Stand By Your Friers!

When I first came to England, in October 1949, food rationing was still an inconvenience that the average household had to put up with.

Rabbit was a staple diet, as was the traditional fish and chips. Both became a delicacy to the palette in the absence of the great variety of food that we enjoy today.

But scarcity also proves what sends the most modest of foods to a higher level or appreciation gets forgotten in times of plenty.

One still yearns for the days when, armed with very little money and with a hungry stomach, we were able to have a proper nosh-up of fish and chips wrapped in a newspaper, which even seemed to enhance the taste, despite its lack of hygiene. This British tradition, long regarded as the national dish of Britain, is about to lose its sentimental value by an Italian claim that fish and chips were first fried in Venice.

Italian schoolchildren are being taught that Venetian immigrants brought the recipe to the British Isles.

It has been served to thousands of pupils in school canteens across Rome in recent weeks, replacing typical Italian pasta. The campaign was part of an EU menu which included meals from a number of nations. Fish and chips, however, proved to be one of the most popular.

But although it was selected to represent the traditions of Britain, the Italians appeared to have hijacked its origins by claiming that they were the true inventors of the dish. In the description offered to pupils, Rome’s education officials say that Venetian immigrants may have brought the meal across the channel.

Andrew Crook, treasurer of the National Federation of Fish Fryers, said he had never before heard of an Italian origin for fish and chips. The dish was first served around 1860 by the Malin family of London and the Lees of Mossley, near Manchester, both staking the claims to be first. ‘I have never heard of anything of the Italians bringing over fish and chips,’ he said, ‘all the history books say it was either the Malins or the Lees.’

Apparently, the Italians prefer a slightly healthier version – with the fish only slightly fried before being baked in an oven.

The British are very protective of their traditions of being the best fryers of their fish and chips and will never tolerate its sabotage by the Italians or anybody else.

Rule Britannia and the British will never be the same without the aromatic vapours of this national dish embedded in their genes.

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