Thursday, December 20, 2007

Traditional New Years Battering in Dublin

To continue on from yesterday’s post about Yorkshire Pudding I thought that it’d be nice if I said a few words about another dish which uses batter; good old Fish & Chips!

Since the Cod wars of the 1970's this poor fish has been almost driven to extinction by over fishing and is no longer one of the less expensive varieties. In fact it's a bit of a treat to have Cod these days! More often than not the Halibut; which used to be expensive is offered as first choice these days; as a child that was beyond reach!

When I was little; growing up in North Yorkshire & Leicestershire, England; "Cod & chips, twice please, with mushy peas and scraps!" was a familiar phrase; the mushy peas being a favourite North of The Watford Gap . In those days there was a great divide between “the sophisticated south and the working class north of England.”

Probably these words were uttered mainly on Friday evenings, due to the relationship with time honoured church traditions, ie the fasting of meat. Times were hard; so a trip to the chippers was definitely something to look forward to.

The take-away meal was served up in newspaper wrappings; a handful of batter scraps sprinkled generously on the top, these luxuries have now been outlawed due to health concerns. It’s a shame about that; there was something special about the combined taste/smell created! When served with plenty of salt and vinegar, and Heinz tomato ketchup, this dish made the perfect end to the week.

For an extra special treat we would sometimes be taken to Harry Ramsdens Fish Restaurant in Guisley. What could be more perfect than Cod & Chips served in the traditional way; with a plate of bread and butter, mushy peas and a pot of tea? I remember queuing for what seemed like hours to get our table in the original carnation of this now world famous venue.

Sadly, those memories are very old now, as my Grandfather, whose special treat this was, died in 1970. Shortly afterwards we moved away; down to Leicestershire, where things were only slightly different. Some years later; in the mid-seventies, my grandmother came to live nearby.

In our family we'd often have a late supper after the swimming club meet on Friday evenings; after two solid hours of lessons, I was more than ready for "Chish & Fips". This childish play on words, ie a spoonerism, is still heard amongst the older members of the family! The innocent fun in this little game might be a little too subtle for today's sophisticated children.

After Nan-nan’s arrival we used to go to her Chippy instead and there was nothing quite like it. That was all a long time ago and there is nothing quite like your memories to make something even more attractive than the reality, is there?

Unfortunately, when it comes to fish and chips this is not always the case. The world of instant gratification that we live in is probably responsible for many evils; particularly in the market place. We expect good food to be conveniently available to us at cheap prices; this can only be achieved by big conglomerate supermarkets and has lead to the closure of many small family businesses.

It seems that most Chippers buy in pre-battered, frozen fish shapes these days. The result is appalling; compounded by the fact that they also use oil, rather than dripping or lard, the result is flavourless and soggy and doesn’t resemble fish & chips as I know them in the slightest.

To date, over the twelve years since I ‘came home’ to live in Ireland we have discovered a couple of decent fish & chip shops; unfortunately the nearest of these is fifty seven miles away in Dublin city centre. There are a couple of cheap and cheerful Harry Ramsdens take-away stations in the big shopping centres, which frankly leave a lot to be desired compared with the original restaurant in Yorkshire.

Leo Burdocks on the other hand are just brilliant. Having been awarded several accolades for their wonderful secret batter recipe; Leo Burdocks is reputed to be the oldest Chippers in Dublin.

With reasonable prices for humongous portions the only thing missing from their menu is proper mushy peas, but then, you can’t have everything can you? They do, however, serve portions of marrowfat peas if requested and I can imagine that the sit-down restaurant over in Phibsborough is even better seeing as you can order bread & butter and a pot of strong tea with your meal!!!

Having written all that and even gone to the trouble of including a photo of their tiny shop front in Werburgh Street my taste buds are watering in advance of our annual pilgrimage on New Years Day!We go there after our trip to the matinee performance of the Liberty Hall Theatre Pantomine; this year it's Snow White, adapted by Karl Broderick and performedby TV3's Alan Hughes it will be outstanding as usual. I can't wait!

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