Bread Rolls, Baps, and Butties

Chip Butty (found on the Internet)

Chip Butty (found on the Internet)

Sydney, Saturday

I used to think I was reasonably au fait with England and the English.  I grew up with frequent reminders of English ancestry on both sides, and had visited England multiple times on personal and business trips.

This was before I met Clive.

It’s well-known ‘chips’ are the British equivalent of what Americans call French fries, and are often served with both salt and vinegar.  But it wasn’t until Clive and I started living together that I learned about chip butties.

Clive told me a chip butty is chips in a bread roll.

It Started with the Excess Chips

When Clive grew up on the Suffolk coast in England, his family had fish and chips about once a week.  This is the only takeaway option he remembers, before the days of curry houses and burger joints.  After he and his sisters ate their fish, they always had a pile of chips left over.

Their mother gave them bread and butter with the fish and chips, and he says it was just the logical thing for kids to do, to put the chips between pieces of bread, squash it all down, and eat it.

He says it made the bread a lot more exciting.  When his family moved to Australia, he discovered chip butties made with bread rolls.

Bread Rolls — What Other Kinds of Rolls Are There?

I met Clive ten years after I moved to Australia, so I’d already come to grips with the term ‘bread roll.’

I previously thought ‘roll’ meant bread and only bread.  Differentiation was based on size and occasion:  my mother sometimes served round ‘dinner rolls;’ we had Pepperidge Farm ‘finger rolls’ on Thanksgiving and Christmas; and my favourite deli sandwich was roast beef on a ‘hard roll,’ which wasn’t hard at all but had a crisp, lightly-browned crust.

Filled Rolls

In Australia, ‘roll’ refers to a plain roll made of bread, aka bread roll, or a roll filled with just about anything:  a bacon and egg roll, sausage roll, or ham and cheese roll.  There’s also a sausage roll that’s meat surrounded by puff pastry.

I find a certain logic and efficiency to this, as it’s easier to say, “a bacon and egg roll” than “a roll with bacon and egg.”

Filled rolls are served with or without tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, grilled onions, and salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and grated carrots).  My father visited Sydney several times, and we took him to a few of the city’s best restaurants.  He still says the best food he had in Australia were the $2.00 grilled sausage and onion rolls at my son’s baseball games.

A Bap is a Soft, White Bread Roll

Clive didn’t use the word ‘bap’ in England, nor did I in the U.S.  In Australia, bap rolls are large, soft, flat, and round.  Clive prefers a dark, crunchy crust.  He says baps are too soft and are often sprinkled with flour on top that gets all over everything.

This is all true.  A bap is, however, an excellent bread roll for a chip butty.

A Quick Diversion regarding Chips, Crisps, and Fries

According to my in-house Brit, ‘chips’ means large pieces of fried potatoes.  He says McDonald’s introduced ‘fries’ or ‘French fries’ to Australia, and ‘fries’ means thin, shoestring pieces of fried potatoes.

‘Crisps’ used to be used exclusively for potato chips, but we’ve noticed ‘potato chips’ used more and more in Australian marketing.

As globalisation increases, the terms are becoming interchangeable:

·        chips = large fries or potato chips

·        fries = large (chips) or in Australia and England, small (shoestring) fries

·        crisps = potato chips

 A Butty Is a Sandwich

A filled roll or bap can be a butty, as can two pieces of bread with filling.  The main kinds of butties are bacon butties and chip butties.  In Australia, ‘butty’ is most commonly used for chip butties, and ‘sandwich’ means two pieces of bread, as opposed to a bread roll.

My Lonely Planet British Language and Culture guide lists ‘Regional Variations for Welsh English’ with ‘butty = friend (possibly the origin of the US term buddy).’ 

I read that ‘sarny’ or ‘sarnie’ also means sandwich, and again the common usage was ‘bacon sarny.’  Clive never used ‘sarny,’ only ‘butty.’

I asked Clive why there aren’t sausage butties, or ham and cheese butties?

He said, “I don’t know.  Bacon butties are a later invention.  The original butty is the chip butty.”

The Original and Ultimate:  Chip Butties

Clive’s son and daughter-in-law spent a year working in England, and ate a lot of chip butties because – despite being starch on starch — they’re tasty, filling, and cheap.

We rarely have chips/French fries in the house (I love to get fish and chips and take them to the beach or a Harbour lookout), but once in a while we splurge on a bag of salt and vinegar crisps/potato chips.

Using potato chips provides the all-important crunch, so you can use a bap or other soft bread roll for your chip butty.  Whether you use French fry chips or potato chips, you must always butter the bread, as if the whole thing isn’t already greasy enough.

When the chips are in the bread, be sure to squash everything down with the palm of your hand, to ensure the flavour and texture mingling of bread, butter, chips, salt, and vinegar (if included).

Once you have squashed and mingled, voilà!  If you’ve ever stuck a potato chip into a sandwich or roll, you know how good it can be, though it may be most appreciated by those less than 5 years old.

Enjoy your chip butty.


Even on Your Birthday, a (Potato) Chip Butty Is Great for Lunch

Even on Your Birthday, a Chip Butty Is Great for Lunch

4 Responses

  1. Who knew there was all of this new-to me-food in Australia? Isn’t the food of other countries fascinating? I’ve certainly discovered a world of cheese here in France.

  2. Linda, yes it is fascinating – French cheeses are another amazing world I still want to learn much more about (not to mention a tad more sophisticated than a chip butty …).


  3. Hi, I got here via Lynne at Separated by a Common Language. As far as I recall, nobody there mentioned, nor have you, what I was told was the derivation of “butty” as in “chip butty”: That it is from butter.
    That a “butty” was bread-and-butter – AND…
    Bread and butty… via baby-talk/quick speaking
    I admit the butter is often omitted, nowadays; but that’s what I heard, in 1978, on my first visit to England. And it clarified (no pun intended) a rather opaque phrase. “Buddy”? Why?
    What do you think?

  4. Catanea, welcome and thanks for your comment!

    I hadn’t heard that explanation of ‘buddy/butty’ but it makes sense to me — ie the ‘baby talk’ bread and butty idea. Interesting that you heard that on a visit to England, so maybe there is indeed some truth in it.

    Very funny about ‘clarifying’ that question 🙂

    Cheers and enjoy your chip/bacon butty.

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