I guess it would be traditional for me, as a Brit, to crave the taste of fish and chips. When I was growing up it was a regular Friday night treat – I guess a hangover from more religious times of always eating fish on a Friday. I loved to ride in the car to the chippie with my mum or dad and wait at the counter – that way I didn’t have to set the table, my brother would do that – and it meant that I could enjoy the theatre of the chip-lady chatting to all the customers while handling the bubbling vats. I would rest my chin against the heat of the cabinet and watch; the chips flying out of the basket with her practiced flip, the delicate dipping of the fish fillets into the creamy-white liquid batter before being submerged in the fryer with a hiss and a fizz of bubbles.
I enjoyed her brisk ‘Sal’vinegar?’ (I don’t think anyone ever said no, but I always asked for extra vinegar) before she anointed the steaming crisp fish and chips with a good shake of both. I’d stare at the pies, they seemed oddly mysterious, almost exotic in their golden cases – we were not a pie and chips family so I never got to try one until, I think, I was in my teens, when I became fiendishly addicted to the cheese and onion pies filled with a dense sauce that tasted so good with the salty chips and the tang of the vinegar. My mum, brother and I had cod and my dad alternated between chicken and haddock. If I was good I’d get a can of Dandelion and Burdock and sometimes a little container of gravy too.
I can taste those cod suppers now. Warm, satisfyingly fatty and oh – so, so good, they tasted of the start of the weekend and the end of school. Which is why I was feeling a little homesick the other day, I knew what would fix it; fish and chips friom the summer-season window counter of the Raincity Grill, a restaurant around the corner from my flat in the West End on English Bay.
I love the ethos of the Raincity Grill, they were the first restaurant in Vancouver to base their menu on the ‘100 mile diet’ – ingredients gathered from a 100-mile radius – a philosophy built on sustainability, seasonal eating and cruelty-free farming. I ate dinner there a few months back and adored every mouthful. Heaven. It’s set at an amazingly good price point too but the real bargain is to be found at the window; fish and chips, with a tangy coleslaw salad and house-made tartare sauce all for $13 in a biodegradable carton.
The chips were pleasingly fat – crisp on the outside and almost buttery-soft inside. The fish was perfect; thick juicy flakes of fresh-caught local halibut wrapped in possibly the best batter I’ve ever had, light, crisp and without too much of a greasy aftertaste. I ate it on my balcony and it tasted like home and pure happiness. Just writing this on a Friday, a little after 6pm and I feel my tastebud-memory kicking in. I want to go and eat it again. I’d love one more of those family dinners, being small enough to rest my chin on the counter that now I’d most likely rest my elbows on. Like Proust had his madeleines, I guess I’ve got my fish and chips so when I’m in search of my ‘lost times’, I can go down to Raincity Grill and find them again.