Sandwiches of the world #1: chip butty 🇬🇧

Close-up of a chip butty cut into two, with fat chip-shop chips and soft white bread in evidence

There's really only one place to begin a world tour, and that's where you are already. In my case, that's the East Anglia bit of England.

So what better place to begin than the good old chip butty? Egg and cress? Coronation chicken? Cured ham and English mustard? Alright, there are many good traditional British sandwiches. As is to be expected for a food-stuff so well-established in these parts.

That said, sandwiches are far from uniquely British, as we'll see. In fact, that's very much the premise of this series of blog posts, should it turn into that. Although there's the famous story about the Earl of Sandwich, it's very much about the origin of the name, not the origin of putting meat, cheese and other things between two bits of bread (or one folded one).

Israel, the Netherlands and Spain all feature prominently in the history of bread-based portable food assemblages, and their popularity has spread far out of Europe, as I hope we shall also see. I say spread (pun regrettable). That's if analogues for the sandwich didn't arrive independently at one time of another on other continents – a very big if, it has to be said.

No – the chip butty is our starting point as an act of decadence. Decadence that isn't confined to the chip butty, but to any kind of potato put within bread. The crisp sandwich is, of course, another notable example. And I did once, long ago I'm keen to add, take it upon myself to try a mashed potato sandwich. Though I haven't since repeated the act, I have zero regrets. But the chip butty, for all its simplicity, sets the bar at the only level worth setting at: high.

To make a good chip butty, you must dispense with the idea of using home-cooked oven chips. Home-fried chips may be an option – if you're convinced that they're an acceptable substitute to chips procured from a high-quality fish and chips establishment.

Our route was to procure directly from the latter. Specifically, Oysters of Braintree – a traditional chippy with excellent chips that recall the taste of the very best from when you were a child.

Oysters also, note, has a sit-in restaurant and serves traditional chip-shop chicken – the kind that's not quite barbecue and not quite rotisserie, but its own peculiarly chip-shoppy invention. As much of a gift to the world as KFC and other deep-fried, breaded chicken is to the world, it should not have entered the domain of the fish and chip shop, imo.

However, we did't trust to chip-shop bread. That's no reflection of Oysters. If I have eaten bread from there, I don't remember. And though your typical chip-shop bread makes a serviceable chip butty, that would not do for these purposes. (Chip-shop bread, if you're unfamiliar, tends to be cheaper, shop-bought thin- or medium-sliced bread.)

Soft, white bread is best for a chip butty. We chose an M&S Soft White Farmhouse – an excellent loaf, and a good choice for sandwiches of all kinds. It has enough softness that the bread yields before the bite reaches the chips. A cheaper or firmer loaf, especially if not absolutely fresh, will often press into and squeeze out the chips, if only to a degree. This is best avoided.

Sauce, whether ketchup, brown or other, is forbidden. At least some salt is necessary, to taste. And vinegar (along with salt, the traditional chip-shop additive of choice) is optional. And though triangle-cut sandwiches have their place, chip butties should be rectangle-cut to avoid the egress of filling.

In no small part thanks to Oysters and M&S, this was an excellent sandwich. A firm 8/10 but we'll leave room to have our proverbial socks knocked off in future instalments.

Verdict: 7/10