A Love Letter To The Frozen Fish Finger From A British Muslim Who Wanted To Feel Like She Belonged

Javaria Akbar
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Delish

Growing up in the UK, I sometimes felt adrift of British life in many ways - my Muslim family prayed together in the evenings, went to the mosque every week and spoke Urdu at home. Instead of Eastenders we’d often watch Bollywood movies and listen to Hindi poetry in the car. And our dinner table was filled with fragrant lamb pulao with dollops of cucumber raita, chicken masala served with shards of green chilli and spiced aubergine tossed in popping mustard seeds.

And looking back, I wish I’d felt confident enough to celebrate all the delicious Pakistani food I grew up eating at home. But the truth is I felt embarrassed about being different.

I remember once having a homework assignment at school that involved keeping a food diary for a week. Minutes before class, I ferociously rubbed out the okra masala I’d studiously recorded on the chart, thinking it'd be better to replace it with a ‘normal’ food like pizza. I wanted to fit in, and telling my friends I had a paratha filled with mooli for tea last night didn’t help matters.

I was lucky. My mum cooked every meal from scratch for me and my five ravenous siblings - she fed us on first sight immediately after school, like a culinary sniper, tossing snacks in our mouths to keep us at bay.

But when we broke her spirit with our incessant noise for more food, she’d break out the big guns and open the giant chest freezer in the garage. Among the carrier bags full of home-made kebabs, chopped fenugreek leaves and marinated tandoori chicken legs, lay the fixings for the meal of my dreams; fish fingers coated with the delectable pairing of golden breadcrumbs and E numbers.

This was it - my favourite ‘normal’ food. Crispy on the outside, soft in the middle, the perfect vehicle for an inhuman amount of ketchup and a lip-smackingly delicious filling for a hot sandwich made with the cheapest of white bread and slatherings of salted butter.

Better yet, my immigrant mum (whose idea of portion control is ‘what is a portion?’) would grill enough to stack them up in an abundant pile on a single plate, like a giant sand dune. There was no order to it; sometimes they’d be teamed with a mound of potato waffles, other times with crispy pancakes or beans, like an ‘all you can eat buffet’, but what did I care about presentation? I was a child in convenience food heaven.


I think I loved fish fingers so much because they made me feel like everybody else for a bit -- they were a leveller, a porthole to the experiences of my school friends who didn't have turmeric-stained nails or a school blazer that smelt like tarka daal. I didn’t know what a cobbler or a toad in the hole was but I could certainly tell you what a fish finger was.

I liked the comfort that came with participating in, or eating something, that didn’t sound alien to other people. Something as simple as feasting on fish fingers made me feel like I was less of an anomaly.

Since those adolescent days I’ve duly morphed into my mother, cooking too much food, stashing kebabs in the deep freeze and re-filling the sections of my spice box with crushed chillies. I’ve even taught Pakistani cookery to mature students at a college because it turns out people want to learn how to make those very dishes that once made me feel conspicuous but now make me beam with pride.

And yet, in between making lamb karahi and biryani, there are many days when only the extraordinary simplicity of five fish fingers squished between two slices of buttered white bread and a squeeze of sweet ketchup will do for a scrumptious serving of instant comfort.