Potato and an offshoot of a shrub. You cannot get more humble, or basic. And yet. Odes have ben written in their honour; paint to their pleasing Still Life credentials - they feature on every menu. But truly. When was the last time you stopped to revel in the joy that is the simple chip and olive? Fear no longer, cos here comes a little essay with my two cents to my most beloved of evening starters.
So. Let us start with the humble olive. It is the garnish to Bond's martini, often the subject of a Van Gough classic, and a much loved name for little girls who are quite simply destined for quirkiness. Humble? Yes. Evergreen? Very. Even the Kalamata ones. This salty, delightfully fatty offshoot of a shrub first burst on the scene somewher around 40 million years ago in the then-called Mediterranean Basin. The olive tree as we -mere mortals, that must bow to its superiority, yes that means you: bow -has been around for around 7,000 years, popping up in Ancient Italy, before being adopted by the Greeks when found around that time in Santorini. Horrifyingly, for thousands of years, they were not celebrated as the poppable joys we see today, but merely for lamp oil or in wood for ancient tombs. (I am fuming.)
Since then, and with some years under its belt at this point, olives were present when Christ was having a bit of a time of it in the Garden of Gethsemene the night before his Crucifixion, with many a 15 Centrury Artist featuring the olive tree with its distinctive leaf almost being prayed to. An olive-based religion? I'm devout asf.
I mean though, it's the massive mileage out of olives for me. Olive oil. Massive health and medicene uses. Martinis, and of course who cannot forget their contribution to the English Language as the proverbial extending of the branch. But also, the colour of the stuff. Walk past any food market, especially a beautiful Greek or Italian one where there are buckets of the stuff, and the colours look like emerald gems, shiny and green, or moody Aubergine purple. Even their pop culture cousins, the pimento stuffed - ah, I cannot get enough of the pure McDonalds not-ever-seen-in-nature red nestled in a salty, decadent dull green casing. Art.
And talking of art, Van Gough was also a fan, paining the olive tree a record series of 15 times, for, I guess, a laugh. But honestly. Bravo. What a way to spend the day. I tip my hat, Vincent. All this to explain that culture and art has been obsessed with the stuff since time immemorial. There's a reason the old urban myth of being told to eat seven on them to... 'cope' apparently? With what? How tasty they are? Just be honest and tell everyone that you only eat the beige at this point, friend. Get over it, and get them down you. And preferably, with their best accessory, the season must have. The chip. And no, not the nacho or the Lays, American types. The 'fries.'
And I do say best accessory, by the way; I'm British and I most equivocally do not mean fish. We don't do animal death on this here account. Okay? Cool. Read on, friend.
Now, the chip came along much later than its green and pleasant counterpart, by some thousand or so years, with talk of it being eaten as 'papas fritas' (by the way, what I will be calling my father from here on out) by a Chilean soldier as early as 1629, but really, they came on the scene in France as a true Parisian delicacy in their fetching thin format in the early 19th century. There is some discord as Belgium may have had the honour of creating the beauties, but you know, history. It's not a science.
What I love about chips is that they're a true leveller - indeed, there is an urban myth they were created by street vendors to keep the...revellers? -Can you revel in revolution?- nice and full and bursting with energy for the tough job of working the rope on the guillotine for the French Revolution, which has since been debunked, but personally, I think that's one hell of a origin story. Anyway, have them dirty and soggy from a fish and chip place, a street stall, or with something usually meaty (harrumph), called 'pomme de frite' or whatever for a much heavier price with silver service and 'a la carte' at the top of the page when really, the triumvarte of the fried stuff remains: potato, oil, deep fat frier. Prince or pauper - you see them on the menu, you order.
Wow that rhymed. Waaay better than *I'm lovin' it. Looking at you, Justin.
And yes, no discussion of chips would be complete without mention of them golden arches. So there, I've mentioned them.
Also, the damn stuff is so moreish, and so easily adapted: chuck (vegan) cheese on it, jalapeno, gravy, curry, kimchi, (vegan) bacon, triple fry them, put 'em in a sandwich, waffle cut, sweet...just keep going, forever. It's the ultimate staple, that bridge between starter and main course, or to accompany it, or hell, even have it as dessert. Let's not lie, Western culture is built on the stuff. Its stodge, it's tasty, it's...there. And that's what helped this stubborn baby vegan survive my first year as a plant based - steadfastly, tight-lipped-ly agreeing to go to a steak house with friends, knowing I could always have a salad, or - you guessed it - fried potaters. It has saved my life as a vegan many a time. Keeping me full, carbed up, and something to focus on while friends are literally elbow deep in thick rib juice. I'm telling you, you've not known smug veganism until you take a dainty bite of a frite as your table mates struggle with a bit of bone or cartilage spurting animal essence in their eye. A true vegan staple.
But why these two moreish morsels together, I hear you ask? Simple. Let me take you on a journey to 2000. I'm in my younger era, some years off possible wine drinking, wearing a baby pink Baby G, Tamigotchi in my pocket, jelly shoes on my feet perusing the stalls for now culturally inappropriate but stunning Indian bangles from a homemade stall in London's Spitalfield's Market, in East London. It is just before lunch on a Saturday and I am out with my mother and sister. We are all pretending to shop, when really we have one location in our shared mind: Spitz restaraunt, nestled on the other side of the market. As we edge ever closer, pretending to seriosuly consider a 30s dresser or a 50s clutch bag, we're really thinking of the huge queen green olives and twice cooked chunky joys, soft in the middle with an audible crunch there has ever been. Oh and wine, but not me, obviously. And that's all we'd have - but it'd last us hours, sitting gossiping, catching up, connecting with the two most important women in my life, letting their bright, witty and imspiring conversation wash over me like a warm wave, belly full and soul full, too.
That's the stuff of happy memories, salt, potato and olive flavoured.
Spitz closed too soon, but our love of the green and yellow stuff took us to the Tate Modern cafe - our lust for this mouth-watering pairing convincing us to traverse a wobbly bridge - yes, we were there the first day of the absolutely not ready for its first day Millienum Bridge and lived to tell the tale - but it wasn't quite the same. There was magic in Spitz, but still, if we're out together, it's our first choice.
That, if I'm honest, is my real, secret reasoning for my essay on the epic twosome: not quite that when I was away for the first time from home my Mum knew what was up and made me a small scultpure of CreSpo black olive cans so that I could feed freely, or that they, along with their fried cousins have allowed be to subsist in many a pub. What they are, and will always remain is a symbol of childhood sisterhood, salty and hearty and warm.
Oh, and extra: as of 2022 French fries were found to have less environmental impact than many other foods, and that they do not technically count as 'processed food'. Really. This was a law passed in Texas though. So. Anyway. Enjoy!
Big salty love, 'til next time.
About the Creator
I am a freelance writer, playwright, director and lecturer from London. Self professed nerd, art lover and Neurodivergent, vegan since '16, piano player since 7 - let's see...oh and music, lots and lots of music
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