Shalom Life | April 17, 2014

Of all the Jewish Inventions, Nothing Tastes Better than Fish ‘N Chips

Traditional British favourite has a Jewish origin

By: Daniel Horowitz

Published: July 17th, 2012 in News » World

Of all the Jewish Inventions, Nothing Tastes Better than Fish ‘N Chips

When one thinks of all the incredible achievements – and inventions – created by Jews over the years, you’d be excused if Britain’s quintessential delicacy was not at the top of that list. But the truth is, historical data points decidedly to the fact that the beloved fish and chips is very much another Jewish creation.

Mmmmm. There’s nothing that gets the gastronomical juices flowing quite like a sumptuous plate of fish and chips.

And, the next time you’re about to squeeze a bit of lemon onto your fried, and deliciously golden coated piece of halibut, consider the fact that we owe that taste to 16th century British Jews.

According to Claudio Roden’s Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, first published in 1997, the origin of fish and chips is very much influenced by sixteenth-century Jewish immigrants – Portuguese Marranos, to be precise, who had been forced to hide their ethnicity due to persecution – who introduced the tasty concept of fried fish to Britain.

Even soon-to-be US president Thomas Jefferson wrote about eating 'fried fish in the Jewish fashion' after a visit to Britain towards the end of the eighteenth century and the first Jewish cookbook, published in Britain in 1846, included a recipe for it.

In 1860, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe by the name of Joseph Malin opened the first business in London's East End selling fried fish alongside chipped potatoes which, until then, had been found only in the Irish potato shops. In 1968 the National Federation of Fish Fryers even presented a commemorative plaque to Malin's of Bow, recognizing their founding role in the chippie business. According to Roden, nobody has challenged her version.

Professor Panikos Panayi of Leicester's De Montfort University conducted a research project to investigate the global influence on British food. He said fish and chips mixed "French frites with Jewish fish dishes".

"In the middle of the 19th century the main concern of most sections of English society consisted of eating enough food of sufficient quality to stay alive, rather than displaying a concern about variety,” explained Panavi. “Transformations between 1850 and 1945 included the emergence of fish and chips, influenced by both French and Jewish culinary traditions.

He said the origins of the dish were complex, but probably came about from the combination of French frites with Jewish fish dishes.

So, while we, as Jews should be so proud of our role in this staple, we should also be thankful. That is, we should be thankful that the greasy cardboard box we take home wrapped up in newspaper contains most likely halibut or haddock with chips and not Gefilte fish ‘n chips. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, now does it?

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