1860 is the year that Italy was formed; the British burned down Beijing's Old Summer Palace; the Royal Navy launched the world's first iron-hulled and armoured battleship, HMS Warrior; Oxford University hosted its famous debate on evolution; and Britain produced 20% of the entire world's output of industrial goods.

But, more important than all that, 1860 was also the year in which Britain's most popular, and most famous, food dish was invented - fish and chips.

Today, there are 10,500 fish and chips shops throughout Britain (more than 8 times the number of McDonald's), employing 60,000 people. Britain is also a great exporter of fish and chips, with stores springing up around the world.

During WWI, Britain's national dish of battered fried fish and French fries was one of the few foods not to be rationed - and it also may have helped to play a part in the defeat of Germany. And it's also remarkably healthy.

And we can thank a 13-year-old boy for it, 150 years ago.

Fish and chips is still the nation’s favourite 150 years after the first fish supper

By Matt Roper
The Mirror

After fuelling the Industrial Revolution and sustaining morale through two world wars, Britain’s favourite meal is 150 years old.

And fish and chips will surely play its part in helping us get through this year’s Arctic winter too.

The meal’s origin dates back to a day in 1860 when an enterprising 13-year-old sold his first portion of fried potatoes with battered fried fish to a curious customer on a London street.

Since then, fish and chips have become a national institution and one of our most famous exports, with shops springing up around the world.

Today there are more than 10,500 fish and chip shops across the UK, employing 60,000 people and selling 300 million portions every year.

Chips, both home-made and takeaway, account for one third of all potatoes eaten in the UK. On Fridays 20% of all takeaways are from a fish and chip shop.

However one half of the perfect food pairing, the humble chip, actually hails from the other side of the Channel.

The first pommes frites were served in France in the 18th century, after Marie Antoinette made potatoes fashionable by wearing their blossoms in her hair.

However, we can take some of the credit as it was England’s Sir Walter Raleigh who first brought potatoes to Europe from the New World.

Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato to Europe

Oddly enough, the chip may have been invented as a substitute, not an accompaniment, for fish.

When the rivers froze, resourceful French housewives began cutting potatoes into fishy shapes and frying them as an alternative.

Around the same time, fried fish was introduced to Britain by Sephardic Jews fleeing Portugal and Spain.

Pescado frito – deep-fried fish – came to the Netherlands and England with the Iberian Jews in the 17th and 18th centuries and became popular in London and south-east England.

The fish was usually sold by street vendors from large trays hung round their necks.

Charles Dickens refers to an early fish shop or “fried fish warehouse” in Oliver Twist (1839), where the fish generally came with bread or baked potatoes.

While southerners developed a taste for the new fried fish, up north a trade developed in deep-fried, “chipped” potatoes, a cheap but filling food which sustained factory workers through the Industrial Revolution.

The sale of fish and chips in Britain outnumbers that of Indian food by 2 to 1, and there are 8 times as many fish and chips shops as there are McDonald's restaurants.

So for years fish and chips were eaten separately in different parts of the country.

It wasn’t until 1860 when the two were married.

Joseph Malin, from London, was 13 in 1860 when his parents, immigrant Jewish rug weavers, began frying chips in their home. Enterprising Joseph then paired these with battered fried fish from a fish warehouse and sold the combined dish on the streets.

Later he established a business that fried and sold hot fish and chips as the meal we would recognise today.

At a time when the working-class diet was bleak and unvaried, fish and chips soon caught on.

Outlets sprung up across the country and soon they were as much a part of Victorian Britain as steam trains and smog, and by the early 1900s there were more than 30,000 chippies.

Italian migrants passing through English towns saw the growing queues and sensed a business opportunity, setting up shops in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

To keep prices down, portions were often wrapped in old newspaper, a practice that survived until the 1980s when it was ruled unsafe for food to come into contact with newspaper ink without greaseproof paper in between.

It has even been suggested that fish and chips were part of Britain’s strategy to win the First World War, when the meal remained one of the few not subject to rationing.

According to Prof John Walton, author of Fish And Chips And The British Working Class, the government made safeguarding supplies a priority.

Harry Ramsden's, which started in 1928 in a wooden hut in Yorkshire, is the world's biggest fish and chip shop brand

He says: “The Cabinet knew it was vital to keep families on the home front in good heart, unlike the German regime that failed to keep its people well fed, and that was one reason why Germany was defeated.

“Fish and chips played a big part in bringing contentment and staving off disaffection.”

A British World War I poster. Fish and chips was one of the few foods that wasn't rationed in Britain during WWI, and it helped keep the nation's morale up.

George Orwell, in 1937’s The Road to Wigan Pier, put fish and chips first among the home comforts that helped keep the masses happy and even “averted revolution”.

Winston Churchill once described them as “the good companions” and during the Second World War fish and chips were again one of the only foods that were not rationed.

The most famous fish and chip shop began in 1928, when Harry Ramsden started selling fish and chips from a wooden hut in Guiseley, West Yorkshire.

After moving to larger premises, he later set a world record by serving the meal to 10,000 people in one day.

Today, fish and chips remains the nation’s favourite takeaway, despite the fact there is much more choice than there was 150 years ago.

It is also healthier than many fast foods – a typical portion contains 36% fewer calories than a chicken korma and pilau rice and 42% less fat than a doner kebab with pitta and salad.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Jan 7th, 2010 at 01:16 PM..