21 Mar 2017

Two fish and a scoop: a social history

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:07 pm on 21 March 2017

Te Awhina Arahanga is worried we're losing the Friday night fish 'n' chips tradition. She's spent the past few years writing a book on the history of this still popular dish.

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Photo: 123RF

In 2012 Arahanga was picked for the Māori writer's residency at the Michael King Writer's Centre, to research the topic.

The book is called Two Fish And A Scoop: A Social History of Fish and Chips in New Zealand.

She says her work is more than a walk through Kiwiana, it is an in depth study, educational, entertaining and poignant celebration of our cultural history.

Arahanga says peak fish ‘n’ chip was the 60s and 70s as people had a bit of spare money in their pockets and fast food behemoths from overseas had yet to arrive.   

Te Awhina Arahanga

Te Awhina Arahanga Photo: Supplied

“Catholic families were really keen to keep that tradition of eating fish on Fridays going, there was that huge demand on Friday and the story was there were more Catholics in fish and ship shops on Friday night than there were at mass on a Sunday.”

From then she says a slow decline set in. In 1971 the first KFC arrived in New Zealand and McDonalds opened its first outlet in 1976. She says the ‘pure’ fish and chip shop is now a rarity.

She remembers stores that had a single Space Invaders arcade machine in the corner, where only fish and chips were sold, "plus maybe burgers if you're lucky".

Now the all things to all people fast food outlet predominates.

“You’re getting fancy chips, things like kumara chips and wedges, before you basically had just straight cut or crinkle you’re starting to get French cut chips too. It’s really quite difficult to find what I call a pure fish and chip shop.”  

So where was New Zealand’s first fish and chip shop? Arahanga has narrowed it down to between Invercargill and Greymouth. Greymouth had the advantage of plenty of coal to heat the fat, she says.