For years it has been the undisputed national dish of Britain: a plate of fish and chips being the ultimate reward after a cold, soggy day at the seaside.
But, in a strange turn of events, Italy has laid claim to the traditional meal, teaching schoolchildren that Venetian immigrants brought the dish over to the British Isles. The meal has even been served up to hundreds of thousands of pupils across school canteens in Rome in recent weeks, replacing typical Italian pasta dishes.
Rome city council introduced fish and chips as part of a special ‘EU menu’, which also includes goulash, hot dogs and croque-monsieur. For a brief period, the project appeared to be a success.
However, beer-braised chicken – a Belgian speciality – proved too much of a leap from the famously healthy Mediterranean diet and prompted dozens of complaints from parents and teachers.
One mother, Paky Simonelli, described the menu as “shameful” while others said their children returned hungry from school. Parents have even launched an online petition demanding schools drop the new dishes.
The council says it devised the menu – which has been served to around 145,000 pupils at nursery, primary and middle schools in the capital and changes monthly – to teach children about the culinary traditions of European nations.
Fish and chips was one of the most popular meals among the children.
But although it was selected to represent the culinary traditions of Britain, the Italians appear to claim that they may be the true inventors of the dish.
In a description offered to pupils, the council cites Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and says that Venetian immigrants may have brought the meal to the British Isles.
Andrew Crook, treasurer of the National Federation of Fish Friers, said he had never heard of an Italian link to fish and chips and confirmed that the dish was first served around 1860, with the Malin family of London and the Lee’s of Mossley, near Manchester both staking claims to be the first.
“I have never heard anything about the Italians bringing over fish and chips,” he said. “All the history books say it was either the Malins or the Lees.”
The Italians prefer a slightly healthier variation of the British classic dish with the fish only lightly fried before being baked in the oven. The Rome-based project has taken recipes from 15 European countries including croque-monsieur from France, Wiener schnitzel from Austria and chicken and chips from Ireland.
Alessandra Cattoi, Rome councillor for schools, said: “This is small educational project to explain the origins and traditions of some dishes the children already eat, and it gives teachers the opportunity to explore the idea of Europe.
“Like all school meals served in Rome, these are prepared under the guidance of dietitians and are served alongside vegetables and fruit.” However, Paolo Masini, also a schools councillor at Rome city hall, admitted that schools had returned pasta to school menus in response to complaints from parents.
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