How important are the chips? Very. For purely aesthetic reasons, if you can see your chicken when you open the box, they have skimped on the fries. Too many chips, however, you run the risk of being full before reaching the chicken, the whole purpose of the trip. Rule number one, start by eating some of the chips, proceed to finish the chicken, and only then return to the remaining chips (only if required), most of which would now be stuck in the box folds, or camouflaged by the ketchup on the side. At this point, the box is greasy and semi-transparent.
Those are my rules for a chicken shop, but yours may be radically different. Chicken shops are small virtual empires: each has its own values, laws, with some people feeling patriotic towards their local, and others not stepping foot in it. There is always a chicken shop you call home- mine is Cafe Piccante on Broughton Street in Edinburgh (they are often extremely territorial, you will never find someone from Newington north of the Waverley, however, inhabitants of New Town love to dabble in Old Town locals).
Chicken shop culture was born in London. Chicken shops are more than a part of London, they are London. Or at least, they’re London for those who never have and will never be able to identify with the glossy modern flats and overpriced coffee shops that the city seems to be drowning in. For many born and bred Londoners, chicken shops are more than a place to eat cheap food. Dispersed around every corner in the city, your local chicken shop symbolizes everything from your ends, to the people in your community. The chicken shop is a place many Londoners have very strong feelings about.
Ironically, chicken shops have been one of the only success stories during the pandemic. As supermarket queues exponentially grew and consumers cleared shelves of everything from toilet roll to baked beans, locally and financially accessible foods became a luxurious commodity. Many chicken shops stayed open to offer takeaway even as sit-in restaurants were forced to close. Despite the nostalgia of those who associate them with awhite Britishness that chicken shops will never have, traditional fish and chip shops are becoming more and more uncommon on the streets of London.
Arguably, the chicken shop chic stemmed from a perfect example of an over glamorized culture- Amelia Dimoldenberg’s “Chicken Shop Date” programme. The idea behind it is:
Amelia shares her nuggets of wisdom on the best chicken in town, having taken an array of big-time grime and rap artists on dates to Chicken Shops all across London. “Whoever said romance is dead has never been on a date to Chicken Cottage ”. The chokehold Chicken Shop Date has on us is astonishing. It’s candid, sarcastic, awkward and sometimes dark. Does anything sum up British culture any better? It closely resembles a bad open-mic comedy night- you don’t know whether to laugh because it’s awkward or sit in silence because it’s not funny. Shaped as somewhere you wouldn’t usually go on a date, Amelia romanticizes a location that doesn’t necessarily have a sought-after glamorous charm, nevertheless, one never stops dreaming about going to a chicken shop with Aitch.
Chicken shops have long been a symbol of defiance on high streets and all one can hope is that they don’t become one more place, having undergone gentrification, remaining unrecognizable to those who feel closest to it.