East Anglia, The Aldeburgh Scallop, Snobs and Seaside Fish and Chips

Aldeburgh Beach Walk

After a visit to the seaside resorts of Southwold and Lowestoft we travelled a little further south today to the town of Aldeburgh, famous most of all for being the home town of the English composer Benjamin Britten.

I wondered if my grandchildren would like it because Aldeburgh is a genteel sort of place where people of a certain age (mostly my age, I confess) visit to walk along the pebble beach.  The objective for most is to pass judgment on the scallop sculpture which seems to be the most controversial thing about the place (half the town love it, the other half hate it) and later find a tea shop for a cucumber sandwich and a slice of Victoria Sponge cake.

Aldeburgh Suffolk Beach Scallop Sculpture

Aldeburgh is that sort of a place, a bit upmarket, a bit fond of itself, snobby really.  In 2012 the residents fought an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to prevent Tesco from opening a supermarket in the town because they didn’t consider it appropriate, they probably would have preferred Waitrose.

Aldeburgh Tesco

I confess that I like the sculpture (I also like Tesco) and it seems that a lot of other visitors do also because they are drawn to it like moths to a flame.  Local people claim that it spoils the beach and regularly petition to have it removed.  When I say local people I wonder just who they are because according to official statistics second homes make up about a third of the town’s residential property.  This is an attractive and sought after location for people with lots of money that live in London.  This is the sort of thing that local people should be campaigning against.

So we visited the sculpture and the children climbed on it and used it as an alternative playground and then we walked with some difficulty along the blue flag beach with pebbles crunching under our feet and occasionally leaking into the space between our feet and our sandals requiring several stops to remove the offending sharp articles before we could comfortably continue.

Along the way we passed the fishing boats drawn up onto the shingle, rugged craft with peeling paint, rusted rig and knotted nets, their work done now for the day and undergoing basic maintenance and essential repairs and the overnight catch being sold in the simple wooden huts with chalk board signs along the side of the road.  I bought some smoked fish filo pastry parcels and looked forward to them later with my tea.

Eventually we reached the town, the children had ice cream and we stopped for tea and cake at the Cragg Sisters Tea Room which served a mighty fine cup of tea and some excellent cake and scones.  As I anticipated the children were tired of Aldeburgh now and anxious to get back to the swimming pool at the Kessingland holiday park so while they went back without us I found myself in a street of expensive shops with Kim and my Mother, both determined to return with an unnecessary purchase.

Aldeburgh Family

I left them to it and wandered the High Street until I came across a long line of people all patiently queuing for something, rather like a line of Russian housewives lining up for bread in a time of shortage.

It was a fish and chip shop, a famous seaside fish and chip shop that is regularly voted the best in England and clearly a lot of people agreed with this judgment.  I would have liked some fish and chips but I am not very patient in a queue and I had just had a cheese scone and tomato pickle at the Cragg Sister’s Tea Room so I declined to join the end of the line and went instead to the beach to photograph the boats.

But I couldn’t get the desire for batter and grease out of my head so later I had fish and chips in nearby Lowestoft because few things capture the spirit of the English seaside quite like the furious sizzle of a fillet of haddock in a deep fat fryer.

No other country in the World has this special relationship with potatoes fried in beef dripping, or fish served entombed in batter, showered in salt, doused generously with vinegar and eaten out of paper wrappings with a fork so small, blunt and wooden that it is scarcely fit for purpose.

Eating a Bag of Chips

Some time ago I wrote a post about chips because I had been interested to discover that there is controversy about the origin of the humble French Fry, frite or chip and there are conflicting claims to how it came to enter the culinary traditions of so many countries.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

The Belgians claim that they invented the fried potato and there is a rather unlikely tale attached to the story. It claims that the local people rather liked eating small deep fried fishes but in the Winter when the rivers were frozen and fishing became hazardous they cut potatoes in the form of small fish and put them in a fryer instead.  I can’t believe that this was going to fool anyone but then again take a look in a supermarket freezer section today and potatoes are cut into all sorts of different shapes to amuse the kids.

In Spain they say that this is nonsense and the potato wasn’t even grown in (what is now) Belgium at that time  and some claim that dish may have been invented in Iberia, which might make sense because this was the first European country in which the potato appeared via the New World colonies.  It goes on to back up this claim with the assertion that ‘patatas fritas’ were an original accompaniment to fish dishes in Galicia from which it spread to the rest of the country and then to the Spanish Netherlands, part of which only became, what we now call, Belgium more than a century later.

Belgium however still stubbornly clings on to its claim and dismisses the assertion of the French themselves by arguing that the description ‘French Fries’ originated due to a linguistic misunderstanding because in old English ‘to French’ meant ‘cut into sticks’ and then US soldiers in the Second-World-War called them French Fries on account of the fact that the official language of Belgium at the time was French.

While researching this I half expected to find a German claim with the fried potato strips no doubt invented by someone called Fritz!

Of course we don’t care what the Belgians, the French or the Spanish think because we know that they are an English invention and that we make a better job of cooking them anyway. According to legend, the first chips fried in the UK were on the site of Oldham’s Tommyfield Market in 1860.

You can read my post about chips right here…

Chips, Crisps or Fries – How Do You Eat Yours?

Later we went to the beach for a swim and to enjoy a glorious end to the day…

End of the Day

32 responses to “East Anglia, The Aldeburgh Scallop, Snobs and Seaside Fish and Chips

  1. Fish and chips is supposed to be wrapped in newspaper, and as for Ben Britten I prefer the other B Ludwig v B.
    No one can do fish and chips like the English eaten it in the USA, Australia and they just can’t get it right.

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  2. Love the fish and chips, and like the sculpture. Not so keen on Tesco though. Actually not just Tesco, any large supermarket opening in a town does destroy the smal grocery shops. However we all prefer the convenience so we are all responsible not just the supermarkets!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m still on the Camino Andrew. The scallop shell is one of the symbols and is depicted many times along the route. The one in your picture is interesting, maybe I’ll get down there soon

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  4. Whitby with the walkers was my last fish and chips. 🙂 🙂 On the road today, Andrew.

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  5. Great post. Well written and illustrated. We had fish and chips a couple of days ago simply because we had smelt them from next door to the Tesco where we were buying beer. Jackie puts her love of mayonnaise on chips down to earlier holidays in Belgium.

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  6. Agree about the Tesco protests, some people are complete NIMBYs over things like this. Recently had fish n chips at Trenchers in Whitby, fish was so fresh it was almost still flapping! We should slap a ban on anyone else using the term, like champagne, brandy, etc. There’s a cracking place for them on the shingle beach at Dungeness too, I stupidly went for the large … and regretted it as soon as it arrived, it would have fed your whole family.

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  7. I like the sculpture, though I think it would be more interesting (profound?) without the words spoiling the impact of it.

    As for “chips”, fish and chips is one contribution to world cuisine that the English can be proud to have contributed! Of course, here in the US, there is a stronger likelihood ketchup of slathered over the chips, now transformed into “French fries”. One place in my town serves them without additions and the fish with a tartar sauce. Of course, if you ask, they will put out the ketchup. Naked fries are best, I think.

    I wonder how people in other countries have their fish and chips?

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  8. “…of ketchup slathered…” rather… Coffee hasn’t kicked in yet!

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  9. Is Tesco the English version of Walmart?

    I like the sculpture.And fish and chips.

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  10. I like the sculpture (and the words). I also like chips and the picture with the tomato ketchup is particularly enticing. *Checks watch* – not too long till dinner time!

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  11. I shell repeat my preference for local Ono in tempura batter with French Fries and not them hand cut ones, either. Not sure why anyone would season with vinegar but I assume it’s a cultural thing although I’ve seen it offered here.

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  12. Liked your header. Looks like your family is all blonde!

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