Tom Doorley: Chips
For the truly hungry it's an aroma that's right up there with the smell of sausages frying on a camp fire. I'm talking about the alluring scent of the chipper, especially as I remember it from childhood.
It's part of what we are, this devotion to fish and chips and we have been putting the stuff away in vast quantities for well over a century now. But we didn't invent it ourselves, nor did we import it from next door.
The closest thing to fish and chips you will find in the Italian kitchen is fritto misto - which is various bits and bobs battered and fried until crisp and served with wedges of lemon.
So how come our need for battered cod and crisp chips doused in malt vinegar has been served, for over a hundred years by people with surnames like Macari and Borza and Caffola? It's an intriguing story and one that is celebrated by an organisation called - and it's a strange title - the Irish Traditional Italian Chippers' Association.
Legend has it that one Giuseppe Cervi, destined for a new life in America, decided to leave his transatlantic ship at Queenstown (now Cobh) and walk to Dublin. From some point in the mid 1880s he was in business in Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) selling fish and chips. Legend further has it that his wife would nod to the fish and to the chips and ask the customers "uno di questo, uno di quello?" This means "one of this, one of that" and it is said that this scrap of Italian gave rise to the Dublin expression "a one and one" (or "awananwan") which translates as "cod and chips, please."
If Signor Cervi was serving fish and chips in Dublin 125 years ago, he was a pioneer. Fried fish was nothing new. It had been introduced to London by the Jewish community in the early 1830s; the idea of fried potatoes, or what would come to be called chips, was imported from France in the 1860s. But it took time for the two to be put together under the one roof.
The very first fish and chipper was opened in London's East End in 1870 and the idea spread immediaetly to the northern industrial towns around Oldham in Lancashire. But the further spread of this new-fangled way of eating would be thanks to Italian immigrants.
They brought fish and chips to Scotland where it caught on to such an extent that Glasgow's chippers were serving 800,000 meals a week by 1914.
Meanwhile, Giuseppe Cervi had started a trend here in Ireland. By 1909, Dublin had twenty chippers, which was not a lot in a city of just under 300,000 people - nothing like what you would have found in Scottish and northern English towns. But the curious thing about the Italian community who were behind the business in Dublin was that they all came from the same handful of villages in the Valle di Comino in Lazio, about fifty miles south of Rome.
Initially they drifted into Dublin during the closing years of the nineteenth century and sold religious statues and their celebrated Italian ice cream. In Scotland and in Ulster, the Italian chippers are still known for their gelato but in Dublin they soon found that there was much better profit to be made from fish and chips.
It's strange to think that in 1910 an eminent surgeon told the annual Sanitary Inspectors Conference that fish and chips were "warming, sustaining, nourishing and an escape from monotony, perhaps even a useful auxiliary in the fiight against TB."
It’s interesting that the two most legendary purveyors of fish and chips in Ireland, Lennox’s in Cork, which dates from 1951 and which was the country’s first purpose-built chipper, and Leo Burdock’s in Dublin which opened in 1913, have no Italian connections and are therefore ineligible, I presume, for membership of the ITICA.