Big Mac Begone, British Say With Fish and Chips

VERY soon the hungry traveler won't have to fly halfway around the globe to enjoy a dish synonymous with England.

Authentic fish and chips - in all their crisp and golden splendor - are about to become available at international airports in many countries.

Compass Group, Britain's largest contract caterer, has reached a deal with Harry Ramsden, seen in northern England as the world's most famous ''chippie,'' to use its brand name worldwide. The result, says Ian Daly, a Compass director, is ''the prospect of consuming this delectable dish at many popular tourist destinations.''

In America he expects brisk competition, but opening restaurants in Florida and northeastern states ''is much more than a gleam in our eye.''

Restaurants offering Ramsden's fish and chips will be modeled on one opened in Terminal 1 at London's Heathrow Airport in 1991 and, according to Daly, a huge success with travelers of all nationalities.

At Heathrow, for 7.15 (a little over $10), the traveler unhappy with airplane minimeals or just ravenous for something tasty, can tuck into a piece of haddock cooked in batter made from a secret recipe, plus a pile of fries, bread and butter, and a generous helping of mushy peas.

Daly concedes that mushy peas - a puree easily mistaken for guacamole until you taste it - may shock foreigners. But in Leeds, Yorkshire, where Ramsden's started out in a wooden shack 68 years ago, they are regarded a fine side order to a famous dish.

Ramsden's main outlet, in Leeds, serves nearly a million meals every year, and is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest fish and chips restaurant.

The fries served with the haddock are cooked in beef drippings, which some find a bit greasy. But to use cooking oil, says a Ramsden's spokeswoman, would be to produce a dish merely ''masquerading as the real thing. If we cooked our fish in oil, customers would vote with their feet and leave.''

Compass envisages opening restaurants in at least 15 airports and railway stations in the next five years.

But hungry world travelers will be spared the experience of their order arriving in the manner that causes little surprise to Londoners. In the British capital's hundreds of fish and chip shops, the dish often comes wrapped in old newspapers or on a usually cracked and sometimes greasy plate.

Harry Ramsden's restaurants, by contrast, have tablecloths, carpets, and, in some cases, chandeliers. ''We will maintain these standards wherever we go,'' Barnes says.

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