Thursday, January 22, 2009

I see there is now an annual search for Britain's best Fish and Chip shop. I believe the first ever search for Britain's best Fish and Chip shop was conducted by the TV programme, Braden's Week. I think Esther Rantzen started her career there. This was in the sixties and the prize went to the Dolphin, a chip shop on Showell Green Lane in Sparkhill, Birmingham. The winner of this coveted prize then changed its name to - I kid you not - Mustafa chip. It was owned then, and for many years after, by a Cypriot family who kept the old Dolphin sign above the new Mustafa sign. I saw the children of those Cypriot immigrants grow into adults and become parents themselves. The chip shop is still there, owned by Asian immigrants and their British children and renamed, though the new name escapes me. They have expanded the menu - I must check if they still have the large jar of pickled onions on the counter - and cater to a significantly Asian clientele and the chips are just as good. My dad always brought a bag home after a few pints on a Saturday evening, just in time for Match of the Day. When I am home now I like to get a bag after a few pints and share them with him. No one relishes Mustafa chips like my old man. I was a salt only man for a long time but have shifted to the full salt and vinegar. Must be my need for a little gall with my spud.

So great were the chips from Mustafa that my friends and I created the Mustafarian religion for the worship of deep fat frying. There was little dogma and there were few rules. Even the eating of chips from other establishments was allowed. One of my friends was the closest thing to a Mustafarian apostate - he liked Kentucky Fried Chicken, which could only be had in one of the posher neighbourhoods - and we still allowed him to worship at the Temple of Grease. Perhaps that sums Birmingham up as much as anything - the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise was in a posh neighbourhood. I reckon Mustafa, the Public Library and the Catholic church and school are the only businesses that have not changed significantly in all these years. There was a Polish tailor down the street a bit who closed up shop a few years ago and I remember how sad I felt on my first visit after his departure. His shop was next to the Territorial Army barracks - that is still there, of course. Guns and batter.