Before we get into righteous debates regarding the original and authentic fish and chips, let me clear the oily air by saying this - I have never been to the UK. My reference for fish and chips has been my experience in India and reviews on Youtube that are hopefully reliable. Having put that out of the way, let's talk about this beauty now.
There are at least five reasons why I love this popular pub snack more than anything else served alongside a beer. But before we get into the logical reasoning for my affair with FnC, let me touch upon the emotional side.
Reason 1: Emotionally relevant
At some point, I've shared my passion for beer and FnC with almost every one of my friends. In fact, with some, I've pretty much done this back to back, across pubs, over an entire evening!
Sub-consciously, I think that is why most of them are close friends at some level. It may sound extremely shallow, but why not? Food is an integral part of our social contract. The fact that you share the same idea of a 'perfect evening at a pub' with another person is not as common as you'd think! True, that fish and chips is a popular pub snack by definition. But so are meatballs, peanuts, nachos, onion rings, loaded fries, bruschettas, masala papad and a hundred other things that you'll find here and here. The crucial fact is that MY friends enjoy a good beer with fish and chips, and I love that about them, OR I love them for that. 😂
But my emotional connection to the simple pairing aside, there are also those four other reasons why I love it so. Let's knock them off one by one, shall we?
Reason 2: Diverse yet homogenous
The best part of a good fish and chips is that it has a basic structure, but endless possibilities from thereon! Every plate of fish and chips at the very least needs the following ingredients in some shape or form -
An unnecessary addition
You'd think that 1 and 2 would probably be standard, and 3, 4, 5 is where most variations would occur. But ah, non monsieur! Each and every element can be a shock to the senses if the chef intends it so. You could have a plain beer-battered fillet of fish or a gourmet slice of crusted fish that will prepare your taste buds for the perfect sip of lager. The chips could be simply golden or dusted with that funky powder you love so much! The conservatives could settle on a tartar sauce, while the experimental could go as far and wide as wasabi-mayo. The fourth item is generally something that always feels like an oddball, but nevertheless, I've come to expect it as part and parcel of this dish. So it could be a pea mash (yuck!), or a slaw (less yuck), or a side salad (no comments) that you'd round the dish with just because healthy eating is in vogue!
The point being, I've had fish and chips in at least twenty to thirty different locations in Bangalore alone, but restaurants and pubs still continue to surprise and shock. The best part of both reactions is that beer consumption goes through the roof - either as the perfect accompaniment or something to wash down the shock! 😅
Reason 3: Lets the beer shine
The purpose of a good bar snack is to complement the alcohol and yet, never overpower it. It needs to provide the right amount of bite that satisfies the tongue and yet not take attention away from the next sip of your beer. There has to be a balance between greasiness and freshness. You don't want a chewy texture in your mouth, and neither do you want a crunchy racket in your head. Most importantly, the dish needs to counter the alcohol while enhancing the taste of your ale.
That's fish and chips for you. The starch in the chips perfectly counters the alcohol, while the fish tantalizes your taste buds for more. The beer batter does add to the greasiness, but the flaky fish with the tartar dip and slaw refresh the palette with a zing. There's a reassuring crunch to the outer coating on the fish, and yet the insides are soft and succulent. The pea mash does nothing great in particular, but it does remind you of the five grams of fibre that you stuffed for the sake of appearances. It does help with the guilt that accompanies a long binge. 🙈
Reason 4: It's shareable
Now, I agree, this one is not unique to fish and chips. Nachos come in the form of shareable platters, and so do peanuts. But what about burgers, hot dogs, and steak? Fish and chips are still way more distributable than those selfish foods. Oh sorry! Let's not call them selfish; they are just more individualistic! 😂
But a good plate of fish and chips is meant to be shared. You've always got a few small pieces of fish that you can ration out or a massive chunk of cod ready to be cut into modest pieces. Chips are, well, they are chips! Who eats an entire basket by themselves anyway? And guess what, people like me can always donate the complete serving of mashed peas to the healthiest person at the table, out of pure benevolence. 😇
Either case, the dip is the only thing that remains, and as long as you dine with people civilized enough to not double-dip, more the merrier!
Reason 5: It is time agnostic
Well, to be more specific, fish and chips are time-of-the-day agnostic. Close your eyes and assume for a moment that society would not frown upon your meal choices based on the time of the day. You could have steak for breakfast and porridge for lunch if you felt like it! In that blissful scenario, where would you place fish and chips?
I can't speak for you, but I'd have a tough time placing it in a specific time slot! It lies on the verge of a snack and a meal, depending on whether you have it at an odd hour or whether you share it with a couple of other folks! I've had fish and chips at 11 am and at 1 am. The day a diner or restaurant starts serving it for breakfast, that window will only stretch wider. 😋
The best feature of fish and chips is its versatility. You could hold the chips and make it a light snack with a glass of beer. Have the entire plate with all the bells and whistles and call it a meal. If nothing else, three of you could share it as a midnight snack, with the last dregs of beer from a merry evening!
Life for me is little more than spending quality time with loved ones in a place that I love, eating the food that we mutually admire while sharing stories over the perfect glass of beer or whisky. If a modest delicacy such as fish and chips makes the process of getting there faster by even a few minutes that it takes to browse through a menu, I don't mind!
So my advice to you all - the next time someone tasks you with ordering an accompaniment for a pitcher of ale, close the menu and ask for fish and chips. And in that very moment, three key things will occur in succession -
You'd either mark that restaurant as a favourite for life or walk out the next instant (when the waiter either beams at you or shakes his head dejected)
Your 'reel' friends would step into the light, away from the 'poultry' ones (read it as REAL and PALTRY, of course)
That will mark the start of a new journey for you, where you will won't need a menu in a pub ever in your life (best for these COVID-19 times!)