Would you like vinegar on your chips?

I’m sure there are few people who don’t enjoy a meal of freshly battered and fried hake and chips, particularly from a paper wrapping while sitting on the harbour wall in Kalk Bay, watching the fishing boats return from a morning at sea and keeping a wary eye out for rogue waves. Competition is keen in coastal towns as fisheries vie for the title of ‘best fish ‘n chips’. There have been many occasions when a recommendation has fallen way short of the expectation, and there is nothing more disappointing than over-salted fish, dried out from too long in the counter warmer, or thick, greasy batter – except the special twang of rancid oil, which is the death knell of my patronage. For a fair review, it is necessary to revisit the good, the bad and the plain ugly to see whether you were just unlucky, they have upped their game, or the recommendation came from someone with no discerning taste buds.

One of my favourites is Lucky Fish in Kalk Bay harbour – consistently good, freshly made on order, very generous portions and reasonable price. Thin, crisp batter, crisp chips and more than enough to feed two fairly hungry hikers having walked from Fish Hoek beach to Kalk Bay – the distance, we felt, justified the carbs, although on a normal day such excesses would be eschewed. The fish flaked easily and was firm enough to estimate fresh in the last few days. (Hake tends to be too soft on the first day out of the sea and needs a little time to firm. This can be achieved by a light salting after cleaning.) No gulls hovered to snatch a morsel, and I can only put that down to the readily available scraps on the recently returned fishing boats. A tussle over a fish head ensued before us between two kelp gulls, but even that was lacking in enthusiasm. Perhaps they had eaten their fill earlier.

The waves behaved, directing their energy towards the rocks below Harbour House and occasionally casting spectacular sheets of spray into the air while we enjoyed the activities of the working harbour. Fisheries inspectors checked the crayfish catch, and cold trucks waited on the jetty to take today’s catch straight from the sea to the kitchens of the Cape. A few bunches of linefish lay on the slabs awaiting the ministrations of the ladies who fillet, vlek and scale these rather small fish, and one can only think back with fond memories to the days of plentiful fish in the bay and hordes of housewives queuing for the freshest catch of the day. It will take special conservation efforts to get back to that, I fear.

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