Chips with everything
After a slight
deviation, I’m firmly back on the ‘Now and Then’ this month – picking out a
current news item and allowing it to take me (and you, I hope) down Memory
Lane. Here goes ...
We start at a fish
and chip shop in Yorkshire, specifically on the A64 at Bilbrough Top, near
York. It’s in the news because it has become massively popular with Chinese
tourists who turn up by the coach load to sample its delights.
Manager Roxy Vasai
(whose name alone is an inspiration) reckons this sudden popularity stems from
the 2015 visit to the UK of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. He was photographed
sharing a plate of fish and chips with David Cameron, and Chinese visitors are
keen to follow their leader’s example. How they came to choose Bilbrough Top
and Scotts Fish and Chips is still something of a mystery.
However (and this
is where the ‘Then’ bit comes in) I have a very strong memory of visiting Hong
Kong in the mid 1980s when, coincidentally, the colony’s first fish and chip
shop was opened. It was a branch of the famous Harry Ramsden chain, managed by
an English chap, and with all the traditional Ramsden trimmings – lots of
highly polished brasswork and an ornate chandelier.
The latter had
been imported from England, as had the cod, plaice, haddock and other fish, and
the Lincolnshire potatoes. Also, large jars of pickled eggs and gherkins,
tomato sauce as well as the traditional brown varieties – HP and Daddies. It was as close as you could get to the
real article. No, amend that. It was
the real article.
When I turned up,
with a BBC camera crew, it had been open for only a few days, but already local
folk were queuing around the block. The land of the takeaway meal had obviously
fallen, hook, line and sinker, for the original takeaway. Fish and chips
wrapped in greaseproof paper and a couple of pages of the South China Morning
Post, were being carried away by gleeful Hong Kongers almost by the ton.
For customers who
preferred to ‘eat in’, the Ramsden emporium had a restaurant area, with
waitress service, where you could order a large pot of tea to accompany your
fishy feast and, if so inclined, bread and butter (brown bread, cut into
triangles, as is obligatory in upper class chippies).
So, much as I hate
to disappoint Roxy and the staff of Scotts, this is clear evidence that the
Chinese desire for fish and chips long pre-dates President Xi’s visit to
At the Hong Kong
Ramsden, as at Scotts, the menu was bi-lingual, though the Hong Kong version
had a few literal flourishes. I particularly remember Mushy Peas being
described as ‘the Caviar of the North’. You never forget a phrase like that.
Having begun to
mine this seam of how British food can prove unexpectedly popular among foreign
folk, my train of thought takes me to Lyon, regarded as the gastronomic capital
of France, mainly because Maurice Curnonsky wrote a book in 1935 which, with
typical Gallic modesty, was called ‘Lyon, World Capital of Gastronomy’ but also
because world-famous chefs have learned and plied their trade in that city.
are stirred. This time, a visit in the late 1960s when our tour guide was
obsessed by ‘squinches’, an architectural feature of which Lyon is proud. He
seemed to think they helped the Resistance evade capture by the occupying Nazis
during the war, but I was never able to work out how. Still, we let him go on
at length about them, as it kept him happy.
Then, almost as an
afterthought, he wondered if we might be interested in a new restaurant that
had just been opened by an Englishman. We certainly were and went post haste to
see how this brave venture was faring. It was faring well – much more than
well, in fact.
amazement (though not that of the Englishman) the gourmets of Lyon had taken to
roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and other English fare. The place was very
busy, especially on Sundays. And, to his credit, he had managed to persuade the
local folk to try English cheeses. This, I venture to suggest, is pretty nigh
impossible, but he had succeeded in tempting them with his Red Leicester, his
Sage Derby, his Stilton (of course) and his Wensleydale.
I can’t recall the
name of his restaurant, but I do know that a handful of establishments are
managing to carry on his good work in Lyon. A couple of them are fish and chip
places, but the Elephant and Castle is said to provide first class pub grub,
and Le Luminarium has a fine reputation.
So, you see, our
cuisine can be exported with success to even the most fastidious of
destinations – and they don’t come more fastidious than France where food is
Having been a
regular visitor to Orlando, Florida (I first went there long before The Mouse
moved in), I have observed many efforts to introduce English cuisine to our
American cousins. Most ‘English’ establishments in Orlando are aimed at English
tourists, of course, the best example being the Rose and Crown pub which is
part of the English pavilion at EPCOT.
But, in Orlando,
an American lady named Sandra something-or-other once told me of her plan to
create a chain (franchised, of course) of Cornish Pasty parlours. She had
encountered the pasty on a visit to the West Country and was convinced it would
go down well back home. I never did find out if her dream came true, but like
to think it did.
relatively successful – though sadly short-lived – food shop franchise in the
USA was ‘Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips’. Treacher was an English born actor
who found fame in Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s, though, sadly, the clip of
him singing “Knocked ‘em in the Old Kent Road”, with Shirley Temple, is no
longer available on YouTube. At its height, the chain had 900 outlets which
must have provided pleasure and a little profit to Arthur in his twilight
years. His last film role was that of PC Jones, in ‘Mary Poppins’. He died in
All of which, I
suppose, just goes to show that, though it comes mainly in the form of fish and
chips, English cuisine is exportable and amazingly successful, if given a
chance. And I haven’t even got round to mentioning English wines, which win
prizes even in France – though usually in blind tastings, as the French hate to
admit that Perfidious Albion is capable of beating them at their own game.
And there’s a
whole other story to be told of the English brewery, complete with shire
horses, that once existed in a converted electricity sub-station in downtown
Manhattan. Another day, perhaps.