How I became an honorary Italian. National Fish and Chips Day.

My friend Michael Houseright asked me to guest post over at The Blissful Adventurer while he was away in Italy last month. I  thought I should throw it up here too. (Visit Michael’s new blog or he will kill me for reposting without telling him.)

My tale begins 127 years ago. The story goes that Giuseppe Cerve came to Ireland from Casalattico in central Italy. He came here with very little, to find a better life for his family. He began selling potatoes cooked in oil from a barrow. We Irish liked it so much that he soon opened Ireland’s first ‘Chipper’ where he began selling fish and chips. An Irish Italian tradition was born.

A rare photo of Giuseppe Cerve’s original Chip Shop. This image from the collection of the late Barbie Borza.

Let’s bring the clock forward to December 2009. Ireland is in the grips of the greatest recession that anybody alive has ever seen. Businesses are failing and unemployment is rife. I take a call from Mario Aprile the President of the newly formed ITICA – The Irish Traditional Italian Chippers Association.

As the economy had tanked, the number of enquiries from desperate businesses trying to survive had risen. Daily, we had been taking calls from crackpots with outrageous ideas that were doomed to failure. So it was with little hope of doing any real business that I agreed to meet with Mario’s Committee.

This meeting took place (as nearly all ITIAC meeting do) over a late night meal. Things started badly. Being an early eater and sleeper, I was too hungry, too tired and too suspicious of them. In return, they were apprehensive and wary of me. The first course arrived – “just a little antipasti”. Conversation began to flow. The next course arrived “a little fish” (seven types of seafood). We were getting on all right. The third “some steak and vegetables”, the fourth “just a little cheese” and the fifth “a tiny taste of Italian ice cream”courses arrived. I warmed to their generosity and found myself laughing until I cried at the stories and banter. I knew then that I had to work with these guys. This despite ‘Big Frankie’ telling me that Fish and Chips Day had to work or I would find a horse’s head on my pillow.

Irish Italian Sammie Macari pictured with grandson Paulo Macari at the launch of the Irish Traditional Italian Chippers Association.

Side Note 1: I have learned that “just a taste” or “a little portion” or “You will have a little nibble” or “Go on, it would be rude to refuse” are all ruses used by these hugely generous people to get you to forget your diet related qualms and just enjoy the food and drink.

At the next meeting (another late night performance) the Committee appointed us as their advertising agency and plans were laid for National Fish and Chips Day 2010.

Thankfully, I have been involved with many successes in my 30+ years in the communications business. Nothing that I know of has produced the bang for the buck that National Fish and Chips Day achieved. Virtually every chipper in the country ran out of fish as queues stretched down the street. We had a hit on our hands.

Shameless promotion of National Fish and Chips helped capture the imagination of the nation.

When the hue and cry had died down, another meeting was called. Another meal, another performance of “Try a tiny taste of this”, “It would be rude not to ensued. This time the celebration was held in Bianconi’s Restaurant on Dublin’s Merrion Road. Now these guys know how to party. There were speeches, there was laughter and there were toasts, plenty of toasts. Then a vote was held. By a majority they elected me as Honorary Italian, a distinction that I truly treasure.

More important to me than the commercial success (though it does help) are the numerous friendships I have gained amongst this fantastic community. Since Giuseppe Cerve started serving his first fish and chips the Irish Italians have a place in our hearts and have become so much part of our way of life.

The late night meetings go on. My sleep is disturbed but my life is richer for it. And, so far, I have not given Big Frankie a reason to fulfill his promise.

Side Note 2: National Fish and Chips Day is now an annual event. This year it took place on May 30th. It was another runaway success. Last year, over 200,000 people visited their local ITICA Chipper to join in celebrations. Over 60,000 pounds of fish and 400,000 pounds of potatoes are used by ITICA Chippers to keep up with demand on the day.

Some links:

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Latest comments
  • Great story! Didn’t know you were an honorary Italian, but that may explain your good taste in food and wine 🙂 I remember the “try just a tiny bite” from Puglia. Impossible to eat everything you get served there, usually it’s difficult to finish just the antipasti…

  • Great story and a nice feather for the cap too!

  • So fish and chips was an Italian idea? I mean seriously that has left me with no where to go. Your numbers are seriously impressive though!

    • It really is a remarkable marketing success for them. It has got bigger each year with queues outside every one of their stores all over the country. Very satisfying.

  • Such an interesting story, Conor. Having an Italian husband, I do know about all the food…”just a little more” or “what, you don’t like my cooking” come to mind when I think of the Italian meals I have shared. Nice that Big Frankie hasn’t had to fulfill his promise.

  • Thats such a great story!!! Hilarious!!!

    They keep you up all night don’t they….and then you go to bed full as a bull!

    • I’m getting too old for it. But it’s worth it for the fun.

  • I miss proper chipper chips, they are really difficult to find in London. Every time I visit the folks I end up having a trip to Marsellas as well.

    • We are spoiled here in Ireland. But, ‘not too often’ is my rule.

  • This explains why my Italian mother, while living in England and pregnant with my brother craved and ate nothing but fish and chips! Love this!

    • They (partly you too, obviously) are such a generous and friendly people.

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