Australia / Food / Travel Piece

Food: A Sydney Chip-a-thon

When I was a teenager I was fat. I attribute this mainly to hot chips (‘fries’ to Americans, just ‘chips’ to the British). I ate them at any and every opportunity. I would say I am a bit of a chip connoisseur, but I’m definitely not the only one out there.

Here in Australia they are commonly eaten with ‘chicken salt’ – a cousin of MSG, surely – though plain salt is also popular. Fish and chips by the beach are usually accompanied by tartare sauce, and the upscale pub eatery will have the European favourites of mayo and aioli. The expected shape and size of Australian chips is the oblong straight cut. Unfortunately, this means chip establishments often buy frozen varieties that are just potato mash shaped into the ideal shape, as if they think “golden deep fried side dish” is enough to please the masses. I understand this blasphemy saves some poor kitchen hand cutting potatoes by hand, but it also makes for an inferior chip. And don’t get me started on shoe-string fries. You might as well take a sip of oil with every bite of your burger/other main. They have their place when you’re drunk and cramming a Maccas (McDonald’s) or Hungry Jack’s (Burger King) meal down your throat, but for the discerning, soul-warming, comfort food that one craves, I can’t go past a real potato fried to within an inch of its life.

So when my friend Sophie suggested we go on a ‘chip-a-thon’ one Sunday, I attached all the bells. A chip-a-thon involves several pre-selected chip-selling locations, at which you and your friend/s order a portion of chips and any condiments on offer. The chip is rated and discussed, and a long walk is recommended between establishments. Apples, water, and other fibrous foods are also required for obvious reasons.

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Sophie and my chip-a-thon begins at Glebe’s ‘Fish on Fire’.

Fish on FireAU$3.50 for a small serving of beer battered chips + AU$2 for a too big tub of homemade tartare sauce. These chips aren’t made from mash, and there is a good ratio of outside crunch to the soft but dense potato inside. The beer batter gives them an almost sweet quality, but means they leave an oily aftertaste. They are lightly salted, and the tartare sauce gives the otherwise starchy snack a zing. A good start to the chip-a-thon; 7/10

Why did the fish cross the road?

Next up, Redfern’s ‘Three Williams Cafe’.Three Williams CafeAU$6 for a serve, with complimentary chipotle mayo. Again, we find beer battered chips, but unfortunately these are obviously cheap frozen ones – some are still stuck together from the bag. It also means the oil saturates the whole stick of mash and fills you up quicker. However, the big band playing in Redfern Oval adds to the experience, and the chipotle mayo is moreishly dip-able. 6/10

Sight along the way

The third stop is at Potts Point’s ‘The Fish Shop’.The Fish ShopAU$9 for a serve (bit steep), but complimentary choice of sauce – we opt for the smoked garlic aioli (other choices include: chilli jam, cocktail, tartare) and there’s an array of condiments on the table including malt vinegar, tomato sauce, and tobasco. These are un-battered, real potatoes, lightly salted and meaty. They must be drained for a while to rid the chip of oiliness. The smoked garlic aioli sends Sophie and I into fits of pleasure. The ‘smoked’ part of the name is not wankery – this is not just your stock standard garlic aioli. The real winner of the day; 9/10

Redfern; art by Tony Albert

The last stop is the surprising ‘Two Sticks Yunnan Cuisine’ in the City on George St.Two Sticks Yunnan CuisineAU$3.80 for a plate of Yunnan-style chips. These chips are stacked on a plate, generously covered in Yunnan sauce (kinda like Hoisin), chilli powder, and coriander. The chips themselves are a bit underwhelming: obvious crinkle-cut mash from the freezer, but the array of toppings makes the chip experience something new and extremely tasty. For this reason they place second in the day’s chip-a-thon; 8/10

One way to work off the chips

At ‘Two Sticks’, we eat vegetables and proteins to round out the day’s foods. We consider how it would be slightly more enjoyable with a third or fourth person to divide portion sizes more healthfully. We also discuss how a margherit-a-thon or a vanill-a-thon (ice cream) could both be possible.

Feel free to follow this route, or post your own route below. I look forward to doing it again. One thing’s for sure: I’m still craving a real, hand-cut, bit soggy, vinegar-doused chip wrapped in paper, so if you have any suggestions, let me know.

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