No British town is more than 150 km from a sea port, and most are much closer. So when railways were built in the 19th century, fresh sea fish could easily be bought in all British towns. Cheaper than meat, sea fish became a popular source of protein. By 1870, fish and chip shops were opening all over the country and soon every town in Britain had its fish’n’chip shops. For a hundred years, they were a popular British style restaurant.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, things changed. "Fish and chips are not so popular with young people these days," says Lizzie, a teenager."Most of the time, if young people want to eat out, they'll go to a Burger King or a Chinese take-away. Fish 'n' chips is a bit old-fashioned. But there are still cheap chip shops around. We sometimes have it at home, and we go and get it from the chip shop. It saves cooking!"
Thousands of chip shops have closed in the last twenty-five years. Some have been turned into Chinese or Indian take-aways, others have just closed. They have survived best in seaside towns, where the fish is really fresh, and people visit them more as a tradition than for any other reason.
Yet nothing, perhaps, can save the classic fish'n'chip shop from disappearance. Fish'n'chips wrapped in newspaper is already just a memory. European hygiene rules don’t allow food to be wrapped in old newspapers, so today's chip shops use cardboard boxes. Of course, you can still eat fish and chips with your fingers if you want, but there are now plastic throw-away forks for people who do not want to get greasy fingers!
In spite of these changes, the classic fish'n'chip shop could disappear in a few years' time for another reason – lack of fish. For over ten years European agriculture ministers have been trying to solve the fish problem but with little success. As a result of industrial fishing, some types of fish are disappearing. Overfishing in the North Sea has reached crisis levels. Limits on the number of fish that can be caught have been introduced, but fishermen in Britain and other countries protest against them because jobs are lost. At some point, thousands of European fishermen could lose their jobs anyway, as there will be few fish left to catch. Soon sea fish will become rarer and, as a result, more expensive.
The traditional fish’n’chips shops will certainly continue to reduce in number. Most probably cheap fish’n’chip shops will be gone completely. Fish and chips, however, will survive as a high-priced specialty in expensive restaurants. In the years to come, they may become the only place where you can try this traditional English dish.