England’s chicken shop culture

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In case you haven’t noticed, the odd Youtube phenomenon over in the UK has underlined something that has long existed yet rarely been acknowledged in popular culture – the fried chicken eatery.

All over the tiny isle, but heavily concentrated within London, seemingly unglamorous fried chicken shops have been playing host to masses, providing a setting for social interaction to a younger generation just as the pubs do for their elders. With names ranging from the likes of chains ala Chicken Cottage and Morley’s to shops christened with any combination of three letters providing that ‘FC’ is the latter two, they provide both budget snacks and to an extent, pillars in communities.

This is despite that less than a decade ago, politician David Lammy, MP for Tottenham in North London, claimed that such outlets were symbols of poverty and a lack of ambition within inner-cities.

MP Lammy said; “When I walk down Seven Sisters Road [in London’s Tottenham], I don’t see dozens of distinctive restaurants or boutiques showcasing the best our community has to offer. Instead, I see an endless stream of burger bars and fried-chicken shops, flogging cheap calories to the school kids and office workers.”

It’s a controversial viewpoint, especially considering the popularity of such fast-food restaurants, but in an area so rich in multiculturalism and its potential of flavours as London, you can see his point.

Nine years on from those comments, though, the ‘chicken shop culture’ has come to the fore in the mainstream, no thanks to original thinking creatives like Elijah Quashie (The Chicken Connoisseur), Amelia Dimoldenberg (Chicken Shop Date) and the irrepressible power of social media and Youtube. The former, a mysteriously ageless North Londoner, has been capturing international attention online for his honest, humorous and critical approach to fried chicken.

Elijah and friends started what has become one of the most popular series in our public sphere today over a year ago, filming the extremely likeable frontman of the operation as he orders, eats and reviews individual chicken shops in London. A humble idea with a noble aim – to improve the standard of eateries in his city and let his fellow man know where to hit up for deep-fried, well seasoned, fairly priced goodness.

Amelia Dimoldenberg, however, has been steadily and regularly capturing viewers online for around five minutes at a time, as she arranges date-cum-interviews with willing guests and potential romances. She has shared a table decorated with salt, pepper and ketchup with an array of rappers, actors and comedians, deservedly attracting an audience with her funny and frequently awkward videos. The latest guest on Chicken Shop Date illustrated the power of this surgent trend perfectly – The Chicken Connoisseur, himself.

The date may not have gone well for Amelia, but for the owners of London’s neon-illuminated chicken shops, the attention the duo have gained has brought new customers into the stores. A new wave of Vice-reading, YouTube watching, Uni-types with a hankering for fried chicken are pushing through the self-shutting doors and waiting in the resulting queue before ordering “2 wings, a fillet burger and a can of Mirinda, please mate.”

Whilst it’s true that British cuisine has far more to offer than cheap poultry, seasoned and deep-fried in often hygienically challenged ‘restaurants,’ these YouTube giants of the chicken industry have brought this sub-culture culinary into the mainstream. So much so that these institutions – more often than not kept running over by charming, enterprising immigrants – are becoming staples of British culture in their own right. That in itself, regardless of what members of parliament say, is a wonderful, well-seasoned and succulent thing to behold.

By Greg Stanley, UK Editor and Vice-reading, Youtube watching, Uni-type.