Fish and Chips

By Rebecca Lee Moody   |   September 26, 2023

So, say you’re in a situation where once every week you cannot cook for an entire 24 hours, but the family still needs to eat, and let’s add in it’s the 16th century (no DoorDash). What do you do?

On the Alley with Fish and Chips

You invent fish and chips. That’s the answer, and that’s what happened for Jews living in England after escaping the Inquisition. Religious rules prevented cooking during the Sabbath, so the observant had to figure out how to rustle up vittles in advance, things that could be eaten cold later. 

One of the creations they came up with involved rolling thick strips of fish in flour and frying them in oil, which preserved the fish and made it awfully tasty, too. This method of preparation also turned into a business opportunity. Enterprising immigrants rigged up systems whereby they suspended trays of filets from their necks with leather straps and became street vendors. 

The new take-out fare was a hit and the first actual shop selling what was then known as ‘fried fish in the Jewish fashion’ opened in London in 1863. Its owner brought things to the next level by pairing the fish with fries, or “chips” as they eventually became known. This was a recipe for success and over time shops selling the same thing popped up everywhere after that. The British were hooked.

So are Santa Barbarans, turns out. I discovered this after watching a recent post on Nextdoor, which asked where the best fish and chips in town are, generate over a hundred enthusiastic replies. There were many places recommended, but I noted that On the Alley, down at the harbor, came in really strong. So, I decided to go and see what was what.

After parking in a nice shady spot, I walked off to find On the Alley and once there (it’s in the alley) asked the gal at the register for “the basic basket of fish and chips,” then went outside to wait. What a beautiful scene; colorful boats and such to the left, the mountains behind, and I liked the place’s outdoor seating. It’s one long wooden table where you have company and insta-friends. There were five of us lunching together that day and while hanging out, I really enjoyed watching as folks with their kayak paddles and surfboards walked by, as did some harbor workers, a few tourists, and I swear I saw Thurston Howell the Third on his way to the yacht shop.

The wait wasn’t long at all and when a smiling server arrived with my order, I surveyed the combo and was happy to see that the three hunky chunks of battered fish were the correct golden hue and the chips had their skins on, which makes them seem more healthy. The whole thing looked good, stem to stern, so I splashed on the essential condiment, Heinz Malt Vinegar, plucked up a piece, and bit in. A win! The exterior had a fine upstanding crunch, while the interior was soft and flavorful; just the textural contrast one wants. Tucking into a few chips, next, I really understood why Winston Churchill said fish and chips were “good companions.”

They really are, and most especially when experienced down at our lovely waterfront. Sitting with new friends and a platter of the delicious Yiddish-British-fish-dish, with a soundtrack of seagulls, wind chimes and surf in the background, was one of the nicest micro-holidays I’ve been on in a while. Thanks ND neighbors, I wouldn’t have done it without you!  


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