GREENS AND BLUES 21/12/21
WE ARE SO GRATEFUL TO MAMMA’S IRISH ITALIAN FISH SHOPS
So how did a surge of emigration from a few square miles of an impoverished southern Italy near Lazio outside Rome in the last century lead to the creation of our national chip shop? Everyone is familiar with their local Italian chipper, they are dotted all over the country and now we see third and fourth generations at the helm dishing up the battered cod and home cut chunky chips that is about as far removed from what their ancestors were eating back in the homeland of pasta and pizza, though Italy now claims to have actually invented fish and chips but the English and Scottish were the real pioneers of the fish supper who also had an influx of the Italians at the same time.
It was very easy to see why any Italians making their home here would emulate what they saw in the UK en route. They now have their own trade association here and are as Irish as the Irish themselves now. They brought their excellent ice cream making skills too and some of those families are still churning that out also.
The first Irish shop was in modern day Pearse street at the turn of the century by the Cervi family and the Marcari’s and Borza’s soon followed even though they had a rival in Ukrainian Ivan Beshoff at the same time whose shops still exist today as well. Now there are dozens of families running hundreds of chippers all over the country, I was involved with the Cassoni family from Bray in Wicklow helping them set up another restaurant with them one time. They too had arrived from the motherland with all the passion and skill that made them an institution on the Bray seafront to this day.
One irony is most spuds used here for chips are English as our damp soil does not produce a good chip potato like the maris piper variety that is needed. It’s thanks to the Italians that the cooking is now also done in vegetable oil instead of the old beef dripping which really had lent a superb taste to the product by the way but maybe not as healthy.
The fish too is mostly filleted and frozen at sea these days to ensure constant supply and price. You do not want your price at the counter fluctuating up and down with the weekly prices on the fresh fish market now do you or perhaps have none at all if there is a storm? It’s actually fine when treated properly but not all of them go to the bother of taking out the pesky pin bones and this is a worry for a lot of customers. There is nothing worse than biting into beautiful batter, delicious chips and then finding crunchy bones to choke on. I had this experience last summer at one outlet and I just gave it back to them over the counter and walked out after paying over a tenner for the privilege. They were too busy to care. Some of the chippers are not run at all by Italians any more having sold them onto other owners. Standards have slipped in a few places for sure.
My very first taste of the quintessential Italian chipper was here in Navan as a child in the legendary town centre Valley Cafe where the Forte family as relative late comers set up shop in the early sixties. It has not changed so much which is a good thing of course and every now and again I take a trip down memory lane to sample their fish and chips. I have just had my regular tasting and they are as good as ever. Navan has had a long love affair with Italy having being twinned with two locations there so food is definitely a way to the heart. Now there was a moment when a certain goal was scored that tainted that affection but we have long kissed and made up and all is forgiven in love, war and food for that matter.