James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Fish and chip wars: Greasies win battle of the batter

Brave fish and chip shop owner tries healthier alternatives, but his customers reject crumbed fish in boxes.

Todd Wakefield says customers didn't like crumbed fish, and certainly didn't want it in a box instead of wrapped in paper. Photo / Christine Cornege
Todd Wakefield says customers didn't like crumbed fish, and certainly didn't want it in a box instead of wrapped in paper. Photo / Christine Cornege

A Hamilton fish and chip shop owner says trying to sell a non-battered version of a family favourite has been an unmitigated failure.

Todd Wakefield of Thai and Kai said turning away from the likes of battered fish, sausages and crab sticks to a healthier crumbed alternative had been hard to sell to locals who took a more traditional view of their fish and chips.

And repackaging meals so they came in small boxes rather than being wrapped in newspaper had not paid off.

Mr Wakefield said sales plummeted when he axed batter from the menu three months ago in a push towards healthier offerings.

Since he begrudgingly brought the batter back the fish and chips had been "flying out the door".

"Basically the turnover just wasn't that much and it was basically touch and go if we would survive as a business.

I guess we still crave the standard fish and chips we were brought up on," he said.

"I even tried repackaging it and going into boxes and people didn't like the idea of fish and chips moved away from being wrapped in paper - I think it's just a heritage thing, kind of like when they changed the All Black jersey, people weren't too happy about it."

Mr Wakefield has owned the Rimu St business in Maeroa for three years and got into the trade because he wanted to offer something more health-conscious than what is on offer in standard suburban takeaway stores.

"I'm a little bit disappointed ... people are generally into deep-fried stuff that is battered and cooked in canola oil."

He still does all his deep-frying in cottonseed oil, which he says is healthier and produces a crisper chip that still retains its body inside.

The shop also provides gluten-free options for nearly all its Thai dishes and for some of its fish and chip meals.

Television celebrity chef and cookbook author Michael Van de Elzen praised Mr Wilkinson for trying to offer a healthier alternative.

He said his difficulties possibly lay in the way he marketed his food, but he believed the healthy fast-food market was going to increase because New Zealanders eat too much salt, sugar and fat.

"How many fish and chip shops are there in the country that you walk into and one is exactly the same as the other?

"Taking a piece of fish and running it through batter and dropping it into oil is very easy. I'm not saying it [healthier alternative] is an easier road, but I think it's a road we should all be looking at."

A recent Oxfam report, Good Enough to Eat, which ranks countries based on several measures related to food and diet, has New Zealand in 23rd place, together with Israel.

The cost of food and our unhealthy eating habits pushed New Zealand down the list.

'I'll probably go back'

Reporter James Ihaka and family rather liked the crumbed version

We rarely eat fish and chips on a Tuesday - or any other day these days - so when I told the kids what we were having, there was a lot of excited screaming with immediate requests for chicken nuggets.

I took a punt on Thai and Kai's ultimate seafood pack, that comes complete with oysters, prawns, scallops, fish bites, mussels all crumbed and a scoop of chips deep fried in cottonseed oil.

We also grabbed the gluten free fish and chip package - a first in our household - but no chicken nuggets.

The crumbed offerings are nice enough and went well with the big Greek salad my wife made.

My two boys, aged 2 and 4, didn't use their food as frisbees as they are often wont to do so that's an endorsement on their behalf.

The chips are, as the owner promised, crisp and with a bit of body and, while overall it possibly lacks a real "wow" factor, it's honest food.

More importantly, no one was complaining about the gluggy fat and oil hangover that normally comes on immediately after eating the battered stuff.

If I need another fish and chips fix, I'll probably go back.

- NZ Herald

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