An Ode to Hot Chips
Travelling in a large group of people can often lead to some awkward ice-breaker questions.
“What do you do for a living?”
“Have any pets?”
“What do you miss about home?”
For the most part, people are going to miss their family, friends and pets. While I do hold those things dear, what my heart aches for when I’m away from ‘straya is hot chips. Hot chips? you ask, turning up your nose. Yeah – but not just your regular, run-of-mill French fry from Maccas; I’m talking thick-cut homemade chippies.
There’s something that screams home to me about hot chips. Since I was a little girl, my Nonna would always cook them for me. If I were there to eat lunch with them during the school holidays, even if they were eating pasta, Nonna would always ask the important question: “Cosa vuoi mangiare?”
Of course, being the young potato queen, you already know what my answer was.
Every day after school, I’d get off the bus right in front of my Nonni’s house, where they’d be plonked on the outdoor setting on their veranda having a good ‘ol chinwag. They’d shower me in kisses and hurry me inside: “Mangiare, Livia!” Walking inside, I could smell the hot oil frying off my chippies – what I would imagine heaven smells like. Often, the Italian radio would be blaring old tunes in the kitchen, and the boxy TV would be playing the Bold and the Beautiful – an afternoon necessity.
Most of the time, Nonna would have a fresh batch of chippies draining on some paper towel. She’d dump them into a floral, woggy bowl with the bottle of tomato sauce ready to go. We’d have a chat about my day at school, what Mum was cooking for dinner and if I wanted a fresh cucumber from the overflowing garden. (You know, a fresh cuey is a great accompaniment to a bowl of chips. But let’s not get into that.)
For many years, I ate hot chips à la Nonna. Cooked in five litres of oil and coated in salt with a hefty pile sauce on the side.
Now, since Nonno has taken the reigns, he cooks his random concoction for lunch every day – pork, chicken wings, eggplant, chillis, potato and loads of oil. To some, that sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen… and you’re right. But to Nonno, that’s lunch every damn day, and he’s got a lotta life left in him. Mop that oil up with bread and feel it congeal in your gut. This, too, screams home, and for some reason, I can’t seem to find the perfect bowl of chippiess or anything remotely close to Nonno’s remixed version.
While abroad, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to snag the perfect serve of hot chips. My idea of hot chips is something other continents are yet to master. In Thailand, I was served string fries. They were fine, a bit oily and with not enough salt. But they filled the hole and I survived. In Japan, I’ve been served wedges. There’s a huge difference between the two. You can’t serve wedges without sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. My idea of the perfect hot chip was sorely missed that day.
So, you might be wondering: Liv, what makes the perfect chip? Well, there are three make-or-break components to consider when judging the quality of a delicious piece of fried potato: the cut, the crunch and the seasoning.
Firstly, a wedge is not a chip. Neither is a French fry, or a curly fry. Don’t try and tell me otherwise. There are two types of chip lovers: soggy or crunchy. Personally, I love a soggy chip, but only if they’re homemade. A crunchy chip does have its place, however, particularly when you’re hungover and feening for anything to soak up the excess alcohol in your system. But it’s the seasoning that’s most important. At one point in my chip connoisseurship, I was served chips with sweet seasoning. Don’t do that. Chicken salt is okay, but nothing beats plain salt.
Sadly, when you’re overseas, you’ll probably just have to close your eyes while eating Burger King French fries and pretend you’re home. Squirt a big side of ketchup on your burger wrapper and dip those bad boys in. Remember, you’re only gone for a few weeks, or months, or years. Who knows, maybe your perfect chippy is around the corner, my friend.
So where can you find the perfect hot chip if you’re not in the mood to make them yourself? Look in your local area for a classic Aussie fish ‘n’ chip shop. You’ll probably find a store with a faded old sign that hasn’t been touched since the ’80s, a menu with items for less than $5 and a half-broken fly screen door being battered by the wind. Extra points if there’s no door, but those plastic strip curtains instead.
Back home in the ‘gong, aka Wollongong, Balgownie Fish n Chip Shop was the best. I’m talking $2 for a big bag of hand-cut chips, 30c scallops and $6 for a dozen fish cockies. That’s what I call a bargain. Nothing would beat riding your bike with your mates to Bally chip shop, spending a coupla bucks on a feed and getting swooped down at the park all arvo. Sadly, Bally fish shop closed, and a part of me died that day. In the meantime, I’m mastering the art of the Hot Chip. Nonno will often invite me over for his lunch concoction and put me on chippy patrol. He knows how passionate I am
As everyone likes to say, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. And they’re not wrong: a bad chip really puts you in a shit mood. I know it gets me feeling all homesick. So, what do I suggest you do? Soak up that grease on your return home and remember why you only travel halfway across the world every couple of years.
Cover by Matthew Paul Argall, inset of the cutie author herself