In a new series, Northern Soul writers share their food memories. From culinary trips to cherished family recipes and hidden restaurants, takeaways and cafés, we take a tasty trip down memory lane. First up, it’s JJ’s Vish & Chips in Leeds.
Should you ask a vegan which food they miss the most when transitioning to a plant-based diet, they will invariably say cheese, and say it as if they’ve been asked to strike a pose for a wedding photo. For me, it’s fish and chips. I was weaned on them. Moreover, when my mum was pregnant with me, they were her go-to-crave for her entire term. So it came as no surprise that I would eat them at least once a week for 45 out of my 49 years on this planet. And, of course, eating this lifetime staple, albeit a vegan version, evokes many happy childhood memories of family nights around the telly or walking on the proms at Blackpool, Scarborough and Brid. So imagine my delight when I heard about Vish & Chips, a new – almost exclusively vegan – chippy were it not for the battered halloumi and cheesy chips offered on the chalk board behind the vish fryers.
I’m no stranger to pretend fish and chips. Tofish and chips (tofish simply being tofu with some seaweed wrapped around it if you’re lucky) is often found on vegan menus since pubs and restaurants finally caught on to the fact that the vegan food industry is expanding at a ludicrous rate; these days, not having a vegan menu is analogous to setting fire to a doorstop wad of tenners. And yet, even if battered tofish offers a perfectly acceptable substitute for the nation’s favourite for many vegans, the vish at Vish & Chips is another thing entirely.
Vish is made from banana blossom, the purple flowers found at the end of a banana cluster. This pretend fish is juicy, and texture-wise it ticks all the boxes for this former haddock, hake and cod lover. The vegans of Leeds, queuing out onto the pavements of the A65 when I’ve been, are more than happy to wait for this new Leeds favourite Friday night tea made fresh to order. As Peter Kay rightly said (and I’m paraphrasing), Friday night tea is a chippy night tea, ‘it’s the law’. Thanks to the folks at Vish & Chips, vegans can reacquaint themselves with this fine British tradition without worrying about the sustainability of what’s being battered. As for the batter, theirs is delicious and light and the chips are as good as any chippy I’ve been to recently.
So, yes. Vish & Chips has become a favourite takeaway treat for me, so much so that I’ve had to invent reasons (for myself and my partner) to justify the 40-odd mile round trip to the city of my birth from my home in Laycock, near Haworth. Here on in, my Leeds mates can expect to see me more often.
So, I’ll be at yours around 6.30pm. No need to feed me. Just stick the kettle on and make sure you’ve got some soya milk in.