets a craving. Then he trots down to the chippy (fish & chip shop for non-Brits) with great expectations which invariably end in disappointment. Really good fish and chips need a light, crispy batter and the chips should be nicely browned on the outside while remaining soft in the middle. All too often the batter is thick and greasy while the chips are pale and limp.
Living by a seaside resort town — Southwold in Suffolk — one would think that it would be fairly easy for DonQui to find decent fish and chips.
The fish is fresh, to be sure, and generally speaking the batter is fine. His main problem is with the flaccid, pale, sorry excuses for chips — caused by cooking at too low a temperature without double frying.
The news that a new chippy is opening in Southwold fills DonQui with some hope. After months of renovations, and missing the high summer season, the Little Fish and Chip Shop has just opened. Selling fresh fish out front and frying around the back, it looks very promising.
DonQui decides to give it a go, ordering haddock with a small portion of chips. Plaice is DonQui’s favourite fish but it is too thin and delicate for deep frying in batter. It really has to be either cod or haddock. While haddock tends to be preferred up north and cod down south, DonQui has to agree with his northern cousins on this point.
Cooked to order, first appearances are encouraging. The chips actually have colour and the batter looks crisp and dry. The lemon wedge and parsley on top are a nice touch. Served in a box it makes it easy for DonQui to take home without wrapping. Wrapping, of course, will keep it warm longer but has the nasty side-effect of the trapped steam from the hot food turning everything soft and soggy. Therefore, as he does not have far to go, DonQui leaves the lid on the box ajar to let the steam escape, puts it in his wagon and canters off home.
Although he only ordered a small portion of chips, it seems that there is more than enough for two people, let alone one donkey. Usually when he orders fish and chips for two he asks for one portion of chips for two pieces of fish. But as Duchess is away he puts half of the portion on his plate and although he has a few more later on he cannot not finish them all.
Sprinkling salt on the chips and dousing everything with malt vinegar, DonQui tucks in.
It is good, perhaps very good. Not the best fish and chips he has ever eaten but it definitely fulfils his main criteria. Not greasy at all, the chips are nice and crisp on the outside remaining lovely and soft in the middle. The fish is fresh, delicate and flaky while the batter is light enough for DonQui to happily eat it all rather than pulling it off and leaving it to one side as he often does with sub-standard fish and chips.
Done well, fish and chips, is a truly wonderful British food staple which people in other countries often do not understand. When he lived in Germany, DonQui’s German friends could not get their heads around the combination, thinking that fried fish needed to be served with boiled potatoes not chips. Yet they were perfectly content with chips as an accompaniment to fried, breaded schnitzel. As for putting vinegar on it… the very thought made them cringe in horror. But just as the acidity of lemon enhances a schnitzel, or indeed fish, so does the vinegar — cutting through and balancing the oil in which it has been fried. It has to be proper malt vinegar, mind you, nothing else works.
The sad thing is that it is not that easy to find really good fish and chips, even in Britain.