ON A TERRACE that overlooks the River Thames at Richmond there is a curious souvenir of the past. The so-called Fish Marker Stone was dug up in the 20th century. It is named thus because there is a carved fish or sea creature on top of it. Now no longer visible because it has worn away, the stone’s inscription bore the words “To Westminster Bridge 14 3/4 miles”. The stone is believed to have marked a fare stage for boatmen carrying passengers along the river.
Under the still water
In a Japanese pond
Kyoto Garden in London’s Holland Park
Why does fish and chips
Taste much better by the sea?
Something in the air?
As a child and teenager, I did not like gherkins (pickled cucumbers). My parents ate them, but refused to buy them if they were made behind the Iron Curtain, for example in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or Poland. They would only by jars of these green, wet vegetables if they were made in Western Europe, say in West Germany or Holland. You may well wonder why my parents were so fussy about the origin of their gherkins. The answer is simple. They were unwilling to buy anything from Soviet-dominated parts of the world because they felt, rightly or wrongly, that every penny they paid for goods from these areas would help the Soviet Union pay for yet another atomic bomb or some other military equipment that could be used against the West.
I did not worry me where my parent’s gherkins were grown and bottled, as I did not eat them. This was true until the late 1970s when McDonalds opened a branch of their hamburger restaurant chain in London’s Haymarket.
At first, I felt that I was too superior to enter a McDonalds, and developed an irrational prejudice against the company. Eventually, some friends decided to eat at the Haymarket branch andas I was with them and also a little curious about McDonalds, I joined them. I cannot recall which burger I ordered, but whatever it was, it contained slices of gherkin. I did not remove the gherkin as I might have done had I been served it a few years earlier. I bit into the burger and realised that it was the gherkin that made the rest of the burger sandwich delicious. From that moment onwards, I have become a gherkin afficionado.
I am happy eating gherkins anywhere. However, some of the nicest gherkins that I have found are those often served in fish and chips shops. These large, very tasty specimens often come Holland. Served from large glass jars, these gherkins are often known as ‘wallys’ (pronounced ‘wollees’) in London and South-East England.
Finally, here is something that you might not know about gherkins. The south of India, which I visit often, hasbeen a major producer and exporter of gherkins since the early 1990s. The soil condition in that region are perfect for growing the cucumbers that will be pickled. For more information, see: http://igea.in/. Had these been around in the days before the fall of the Iron Curtain, I wonder whether my parents would have bought them.
Sometime during the summer in the early to mid-1980s, when I was living in Kent, two young people came to stay with me from land-locked Hungary. Because travelling opportunities were limited and money was short in the Communist country, people did not travel abroad as much as people in Western Europe. My two guests had never seen the sea, except in photos and on the TV or cinema screen.
One evening, I drove my guests to the Kent coast to see the sea. We parked by a beach. As soon as we had stopped, the two lads leapt out of my car and ran into the sea fully clothed. That is how excited they were to see real waves and the sea.
After experiencing the sea, they asked me about ‘fish and chips’, which their English teacher in Budapest had mentioned. We walked to a nearby fish and chips shop and placed an order. When the fillets of fish arrived wrapped in crisp golden batter, my friends looked at them, wondering whether or not they had been served pieces of fish. They had never seen fish prepared like this before.
Fish prepared, fried and covered with batter, as it is served in British fish and chip shops is actually not a dish of British origin. According to that mine of knowledge Wikipedia, it was the Sephardic Jews, who settled in the UK from the 16th century onwards, who introduced fish prepared this way. Alexis Soyer (1810-58), the famous 19th century chef wrote in his A shilling cookery for the people, published in 1854:
“There is another excellent way of frying fish, which is constantly in use by the children of Israel … In some families … they dip the fish, first in flour, then in egg, and fry in oil“, which is more or less what happens in a fish and chips shop.
This leads me to the real subject of the article: a reccommendation. There are many highly-rated fish and chips shops (‘chippies’) in the British Isles. The ‘Fryers Delight’ is one of them. This unpretensious shop, whose decor seems unaltered since the day it opened back in in 1958, serves excellent fish with superb chips cut in the shop’s kitchen, all fried in beef dripping. I have eaten there twice, and look forward to my next visit. The staff are friendly, and the prices are very reasonable and the food is good value for money.
The FRYERS DELIGHT, which is open from noon to 10pm every day except Sunday is located at:
19 Theobalds Rd, Holborn, London WC1X 8SL
This wonderfully coloured fish was swimming about in a fish tank in the lobby of a hotel in Gulbarga on Karnataka (India). It illustrates the immense variety of the natural colourings of animal life, which rivals the many attempts of artists to produce original creations
A creature of God’s making
Nature’s original art
Eyes and scales, also gills,
Swimming no longer:
Ready for the platter