The UK isn’t exactly known for its cuisine, but that doesn’t mean the country’s culinary scene has nothing to offer. A full English breakfast, as strange and apparently disjointed as it may be, is undeniably delicious, especially after a long night of throwing back pints at the pub. Bangers and mash, despite its simplicity, is just the kind of warming dish you crave after a cold, dreary day. And who can possibly turn their nose up at crispy, crunchy fish and chips?
But there is one British dish that I’ve recently become obsessed with, but somehow, unlike many of its British counterparts, it doesn’t seem to have taken hold in the U.S. It’s the chip butty, a sandwich mainly consisting of bread (obviously), butter (as the name implies) and chips, or as we U.S. Americans call them, fries. The first time I heard of a chip butty, I was intrigued. I didn’t know there was a difference between British chips and American chips, and it made me think of how I would stuff my Subway sandwich with Lay’s potato chips when my mom would pick up $5 footlongs on warm spring days after school. To me, the sandwich was incomplete without the salty crunch of those Lay’s.
Alas, the chip butty is devoid of the crunchy chips of my youth, but blessedly, it does contain fried potatoes in another form. To encase those fries in two slices of bread is an unhinged, unholy act, and one that has resulted in what may be the greatest sandwich of all time. You see, the chip butty is unabashed in its degeneracy; it flaunts its status as nothing more than a carb- and fat-delivery vehicle and eschews traditional notions of sandwich construction. It spits in the face of every sandwich that has some coherent combination of protein, vegetables and cheese and instead promises to make an entire entrée out of the best parts of any fast food meal: the fries and the bread.
I’m told that the only truly necessary ingredients for a chip butty are fries, bread and butter, but there are some optional additions that diners can choose from. Apparently, some people choose to add ketchup to the sandwich. If you ask me, that sounds absolutely disgusting, and the last thing I want to do is contaminate a glorious sandwich with sugary tomato sauce, but as someone from the U.S., my opinion is probably invalid anyway. I would much prefer to pair my chip butty with mayonnaise (because why not add even more fat to the mix?) or malt vinegar, perhaps the most glorious fry condiment of all time.
If you ask me, it’s absolutely unbelievable that the chip butty has not yet caught on in the States. It looks like it came straight out of a questionable fast food test kitchen. You can’t tell me the same people who created the infamous KFC Double Down wouldn’t be completely on board with selling a fry sandwich. The creators of the chip butty are guilty of a massive oversight for not doing a better job marketing the sandwich in a country that embraces unhealthy foods with such gusto.
But as inflation continues to take its toll on food prices in the U.S., I predict that food culture will take a sharp turn toward the realm of the chip butty. The luxury food market boomed as pandemic-era governmental assistance went into effect and consumers suddenly found they had more disposable income. Three years out from the beginning of the pandemic, though, and things are looking a bit different; the cost of food increased over 10% from November 2021 to November 2022, according to the USDA. As the threat of recession looms, less expensive foods may find themselves at the helm of the country’s food culture. Luckily, the chip butty, with its ultra-simple and affordable ingredients, stands to become a symbol for a less-pretentious food future.
Diners in the U.S. have become limited by their preconceived notions about sandwiches: that they have to contain meat, that they have to be somewhat balanced in terms of texture and flavor, that they must adhere to certain laws of decency. I respect the British for throwing off the chains of sandwich convention and wholeheartedly embracing a sandwich that so clearly doesn’t give a fuck. I think there’s something that those of us on this side of the Atlantic can learn from our neighbors across the pond. That’s why, in 2023, I’m praying for the arrival of the chip butty to U.S. shores.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.