F is for fish and chips
No visit to the seaside is complete without freshly-fried fish and chips, soused in vinegar and liberally sprinkled with salt. Oh, go on – you’re on holiday!
Like warm beer and roast beef, they're a national institution – mentioned by Dickens in Oliver Twist, with the country's first shop opening in Cleveland Street, London in 1860. At that time the favourite fast-food choice of hungry holidaymakers were oysters, but as they became scarcer at the back end of the 19th century, chips took the culinary crown.
Perhaps it's their simplicity that has so enamoured them to us, the combination of land and sea that so defines our island state – not least here in Norfolk.
And everyone loves them! Fish and chips are a great meal for a celebration and even better when the bank manager's knocking on the door. They were served at Ascot races in 1925 and were the only fast food not rationed in the second world war (because who'd want to go out to sea when you were likely to get a mine or a U-boat in your nets?). Whatever, they are ALWAYS best at the seaside.
So what about the etiquette? Visit the chippy when it's bursting to the gunnels or insist on something to order. The difference between fish fresh from the fryer and one that's been sitting in the hot cupboard is a revelation. The thing is, fried fish is actually fish that has been steamed within a seamless batter coat; when cooling that coat collapses and the fish goes soggy. Gastronomically, soggy fish is not good. You want to tuck in and get a release of fresh, warm fishy odour.
And if you’'e in a chippy that cares about quality, blisteringly hot beef dripping is king when it comes to frying. Apparently some London restaurants use groundnut oil. Nuts to that. Taters? Maris Piper and Maris Peer are the gourmet choice.
As mentioned above, lashings of salt and vinegar are obligatory. Scraps are optional and can be requested from the shop proprietor.
Pickled eggs are for epicurean ne'er-do-wells; gherkins for the effete. Mushy peas are acceptable – just don't mistake them for guacamole, a crime committed by then-MP Peter Mandelson at a Blackpool Labour Party conference.
Gravy may well be the nation's sixth most popular accompaniment to fish and chips but, frankly, this is just a northern affectation. And gravy's hopeless when wrapped in paper. Curry sauce is for Continental Europeans only.
Which brings us to the last point … it's permissible to have your fresh bounty delivered in a polystyrene tray or from a plate, but paper is best, allowing you to really savour the flavour, even if EU nannies won't allow fish and chips to be served in newspaper anymore (which begs the question: what happens to today's newspaper tomorrow?).
Now take your prize to the promenade quickly, and get your laughing gear around the seaside equivalent of ambrosia.