It may not be the most ludicrous claim uttered by Russian politicians of late, or even Mad Vlad himself, but declaring fish and chips to be a Soviet invention is surely among the most bizarre and brazen attempts at cultural appropriation.
The combination of fish with chips is – according to pro-Kremlin minister Andrey Isayev – not a British idea but Russia’s own. During a bizarre television rant in which Isayev railed against our “evil” nation, urging UK-dwellers to “catch your fish and chips from your foggy marshes”, the show’s host, Yevgeny Popov, chimed in that “white fish, fish and chips is Russian” with which Isayev agreed emphatically. If they haven't both been sanctioned yet, it's about time they were and put firmly back in their (fish and chips) box!
Let's face it, it's a culture war/actual war hybrid nobody was expecting! But there is – worryingly – a vaguely plausible link. And it shows the classic Russian trick of taking a hint of possibility and turning it into a 'fact' or, to use phraseology from America's great twister of the truth: 'fake news.'
The first known British fish and chip shop was Malin’s of Bow, east London, set up in 1860 by Joseph Malin – an Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant. According to the Jewish Museum in London, Malin may have been born Joseph Malinsky; his Ashkenazi heritage rooted in an unknown part of Europe, such as, ahem, Russia.
That the meal’s origins are rooted in the Jewish tradition is “indisputable”, says Panikos Panayi, professor of European history at De Montfort University and author of Fish and Chips: A History. Fried fish had been a staple among Sephardic Jews (from the likes of Portugal and Spain) since the 16th century.
But, he states definitively, dishing the fish up alongside hot potato chips – themselves a delicacy of Belgian or French origin – is, half a millennium on, an utterly British affair. Nuff said.
Today's OGN Sunday magazine articles