The Americans have their burgers, the Indians have their curries, the Italians have their pasta and the United Kingdom has their fish and chips.
However, owners of fish and chips shops across the United Kingdom are struggling to stay afloat, all thanks to Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has now entered Day 84.
Andrew Crook, president of the National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF), told CNN that as many as a third of the country’s roughly 10,000 fish-and-chip restaurants could close in the next nine months.
Here’s a better understanding of how the Russia-Ukraine war is threatening UK’s unofficial national dish.
All about the fish and chip
There is nothing more British than fish and chips.
Freshly cooked, piping hot fish and chips, smothered in salt and vinegar, wrapped in newspaper and eaten out-of-doors on a cold and wintry day – it’s a meal that all British people swear by.
It is reported that the first fish and chip shop in the North of England is thought to have opened in Mossely, near Oldham, Lancashire, around 1863.
Records state that an entrepreneur called John Lees was the first to open a fish and chips shop out of a wooden hut at Mossley market in Lancashire.
A working-class staple it has remained ever popular with the locals. In the 1930s, it is said that there were around 35,000 fish and chip shops across the UK.
The number is somewhat reduced today to around 10,500, but this still means fish and chip shops massively outnumber other fast-food places.
The meal is seen as such a staple of the British people that during both World War I and World War II it wasn’t rationed. Winston Churchill, the British prime minister during World War II had described the meal as “the good companions” that kept the British people fuelled and in good spirits.
Battered fish and chip shops
Business leaders in the fish and chip industry have been complaining that the ongoing war in Ukraine has affected their sales, and as recently as 13 May, they said that if things continued, almost a third of the shops would have to shut down.
This is because the prices of the key ingredients in fish and chips — cod, haddock, potatoes and cooking oil — have soared since the war began on 24 February.
Up to 40 per cent of cod and haddock, the fish that is used in the ubiquitous meal comes from Russia and the supply of this has been affected since the war. Moreover, Britain’s sanctions on Russian white fish will make these North Sea supplies scarcer and pricier.
When it comes to local haddock and cod, the prices have skyrocketed there too, as British trawlers are staying in port due to the high cost of fuel.
Besides the fish, 50 per cent of oil used by British fish and chip shops comes from Ukraine, the war-stricken country.
Businesses, according to a CNN report, are paying about 83 per cent more for sunflower oil compared to early March.
Palm oil, a common alternative, has doubled in price. Indonesia — the world’s biggest exporter of palm oil — started to restrict exports last month to help maintain domestic supplies.
Moreover, the price of fertilisers to grow potatoes — mainly from Russia — has risen three times and the price of flour is also climbing.
And it’s not just the rising cost of ingredients, which is affecting owners of the chippy shops. Eye-watering energy bills and soaring VAT taxes are only adding to the burden.
Chip shop owners speak
Pam Sandhu, an owner of a chip shop in the seaside resort of Brighton on England’s south coast, told AFP, “We have to keep the customer happy but I can’t work for nothing. I have a home to feed.”
George Morey, who manages the takeaway at Knights, a fish and chip shop in Glastonbury, is worried too.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “Will there be enough (fish) if we refuse to buy Russian white fish? It’s a real big concern.
“Will we have to consider finding another product for the menu to replace fish and chips – could the impact be that extreme? I think if prices keep increasing, it may be a thing we keep in mind.
“We have to prepare ourselves for the worst times ahead, and I think it’s possibly the biggest challenge the fish and chip industry has faced, ever.”
NFFF chief Crook reiterated the same sentiments. “We are running the risk of pricing ourselves out of the market… we’re trying to keep increases as low as possible.”
We shudder to think of a Britain without fish and chips — it sure will stink!