In the land of the great potato the deep fried chip reins supreme. Seemingly the stable food group of the late night bar crowd. One has to wonder about the foresight of creating such a demand when the greatest famine the country ever faced was 'The Great Potato Famine'. Never the less, it is still the prime destination for the throngs of bar goers at the end of a long tiring night of drinking.
There is no such comparison for it in the US. Late night runs to Taco Bell? Perhaps the stroll to the local Bodega for some meat pies? It is in many ways uniquely Irish. Kind of like the Connie Island hot dogs sold on the boardwalk except its not really the type of place you would take the family. Now would you think that the chipper might be the invention of the Irish people, but you would be wrong.
How the Chipper Came to Be
Shh! Don't tell the Irish people but the first Chipper was opened by an Italian immigrant in Dublin. His name, Guiseppe Cervi. While we can't say his reason for wanting to open a business that served fried potatoes (possibly because you'll find them everywhere in Ireland, even scattered on the street!) to the great masses of pub crawlers, we can be certain that he is credited with the famous Dublin saying 'a one and one'. Another meaning for 1 fish and 1 chips portion.
While making landfall in Dublin in the late 1880's the first Chipper was indeed founded in London in 1860 and can be tracked back to Belgium as far back as the late 17th century. The chipper in its modern form serves mainly the traditional plating of fish and chips. Although this was not always the case. Common tale of the creation of the modern chipper is the convergence of two separate industries in the U.K. Fried chip shops originating in Scotland making their way south and fried fish shops making their way north from southern England harmoniously married in artery clogging bliss.
What Makes a Good Chipper
While the quality of the fish and chips (as well as portions) does always play a role in the mark of the chipper there is also a social factor to take into consideration. The local chipper is in some aspects a central focal point for the life of the neighborhood or town. It is the place where you can catch up with neighbors and join in the banter or gossip, depending on the hour of your visit. You can hardly be expected to wait at the counter without chatting to the ole man standing next to you as he garbles something incoherent with a mouth full of Cod and Irish spuds. I find in these situations a slow and understanding head nod is enough to suffice.
On a weekend, bank-holiday or late night out when it is all about the craic, the criteria for a good chipper changes slightly. Given the chippers status as the prime destination for all those making a B-line out of the bar down the street it can become quite crowded and unruly. In such cases as these, getting in and out as fast as possible (either in a drunken haze or trying to avoid those under one) is of prime importance. In these cases one can make do with slightly undercooked chips, but don't (I repeat don't) make the mistake of allowing them to put vinegar on your chicken strips.
Dangers of the Irish Chipper
While generally a pleasant experience there do lurk some potential dangers that one should know before visiting. These will generally befall the visitor who attempts the late night excursion. While it continues to go without saying that this is the favorite destination of the post bar night crowd you will find that there is no shortage of ruckus and tomfoolery. You might discover yourself becoming an unwitting participant in someone else's last ditch squabble over a pretty girl or right smart looking lad. Violence, although not usually an issue, can sometimes seem to be brushing the cusp of the situation.
Perhaps the most common, easiest to laugh at and least harmful peril is the ever present jokers that seem to hang around. You know that guy in your group of friends who always has the awkward jokes that make you squirm or carries out that prank just one to many times too far? Right. You do know that guy don't you. Well,... he'll be at the chipper.
Also, he won't be alone. In fact he'll have fifteen of his buddies. All exact replicas of his annoying self. Thought you couldn't bear his annoying voice. Try it in stereo. Now try it bellowing animal
The final cautionary that must be heeded are animal fats. This is an issue mainly for vegetarians or level 7 vegans, (they eat nothing that casts a shadow) usually already mindful of the perils of cross contamination of deep fried goodness.
My Final Take on the Chipper Experience
Obviously you can not just live on Weetabix alone and so it true that man must go out in search of sustenance from time to time. If you are mindful of the possible perils that await a visit to the chipper and the benefits outweigh the consequences, than this fabulous piece of Irish wonderfulness will surely not disappoint.