Fish and chip shops are ubiquitous in Australia, a familiar sight in country towns and suburbs nationwide. It’s little surprise then that, when a call went out last year for Australians to vote for their favourite fish and chippery, there were almost 300,000 votes.
The Great Australian Fish & Chip Awards 2021 state winners were announced in December by Seafood Industry Australia (SIA). The awards, an initiative of the FRDC, are now run by SIA, the national peak body representing the seafood industry, with funding provided by the FRDC and others, including MasterFoods.
‘Buying Australian seafood supports Australian fishing families and the regional communities where they operate’, said SIA CEO Veronica Papacosta.
‘Australian seafood is one of the most sustainable protein sources in the world and our fisheries management is world-class. However, close to 70 per cent of seafood eaten in Australia is imported’, she said.
Fish and chips are an important route to market for Australian seafood and the awards celebrate those businesses that excel in delivering delicious and excellent meals.
Bringing communities together
The small town of Ceduna, South Australia, for instance, got right behind its local seafood shop, the Ceduna Oyster Barn, in the awards. Ceduna, known as the ‘Oyster Capital of South Australia’, sits on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula.
Local Karen Kavanagh says an online post about the competition ‘set in motion a month of fun and community unity and brought out the passion for seafood that is Ceduna’.
‘Our community consists of a high proportion of Aboriginal as well as a smaller proportion of Greek people’, Karen said. ‘This competition brought all nationalities together and our community page was awash daily with people encouraging others, people tagging people to vote, acknowledging they had voted etc.
‘The competition created a situation where people were talking about it in the street and asking each other had they voted, what the numbers were, what we needed to move from fourth to third – it was a real topic around town. It was positively awesome. It’s a great community orientated competition’, she said.
The Ceduna Oyster Barn, a converted ATCO (portable) hut with dining space on the roof, came third, behind two larger businesses.
Karen said, ‘we’ve got our sights set firmly on second if not first place for SA in 2022!’
A long tradition
The tradition of buying and sharing the paper-wrapped bundles of battered fish and fried potato is deep-rooted in Australian culture. It’s part of growing up, picnics on the beach and, for some families, a Friday-night ritual.
According to the FDRC’s ‘Short history of fish and chips’, the English first combined the two key ingredients – potatoes and fish – as a fast fare for the common people in a London shop opened in 1860 by Jewish migrant Joseph Malin.
Greek migrant Athanasias Comino is often credited with introducing the takeaway here, opening the first Australian fish and chip shop in 1879 on Sydney’s Oxford Street (though family records say Athanasias copied the idea from a Welshman’s shop nearby).
Successive waves of migrants invested in these businesses and played a crucial role in popularising the meal across the country. Recently, there were an estimated 4000 fish and chip shops in Australia.
Veronica Papacosta, a third-generation seafood retailer and fish and chip shop co-owner, explains the surprising origin and use of batter in a podcast by Myf Warhurst devoted to the fish and chip shop in the series OUR PLACE.
‘Batter is meant to be more of a vehicle for cooking fish’, Veronica says on the podcast. ‘So fish is best cooked quickly. We know the English would put a batter around the fish so that it was protected so that it wouldn't dry out because they were obviously deep frying. The batter was something that you’re actually meant to peel off and eat the fish inside and some people I know still do that. We've gotten very used to eating the batter’, she says.
Batter in Australia evolved to become much thinner, Veronica says, with Japanese techniques introduced to the process here.
Today, fish and chips are an essential part of the menu for many pubs, restaurants and upmarket eateries as well as takeaway shops, and they are the culinary subject of celebrity and Michelin-starred chefs.
Congratulations to the state winners of the Great Australian Fish & Chip Awards 2021 MasterFoods™ People’s Choice Awards for showcasing outstanding seafood. The winners are:
- Queensland - Costa's Seafood Cafe, Capalaba
- New South Wales - Something Seafood, Callala Bay
- Victoria - Trident Fish Bar, Queenscliff
- Tasmania - Fraggles, Invermay
- South Australia - Fish Out of Water, Hyde Park
- Western Australia - Pinjarra Fish & Chips, Pinjarra
- Northern Territory - Frying Nemo Fish and Chippery, Stuart Park
- Australian Capital Territory - The Fish Shack, Civic.