Cod
Photo: Cod with chips at Eamonn’s in Old Town Alexandria.

Oh chippers, with your golden crispy white flaky steamy fishy treasures. What mixed feelings I have about fish and chips…

Golden Hind: We lived in Marylebone during our two-year overseas tour in London. Carlos would walk to work straight down Baker Street to Portman Square. I took a train from Paddington Station to my office near Oxford. We drank at our local, ate at our favorite Lebanese place on Edgware Road, and shopped at our local butcher and at the Marylebone Farmers’ Market. When we wanted fish and chips, or when we were reenacting Ye Olde English tour for our houseguests, we’d walk down to Marylebone Lane, a narrow one-way, curving street that had once been a cart track beside a small stream. At the hanging sign with Drake’s ship, we’d enter the small chipper, point out the (decoration-only) antique fryer, sit in the “atmospheric” dining room, and order mushy peas and plates of haddock.

The Tool Kit
Photo: Tool kit.

Fryer’s Delight: Hell, every newspaper, every magazine, every Web site in Britain and Ireland does a periodic Best Chipper List. The reviews of Fryer’s Delight—written in breathless prose, which, in a time of no-fat eating, dared you to enter Sodom and Gomorrah—noted that they fried in beef tallow. So of course I headed east from Marylebone to Holborn to sit with the off-duty cabbies in a cloud of cigarette and grease fire smoke. The fish was oily and filling; it tasted of Geroge Orwell and D.H. Lawrence. I was sated but I never went back.

Eamonn's A Dublin Chipper
Photo: Eamonn’s

Eamonn’s, what’s all this Nostalgia? The place carries an aroma of fried food and homesickness for another country and another city culture. It pines for another time when the cod was cheap and plentiful. The chandeliers and wood paneling, the display of Cadbury’s chocolates, the chalkboard menu are trying to hit Joycean notes in an American town founded by Scots. You know this stage setting very well; it’s in every city around the world where there’s an Irish pub. Despite the Pogues playing on the sound system, we’re in America: the ketchup proves it.

Guinness

By the way, grouper doesn’t work for fish and chips. The taste was fine, but the texture too Sponge Bob Square Pants. Haddock was, and still is, the best replacement for cod in these dark days. Some argue, and I’d agree, haddock tastes better anyway.

Grouper
Photo: Grouper with chips.

Fish and chips is a strange delicacy. Two hundred years ago one could walk across the Atlantic on a bridge of cod. Today the Atlantic species are dying of overfishing and of global warming. Cod remains strangely resistant to human efforts to manage the fisheries. Even as haddock has slightly recovered, cod remains desperately threatened. I asked Eamonn’s for the source of their cod. I received a very friendly e-mail telling me it was sourced from Boston, caught by “day boats and shipped daily” to Alexandria. The foodie press, of course, rarely mentions the issue of the cod fisheries. Their silence is the silence I imposed on myself as I ate my meal looking at the front door with the motto: “Thanks be to Cod.” Thank you Cod, fare thee well.

Fish and chips shops must sell nostalgia because what was once the cheapest fish, the fish that fed so much of the Western world, is now expensive and scarce. We can continue to eat fish and chips using the less threatened fish, but a chipper is anachronism, a reminder of common meals for common people. In Old Town’s touristy and upscale streets, we drank expensive Guinness and ate our expensive and rare piece of dayboat cod. Even though the night we went the cod was excellent (the fries were just ok), I don’t know if I’ll be back.

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