Chow mein and chips: a brief history of the British Chinese takeaway

A bit of reading to broaden one’s horizons. It’s time to see there’s more than just “Americanised” foods. Other nations are also contributing to the gravy pot.


I think it’s fair to distinguish between British Chinese food (such as you’d come across in most neighbourhood restaurants) and British Chinese Chippy food. Both are Anglicised but have adapted to local tastes differently.


Likewise but here the US in NYC a new but old type is making a comeback-- Cuban/Chinese. Says Tik Tok anyway. I first encountered it in '74/75.

1 Like

Of course there is. I doubt anyone ever claimed that this was a uniquely American thing.

The Chinese food in Germany (and any other country Chinese cooks or restaurant owners emigrated to) is very likely adapted to local tastes as well.

1 Like

Until fairly recently, the village had had two chippies for as long as I can remember. When I first moved here, in about 1961, there was the very old fashioned chippy and the more modern one. The old fashioned one sold nothing but fish, chips and mushy peas. The other one added Hollands meat pies and steak puddings, sausages, chicken and the like. And you could get gravy for your chips (not something I’ve ever fancied.)

Well, the modern one has remained fairly true to its origins and has gone through several owners including a complete refurbishment a few years back, It’s now owned by folk of Eastern Mediterranean origin. Eventually, the owners of the old fashioned one retired and since then it’s been owned by folk of Chinese heritage. I don’t visit that one often enough to know if it’s the same family. And they widened the offerings. Hollands pies of course. But they also introduced the new fangled Chinese chippy curry sauce. An unpleasant concoction, IMO. Tried it once. Once was enough. Over the years, they gradually introduced Anglicised Chinese dishes which would be rustled up, out of sight in the back room, while the fryers up front continued to knock out fish & chips and the like. But then, a few years back, they packed in with the fish & chips and are now just a Chinese takeaway (of which the village has three others).


We once made time before catching a flight from Burbank:


What I find interesting is that save for a few places up here, almost every restaurant offers salt and pepper chips or chips as an option, even when not a takeaway/chippy style restaurant.

And when I first arrived in the UK, it would almost be guaranteed that every restaurant had a “European menu”. To be honest, I’ve not been out to as many Chinese restaurants in recent years (although the rise of street food options up here means I’ve been able to get jianbing) so I can’t speak much for what I observe now at specific places.

That was a bit tongue in cheek, but also a response to the profound American-centrism of this board to the point that “Americanisation” is the default terminology for changes to a cuisine.

Sure. But even the restaurants adapt (of course). If you want a more involved break down (long read explanatory journalism) I’m sure there’s something out there for you. You could even click on the author of the piece (an academic) and see what they’re doing.

I hadnt appreciated that you were not a native Scot. How long have you been here? When I first started to eat in Manchester’s Chinatown area, back in the early 1980s, it was very much as you observe. Do you also go back that far with your experiences? There was a limited number of dishes on the menu in English and others in Chinese characters (I suppose that’s the sometimes mentioned “secret” Chinese menu). Everything on the English menu, reflecting back to interpretations of colonial Hong Kong dishes. Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to find regional food places - Sichuan, Hunan, Beijing - alongside the much more common Cantonese restaurants. And Manchester’s city centre still has places where most diners are of East Asian heritage and other places where diners are almost exclusively Anglos.

Similar developments in the metro area with South Asian food - with the emphasis of many new openings on regional cuisines, rather than the old “high street curry house”.

1 Like

The fish and chips shops where I live in southwestern Ontario were mostly run by British, Maritimers or Greeks.

The Greek-owned places are less likely to offer mushy peas or curry sauce. Curry sauce for chips is rare in Ontario. It’s found at a few pubs and a few fish and chips restaurants.

My current fish & chips spot in London, Ontario is owned by a Dutch Canadian woman, whose Dutch immigrant father opened the shop 50 years ago. Nothing identifiable as specifically Dutch on the menu.

Some fish & chips shops are now owned by Chinese Canadian restaurateurs. Some of these shops use more pollock, which is the cheapest fish used for fish and chips here. The cheapest fish and chips spots don’t tell customers which fish they use, which turns me off.

Most better fish and chips takeout restaurants (equivalent to a chippy"
, but not called a chippy in Canada), offer cod or haddock. The best places in the cities often offer cod, haddock and halibut. Some fish & chips shops near a lake will offer local lake perch, pickerel or white fish fish and chips.

One fish & chips spot in Toronto’s Scarborough that i visited had been owned by Scots. Photos of Scotland on the walls. The new owners are Chinese, the food continues to be British
-style. They kept Urn Bru on the menu.