Hull Patties Are the Deep-Fried Potato Snack Everyone Should Know About
british food

Hull Patties Are the Deep-Fried Potato Snack Everyone Should Know About

You can’t watch a football game in Hull without eating a Hull pattie, herby mashed potato fried in beef dripping and served with chips.
25 September 2017, 2:05pm

Inside, the pattie is soft. Its crisp outer shell—a jagged, golden batter fried in beef dripping—gives way to steaming herb-specked potato. It's a warming way to soak up a pint of lager, especially when Hull's famous local delicacy comes with a mound of chip shop chips. I douse it all in salt and vinegar, as well as "American chip spice," a seasoned salt introduced to Hull in 1979 by restaurateur John Science.

My Hull pattie is welcome and necessary. I am sitting, a little slouched, in a fish and chip shop full of Hull FC fans. Outside, it's raining and quite cold. My intention was always to eat one or two of these patties on my trip to the city, it just came later in the day than I imagined it would. I'll explain.

Hull patties are synonymous with Britain's current City of Culture. The deep-fried disc of mashed potato is an homage to the city's food processing history and decades of hungry workers in need of a fill. Though much of Hull's once thriving fishing industry has sadly depleted, its fish and chip shops remain abundant, and within them, Hull patties are a decades-old favourite.

The origins of the Hull pattie are obscure. They're thought to have been born in the middle of the 1800s as a cheap alternative to fish patties, another favourite of East Yorkshire. Until not all that long ago, women who crafted the snacks were known affectionately as "Pattie Slappers." They'd toil in Hull's factories, shaping countless discs of potato flavoured with salt, pepper, sage, and often onion. The potato, loose and a little wet, would be "slapped" into shape before being carted off to shops around the city and fried in bubbling oil.

Hull FC play Sunderland at home. All photos by the author.

I've come to Hull to sample Hull patties, a popular food on any day, at any time, but a true mainstay of beer-soaked match days, when Hull play at the KCOM stadium. I arrive at lunchtime to see the Tigers take on Sunderland. Neither team is performing well and the mood is not uplifting. I bumble out of the train station and join the crowds, passing pubs full of liquored locals and Sunderland fans looking a little lost. After a walk of ten minutes or so, I see on the horizon what appears to be a chip shop. Outside, people are forking around in yellow boxes. One or two are sampling Hull's equally famous pattie butties, which include a bread roll, doubling the amount of carb with delectable frugality.

Before I reach the bright lights and deep-frying, I'm bundled into a neutral pub by the Sunderland supporters I'd been sitting (and drinking) with on the train. We watch Crystal Palace (my team) lose 1-0. I am sad. Shots are had.

In the pub is 74-year-old Walt Wilson. He consoles me, and tells me of Hull patties. He'd had his before coming into town.

"People eat pies, burgers, chips, fish cakes, the lot at football matches, I know," he tells me chirpily. "But we have Hull patties. They're unique here. A thing of pride."

He continues: "You might find them in a few other places, I suppose. Hartlepool say they have them. And Liverpool. But they're the Hull pattie for a reason. We all grow up eating them. Our parents grew up eating them. They go back generations. You might know about the 'Pattie Slappers,' of course?"

Walt, now retired, has been watching Hull since he was a boy. He tells me that his father took him to his first match aged four, and he had a Hull pattie then, just as he had one on the day I meet him.

"I always have a pattie on match day," he adds. "Sometimes I'll have another one for tea."

Walt (left) with friend.

Outside the pub, the name of which I cannot recall, doorman Brian Moss tells me that he too was brought up on the snack: "Oh yes, I have them. As does my son Caiden, who's nine. We eat them together for tea. If I'm not working (although I usually am), we'll go to a game. If we go to away games, we'll buy one before we jump on the train and have it then. We'd rather that than buy something else at the other grounds. Nothing beats a Hull pattie."

I ask Moss if he has a favoured shop. He says he doesn't, particularly, but prefers to do the rounds: "Most places do a good pattie. There are a fair few round here, so people can get them on match days. And lots of town, obviously."

While Moss' palette remains impartial, each chip shop in Hull has its own specific, heavily guarded pattie recipe. Some are held in higher regard than others. East Park Chippy was this year up there with the best. Proprietor Matty Kinsley told the Hull Daily Mail that envy is a common affliction: "A lot of people put their own little tweaks in. Every fish and chip shop does patties, but none do them the same and they all have their own recipes they keep secret."

The Hull pattie, mashed potato fried in a beef dripping batter.

Because there's no set recipe, the Hull pattie, while adored and proclaimed, is also a subject of debate.

But it doesn't make them any less popular. East Park Chippy sells around 1,500 a week, according to Kinsley. And when people who have moved away from the city return, they buy in bulk and take them home to freeze.

"The thing that always attracts people to the patties is their taste and texture. It is a distinctive taste," he says. "People used to buy them in Hull because a pattie was cheaper than getting fish. Now, it is our culture. No food is better for our city of culture than a pattie and chips."

After mourning Crystal Palace's 1-0 home defeat to Southampton, I venture with the Sunderland fans to the KCOM for the 3 PM kick-off. We witness a 1-1 draw—a simmer of a game. Despite the tepid result, the atmosphere is good. Sunderland go 1-0 up with an early strike, but the Hull crowd rocks when they see their team grab a deserved late goal through David Meyler in the 82nd minute.

As the final whistle blows, I pile out and find my first Hull pattie.

Andy Thompson, Hull supporter and pattie fan.

Andy Thompson is getting one. The 58-year-old former gas industry worker is more interested in talking football, though: "We played OK today, a decent result. It would've been nice to get a win. We haven't started the season all that well. A point though, and we're getting towards comfortable."

There is an unquestionable collective identity in the Hull pattie. It is ritualistic, affordable, hearty fare—and a perfect fistful of sustenance when boozily enjoying a football match. Whether thrust in a bap or sitting on a pile of chips (and almost certainly sprinkled with "American chip spice"), the pattie is as a part of Hull as its white telephone boxes.

Nicole Sanderson sells Hull FC memorabilia on match days.

On the way back to the station, I meet Nicole Sanderson. She's been selling Hull FC memorabilia in the city for eight years. I ask her whether she'll be getting a pattie, too.

"Probably," she says. "If not now, maybe later. I'm off to the pub in a minute, so I imagine I'll get one after."

If nothing else, I can say with absolute certainty that a post-pub pattie is a very, very good idea.