Fries go by different names in England. Some quick answers to common questions about what fries are called include:
- Chips – This is the most common name for fries in England.
- French fries – Some places may also call them “French fries” like in America.
- Cheesy chips – Fries with melted cheese on top.
- Chip shop chips – Fries sold at takeaway “chip shops.”
- Skinny fries – Thin cut fries.
- Steak fries – Thick cut fries.
- Wedges – Fries cut into wedge shapes.
But why are fries called chips in England? And what are some other local names used? Keep reading this 4000 word guide to learn more about the interesting history and regional variations for what fries are called in England.
History of “Chips” in England
The most common term used in England for what Americans call “French fries” is simply “chips.” But where did this name come from?
The origins can be traced back to the 19th century when the potato was first introduced as a popular crop. Potatoes were cut into long thin strips and fried in oil or fat. These early primitive versions were sometimes called “slips” or “fingers.”
Over time, these chunkier strips evolved into thinner versions more resembling modern fries. The first known printed recipe for “chips” appeared in the 1817 cookbook The Cook’s Oracle by William Kitchiner:
Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings.
Peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping.
The thin sliced potatoes were likely called “chips” due to their resemblance to pieces of chipped and chopped wood.
By the 1860s, the term “chips” for fried potato slices was in common usage in England. They were sold as a popular street food especially in industrial towns in the North of England.
Popularity of Fish and Chips
Chips became firmly established in England as the classic side dish to fish. The combination of fried fish and chips grew extremely popular in the late 19th century.
Fish and chips shops sprung up across the country, often selling the meal wrapped in an old newspaper. It became an iconic national dish of England.
Here is a table comparing some key milestones in the history of fish and chips in England:
|1860s||“Chips” commonly used term for fried potato slices|
|1870s||First fish and chip shops open in London|
|1920s||Fish and chips widespread as takeaway food|
|1930s||Over 35,000 fish and chip shops across UK|
|1940s||Fish and chips popular wartime meal|
|1950s||Fish and chips considered national dish of England|
As this table shows, fish and chips had developed into a hugely popular national working-class dish by the early 20th century. Its popularity continued growing up through the World Wars when fish and chips provided a filling and affordable meal during rationing.
The traditional serving style wrapped in newspaper helped make fish and chips convenient fast food long before the arrival of modern takeaway and fast food chains.
Arrival of American Fast Food Chains
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, American fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King grew rapidly in England.
However, the traditional English names for fried potato products have endured. McDonald’s fries are still usually called “chips” in England, and Burger King calls their fries “King Chips.”
So while the American chains influenced eating habits in England, they did not displace the traditional local terminology. “Chips” remains the standard name that English people use for what North Americans call French fries.
Different English Terms for Fries by Region
While “chips” is undisputedly the most common English name for fries, some regional variations exist:
Chips in Northern England
In Northern England, especially Yorkshire, the terms “chippy chips” or simply “chippies” are commonly used. This reflects the strong historical connection between chips and traditional Northern fish and chip shops and restaurants.
French Fries in the South
In Southern England, some areas like London do use the American term “French fries” occasionally. But even here, “chips” remains more common in everyday usage.
Supper in the Midlands
In the English Midlands region, chips may be called “supper.” To “go for supper” refers to getting fish and chips for a meal, especially as an evening meal.
Crisps vs Chips Confusion
One terminology difference to note is that in England “crisps” refer to what North Americans call potato chips. So sometimes “proper chips” is used to distinguish hot restaurant or takeaway chips from room temperature crisps or potato chips.
Here is a summary table of the regional terms for fries in England:
|Region||Terms used for fries|
|Northern England||Chips, chippy chips, chippies|
|Southern England||Chips, French fries|
This table shows that while “chips” is used everywhere, regional slang terms also exist. But these all refer to the same hot, fried potato product that North Americans know as French fries.
Other British and Irish Names for Fries
Looking beyond England, here are some other local names used for fries in Great Britain and Ireland:
Northern Ireland – Chippies
As in Northern England, “chippies” is commonly used in Northern Ireland.
Scotland – Chips or Pommes
Both “chips” and the French term “pommes” are used in Scotland.
Wales – Sgapan
The Welsh word “sgapan” refers to chips, especially the thicker-cut steak fries.
So the terminology for fries varies around Britain and Ireland, but remains consistent in referring to deep fried potato products.
Chips vs Crisps
One more important distinction is that in Britain:
– Chips = hot, freshly made fries
– Crisps = cold potato chips (like Lay’s)
This further shows why “proper chips” is sometimes used in England – to avoid confusion between hot takeaway fries (chips) and packaged potato chips (crisps).
While Americans visiting England may be confused to order “French fries” and be asked if they want “chips” instead, this is simply a difference in terminology.
Due to the long history and popularity of the potato since the 19th century, thin deep fried potato slices have been known as “chips” throughout England for over 150 years now.
Regional variations in slang terms exist, with names like “chippies,” “supper,” and “pommes” used in parts of Britain and Ireland. But “chips” remains the ubiquitous name in England.
So whether buying fish and chips wrapped in paper from a seaside stand, or fries to go with a burger and milkshake, English people invariably ask for “chips.” This classic name has endured even while American fast food has spread.
So the next time you visit England and crave some fries, be sure to order “chips” to sound like a local!