The hallowed shores of Grande-Bretagne are known to encompass many things; some positive, others negative. Of the negatives, food commonly and unfairly ranks quite high. Whilst British cuisine – or, more fittingly, grub – may not have the fussiness or the panache of (some of) its continental neighbours, it certainly has one thing: substance. We have an obsession – quite an unhealthy obsession – with the potato, and all its magnificent and deep-fried derivatives. We also love bread, butter, and bread and butter. Put the three together and what do you have? Nothing less than the pinnacle of British culinary innovation; the sandwich with soul; the triptych of tastiness: the chip butty.
A chip butty, for those lacking education or imagination, consists of two pieces of (thick cut, white, lightly toasted) bread, smeared generously with butter, between which is assembled a veritable phalanx of (thick cut, heavily salted) chips. Some add ketchup and/or mustard, but I don’t. The butty is an institution; something that transcends class, age, and any semblance of (otherwise) good taste. When I was at school, Friday lunch was always fish and chips. Ritually, my friend Tom (who refused to subscribe to the convenience of having a hot lunch and insisted on bringing his own desultory-looking sandwiches instead) would steal a handful of chips from my plate, cast aside the filling of his sandwiches, and then proceed to stuff the chips between his two remaining slices of bread. And then add a packet of crisps on top of the chips before eating the resulting chip-crisp-butty in about three, enthusiastic bites. Welcome to England.
The problem with chip butties is that they don’t travel very well. Beyond our shores, they’re pretty much looked down upon – ridiculed even – as embarrassing evidence of the lack of British culinary competence. Such condemnation is more a sad reflection of the state of the world today than it is an accurate gauge of the brilliance of the butty. But still, finding one is a rare treat. That said, there is (to my knowledge) one place in Singapore that can deliver the goods: The Cider Pit in Joo Chiat. Perhaps best known for its riotous range of ciders on offer, it also churns out some rather magical culinary accompaniments, of which the fabled chip butty ticks the vegetarian box nicely. Very nicely, in fact.
The Cider Pit’s chip butty (SGD 5.00) is described – quite brilliantly – on the menu as an “undignified pile of steakhouse fries on thick cut bread”. As honest as it is accurate, you really can’t argue with it. Although the use of the term “fries” is, of course, a moot point…
Tucking in to one of these things is an absolute joy. The creamy saltiness of the butter intermixes with the deep-fried crunchiness of the chips, producing wave after wave of filling, fatty deliciousness. There were no saucy accoutrements (surprising for Singapore – not even a whiff of chilli sauce!), but that was fine with me. Dry and moist and plain and salty – a culinary contradiction that ticked all the right boxes.
The bread deserves a special mention for achieving that wonderful balance of being fluffy and robust at the same time. It’s difficult to find such an all-rounder of a loaf in Singapore, but it turned out to be the glue that held this thing together. It helped to lighten the heaviness of the filling, becoming a sponge that absorbed the flavours and filtering them into something memorable and deeply, almost painfully nostalgic. What it lacked in nutrition, it more than made up for in its strength of character, in its bold simplicity, and in its fidelity to that most overarching of British values: substance. It made me harp for the homeland, and proud to have grown up in a country of such exquisite, unrefined good taste.
Ladies and gentlemen, once again: the chip butty.
The Cider Pit
328 Joo Chiat Road
Open 17:00-01:00 daily
Gordon Ramsay’s chip butty recipe
Making Strange’s comments on the chip butty
Sleepless in Singapore’s review of The Cider Pit
Time Out Singapore’s review of The Cider Pit
Living in Sin’s review of The Cider Pit