Think you know about fish and chips? Think again. I used to think I knew about fish and chips, that wonderful institution of the British diet, until I visited Uganda that was.
“This is good, I mean really good”, said my partner glancing up from the massive plate of fish and chips that sat between us.
I however was not wasting crucial seconds with peripheral tasks such as talking; after taking another swig of my ice cold beer I was straight back in, my fingers pushing together the crumbling bits of perfectly cooked Taliapia.
As we scoffed down our freshly cooked food, the smoke from other barbecued fish drifted through the packed restaurant and out into evening sun. We were sat with views out onto the very northern tip of Lake Victoria just outside of Kampala.
The restaurant in which we were sat was lined with charcoal barbeques cooking that day’s intake from the lake. All around us small groups of local guys were huddled around old rickety wooden tables on which large shared platters of fresh fish rested.
We had been lucky, when we arrived after a day’s walking, all the tables were taken. Within seconds of entering into the shade of the restaurant though, what looked like a full table had been rearranged and we had been squeezed onto the end.
We shared our table with three Ugandans, two locals from Kampala and another just visiting from the Karamoja region in the east.
All three of the men sat with that happy contented look on their faces that gave away the culinary experience they had just enjoyed. Looking around I could see this same look on faces of men all around me. Each sat leaning back on their plastic chairs, one hand on their belly and the other around a cold beer bottle.
I struggle to think of an image that better embodies the Ugandan understanding of contentment.
As I ate, I listened to the guys sat at our table chat about how Ggaba had the best fish and chips, not just in Kampala or even Uganda but, so their beer induced conversation went, in the world.
As they spoke I found myself thinking though, “What about British fish and chips – our national dish?”
Then it dawned on me, these fish and chips were, by far, the best fish and chips I have ever had in my life. No country pub, inner city chippy or homemade meal from the UK had ever come close. They were simply delicious and they were supported by the most wonderful of ambiences.
In a conciliatory backlash to my own thoughts, I joined in the conversation with the comment, “these fish and chips are even better than in the UK you know.”
The guy on my left responded, “Really?”
I half joked, “yeah, and we invented the dish.”
My new Ugandan friend from Karamoja, a restaurant worker himself it would turn out, swiftly responded, “ahh, I am afraid that is a common misconception my friend. Fish and Chips were bought to the UK by a Jewish immigrant in the late 19th century.”
I responded dumbly, “oh”.
A later Google search would tell me that there is at least an element of truth in his assertion. Who would have thought that it would take a Ugandan to educate this Brit on his supposed national dish?
I left the restaurant that evening with the sun slipping behind the hills. The air was light and there was a low level of noise in the fruit and veg market that surrounds the harbour.
I don’t think I could imagine a nicer place for a wee Ugandan style culinary master class.