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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Summer 2022January 13, 2023

All the fish and chip shop sides, ranked

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Summer read: It’s summer, it’s Friday, it’s the perfect time for fish and chips. But which sides should you order?

First published: February 11, 2022

Ever looked at the seemingly endless menu in every fish and chip shop and considered going wild with your order for once? A donut, a pineapple fritter, a deep-fried Mars bar! They all sound exciting and fun but more often than not we revert to the classics and leave the riskier sides for those with stronger stomachs.

This week I placed the world’s most annoying fish and chip order (one or two of every small item on the menu) and hunkered down. Others tried some – note: they were all bad because the place I ordered from wasn’t great but at least they were consistent – and have contributed their thoughts below after lifetimes of indulging. Because fish and chips aren’t made to be eaten alone, and neither was this ranking.

There were disagreements, wild contradictions and petty insults but here we (read: I) stand, new greasy pimples rapidly forming across my face, asking you to please consider this list before placing your next order.

Note: jam raps (sp?) are not included because they are only available in a few places.

Note again: an arbitrary line was drawn in defining a side and that is that it couldn’t be a fish (shellfish allowed) or chips and couldn’t cost more than $3 for a single item.

Final note: every fish and chip shop does each item a little bit differently. Some make one exceptional thing and everything else is average. Others fry theirs differently. This ranking is based off the general, overall experience of each menu item across decades of life.

Actual final note: there are no photos because have you ever tried to take a nice photo of fish and chips? It’s impossible. And everything ends up looking the same anyway.

23. Fish cake

While this wasn’t half bad, it’s simply unacceptable when sold from the same counter as fresh battered and crumbed fish. Fish cakes are for eating in the 50s, or in your 50s. They do not need to be ordered alongside fish and chips.

22. Samosa

There are so many great places to get a truly delicious samosa. Spend your chip shop coins on something more suitable, I beg you.

21. Meat patty

This is a battered and deep-fried meat patty. Does it come with a burger bun? Don’t be silly. Is there a reason for it? Don’t be silly.

20. Onion rings

Unfortunately onion rings are now at every fast food chain and frankly, most do it better than your average chippery. Of the chip-adjacent items, onion rings are low in the hierarchy. Also quite expensive considering how cheap onions are??? They have a fan in Sam Brooks at least:

“Onion rings are the best side because you’re almost guaranteed not to get a bad one. If a place is offering an onion ring, it’s because they know how to do it right. You’ll never get anything less than a good onion ring from a chippery. Also? It’s basically a salad. A breaded/battered, fried, salad. Five a day, keeps the doctor away.”

19. Chicken nugget

Look, when I was at uni the fish and chip shop across from my house did really bad fish (unfortunate) so I landed on a regular order of 1 x large spring roll, 1 x donut and 5 x chicken nuggets. All of those options were also bad because the shop did not make nice food but the nuggets were the best part. Because nuggets don’t fail. Sadly, when McDonald’s nuggets exist, all others are mediocre competitors.

18. Scallop

This is not the way to eat a scallop. A scallop is too delicate and far too refined to brutishly coat in batter and deep-fry. Their texture becomes impossible to decipher from mushy batter and their taste is nearly always entirely drowned out. It’s a no from me. / Charlotte Muru-Lanning

17. Corn fritter

I just don’t think a corn fritter should be deep-fried.

16. Prawn twister

A delightful cold and crispy snack with the outside of a spring roll and the inside of… air, and onion flavouring and maybe one prawn if you’re lucky. Definitely not on par with the crab stick and fits more in the appetiser category. If you’re looking to try prawn twisters, buy at least three. / Tina Tiller

15. Spring roll (small)

Spring rolls from the chip shop are reliable but really do taste the same as the ones you chuck in the oven at home. When I dine out (walk to the fish and chip shop) I like to feel like it’s a special occasion (ordering something I couldn’t make myself even with my limited culinary skills). They’re still yum though, as succinctly expressed by Alex Casey:

“A delicious morsel that will make you feel like a giant. Fee-fi-fo-fum, miniature spring roll in my tum. No further comments.”

14. Wonton

Same idea as the small spring rolls but slightly better because wontons are just a great snack.

13. Battered sausage

A battered sausage is heavily reliant on the batter, somehow more so than other sides. I personally get confused between a battered sausage and a hot dog because sometimes you order a hot dog and it’s a stickless, battered frankfurter. And honestly, that’s a podium finish for me. But because of the inconsistency and the fact that if you order a battered sausage from a new shop you really could be served literally anything, it gets a middling spot.

12. Deep-fried chocolate bar

The first bite of a deep-fried Mars Bar is the greatest thing you’ve ever tasted.
The second bite is absolutely the worst. / Chris Schulz

11. Pāua fritter

A high-risk, high-reward side. In fact, the highest risk. When done well, it’s fine dining in paper wrapping. When done poorly (as it often is), a pāua fritter is a choice that you carry around in your mouth for a long time afterwards, like a tongue piercing. 

10. Oyster

Oysters are obviously better unadulterated, just-shucked and extremely cold. But, even as an annoying purist, I’ll admit that deep-fried is the second best way to eat these fellas. Like the scallop, the oyster suffers the same tragic lack of textural hardiness for deep-frying. But, everything else holds up and they’re an excellent entry-level choice for the shellfish averse. / Charlotte Muru-Lanning

9. Sausage (plain)

A fish and chip shop sausage is unlike any other sausage – different texture, different taste, they’re like a whole different genus to something you might have at a barbecue or in a traditional pub lunch. There’s probably a boring explanation for this, like because it’s deep-fried instead of grilled or because it’s actually illegal for supermarkets to sell sausages with such low-quality ingredients or whatever, but there’s still magic in a food item you can’t get anywhere else. / Calum Henderson

8. Squid ring

When I was a kid, finding a couple of squid rings nestled among the chips was an unparalleled journey through textures. The crunch of the crumb, the chew of the meat, the thrill of never quite knowing if you were going to choke on one of those stringy bits. Also, it was at the ripe age of 30 that I realised squid rings are made from the body of the squid and are not, in fact, the giant sucky bits from the tentacle of a giant squid like the one in Te Papa. Always learning on this journey called life. / Alex Casey

7. Pineapple fritter

I had heard great things about pineapple fritters but was always sceptical. This week I ordered one from a reputable shop and it looked pretty good. But eating it was confusing. The batter was yum, the sugar sprinkling was yum, the pineapple was yum. Only they were all separately yum. Like I had put them all in my mouth completely out of context. Does any of this make sense?? It was nice and somehow not at the same time.

6. Spring roll (big)

The first time I got a big spring roll my expectations were low. Would it just be a big soggy mess? Would the filling be too much in such a large package? The answer was no to both. A large deep-fried spring roll is nearly a meal unto itself. Crispy pastry around the outside and piping hot (frankly quite dangerous) vege – and sometimes surprise meat, so be sure to ask first – inside. A satisfying experience that will leave you needing to spring roll onto the floor to rest for a while.

5. Donut

Wow, a surprise finalist but a worthy one. For my entire childhood I saw the word donut on chip shop menus and wondered what they could possibly taste like, knowing I’d have to wait until I had my own money before I could afford such a risky order. 

A classic shop donut is deep-fried and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It’s not like a Dunkin’ Donut or a Krispy Kreme, nor is it like those soft expensive ones. It’s unique, and actually tastes like dough rather than entirely sugar. It could somehow easily be eaten in the middle of the meal rather than for dessert. A chaos menu item, now that I think about it, but always worth the $1.70 (approximately).

4. Mussels

Mussels are the best deep-fried shellfish on offer at the chip shop. Perfect with a smear of tartare, cheap, iron-rich and, apparently, sustainable. I love their bivalve peers, oysters and scallops, but neither of those two species have the strength of character to hold up to the deep-fryer like kūtai do. / Charlotte Muru-Lanning

3. Hot dog

It’s almost cheating to put hot dog on this list because it feels like a fish substitute but it fit the criteria and rules are rules. As noted above in the “battered sausage” section, a hot dog could really be any sort of enclosed meat with batter on it. Whether on a stick or (kinda strangely) stickless, a “hot dog” (whatever that is) is going to be good. If we assume it’s a corn dog, that’s a winner any day of the week.

2. Crab stick

A crab stick contains zero crab. But you shouldn’t Google “surimi” before you buy one from your local chippie. Instead, bite into that crunchy batter, enjoy the subtly fishy surimi stick, enjoy the memories of all those Friday nights of your childhood flooding back, and keep dunking it in as much sauce as possible. Sometimes, it pays not to overthink things. / Chris Schulz

1. Potato fritter

Of course it had to be the potato fritter. A potato fritter is on par with the fish and the chips except it has to count as a side due to being available for less than a dollar. Not everywhere though. Chipperies charging more than a dollar for a potato fritter feels illegal and in saying that I feel 60 years old. But even at $1.20 apiece, a potato fritter is still under a dollar because ordering one potato fritter means receiving two. Honestly one of the true, free joys left in this world is the gratis potato fritter.

Beyond being extremely affordable, potato fritters are extremely reliable. Battered fish varies in quality from shop to shop, chips can be dry or soggy, pāua fritters can be the devil in fried form, but potato fritters are always decent. Some are extraordinary, but all are decent. And in this country, being reliably decent makes you a winner.

The best fish and chips side in New Zealand is the potato fritter.

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