As another ex-pat business bites the dust, Craig Scott reveals why the chips are down for British takeaways
LAST Friday evening, I headed down to the coast for a hearty fish supper. Although I’ve enjoyed experimenting with Spanish cuisine, the prospect of a familiar treat suddenly appealed. Call me sentimental, but a ‘chippy tea’ at the end of a long, working week, will always evoke fond childhood memories.
Anyway, when I arrived at the address, there was no mouth-watering aroma and no famished tradesmen queuing down the street. In fact, there was no sign of a chip shop at all. With batter on the brain, I was loath to abort my mission and duly sought help from two nearby Spanish waiters. “¡Hola Señores. ¿dónde está el pescado y el chip tienda, por favor,” I asked innocently. “No“… he barked, “It’s gone. Terminado. Nobody wants disgusting English fish and chips. It’s a NICE Spanish restaurant now.”
Talk about p****g on my chips! The thing that irked me the most was the arrogance and contempt in the waiter’s voice. Generally, I love Spanish people and find most to be welcoming and tolerant towards foreigners, especially if you’re polite and try to communicate in Español. Take my good friends Cynthia and Miguel, for example, who are just as willing to drink Guinness and watch Premier League football, as I am to sip Mahou or root for Real Madrid. That’s why I was so shocked by this man’s anti-English prejudice.
Like many ex-pats, I tend to avoid the British “ghettos” of greasy spoons and tacky “2-for-1” pubs. Indeed, you’re more likely to find me chomping on chorizo in Córdoba than drooling over a Torremolinos wet t-shirt contest. However, I will still be saddened if honest, hard-working British takeaways continue to close down.
Not long ago, thriving chippies like The Friory in La Cala de Mijas, heaved with happy talk of low-taxes, cheap food and living the dream. Today, however, the shutters are down, the owners have left and the regulars are drowning their sorrows at nearby Harvey’s pub. I’ve travelled to La Cala to investigate The Friory’s plight and soon find myself sharing a pint with some disgruntled ex-customers. At first, the amber nectar flows and the mood is quite jovial. However, before long, all the talk is based around repossessions, the pitiful pound and friends who are packing up and heading home. It’s heartbreaking stuff.
Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t come here to knock back lagers in a ‘Little England’. However, I also refuse to feel guilty for craving mushy peas when I’m feeling nostalgic or bored of gazpacho. At the end of the day, if I’m prepared to try tapas and turn a blind eye to bullfighting, can’t Spanish folk at least try the occasional spam fritter – even if it’s just to help out their struggling ex-pat cousins. Just think how much wealth Chinese and Indian takeaway-owners have earned from adventurous Brits and their varied palettes. I once had a friend in Salamanca who felt queasy at the thought of Cantonese. “Spanish tastes are very simple,” he would grunt. “We don’t like foreign foods and fancy flavours.” But is the prospect of hot, fluffy chips and succulent, crispy fish really too much for Spaniards to bear?
Ironically, this “disgusting English” dish actually originated in Spain, well partly anyhow. The humble fish supper dates back to the 18th Century, when Jewish settlers in Spain introduced ‘pescado frito’ to the masses. It was the British Army who imported the recipe back to England, after developing a taste for it in Cádiz.
Anyway, like it or not, modern Spain is a multicultural country, inhabited by people of all cultures and creeds. As a Brit, I find it depressing how all of our customs and traditions have all but vanished from society, and in many ways, I do admire Spain for preserving its own culture. However, I also feel that some Spaniards lives would be enriched if they removed the blinkers and allowed themselves to at least try a few foreign things. That’s exactly why I’m throwing a fish and chip party this Friday – where some of my Spanish guests will try a delectable “fried fish butty” for the very first time. After all, it was their ancestors who invented it!