Friday Fish Fry Day
44 days before Easter (since 2021)
Caleb Westphal on January 7th, 2021
Friday Fish Fry Day is a celebration of the Friday night fish fry, a Midwest tradition. It takes place each year on the first Friday of Lent and is celebrated in Wisconsin, in the Midwest, in the United States, and around the world. On many Friday nights, family and friends gather together for fish frys at establishments like restaurants and bars, and that is what Friday Fish Fry Day is about. It is a time to enjoy food, to make memories, to build relationships, and to support local businesses. The day was created by Friday fish fry aficionado Caleb Westphal, who had eaten over 370 consecutive Friday night fish frys at the time of the holiday's first celebration.
A Brandy Old Fashioned—or, in the case of the young, a Kiddie Cocktail—is often enjoyed before eating a fish fry, and a cup of New England Clam Chowder sometimes precedes the meal as well. A fish fry consists of either beer-battered or breaded deep-fried fish. Common species used for fish frys are cod, pollock, haddock, catfish, smelt, perch, walleye, and bluegill. A combo platter or all-you-can-eat fish option may be on the menu, and the fish is regularly eaten with tartar sauce. Fish frys also usually come with a choice of potato—most often french fries or potato pancakes—coleslaw, and rye bread.
Friday night fish frys are particularly common in Wisconsin, where they are a year-round tradition. There they are found in taverns, restaurants, supper clubs, church basements, bowling alleys, and beer gardens, and at fraternal organizations and social clubs. The Friday night fish fry tradition cuts across class, geographic, and political lines, making it a shared experience. In high-end restaurants and neighborhood dive bars, the fish fry is reasonably priced and reigns on Friday night. In downtown urban centers and along country backroads, the fish fry reigns on Friday night. In Red Republican households and Blue Democrat households, the fish fry reigns on Friday night.
Three main factors came together to make Wisconsin the Friday night fish fry capital. First, a large German Catholic population from Europe settled the state in the nineteenth century. At the time, they were required by the church to abstain from warm-blooded meat on every Friday of the year. They made fish their cold-blooded meat of choice. Church changes came in the twentieth century, which stipulated that warm-blooded meat only had to be avoided during Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. This is why fish frys are particularly popular during Lent today, and why the first Friday of Lent was chosen as the date for Friday Fish Fry Day.
The second main factor that helped make Wisconsin the Friday night fish fry capital is beer. For one, fried fish is often beer-battered, and the state was known for brewing beer. Breweries like Pabst, Miller, Schlitz, and Blatz were all headquartered in Milwaukee. For another, many taverns began selling fried fish during Prohibition, to bring in customers and stay afloat since they could no longer sell beer. Fried fish also provided a good cover for the beer that was often sold under the table. It was during this era, in the 1920s and '30s, that the Friday night fish fry in Wisconsin really began to take hold.
The third main factor that helped make Wisconsin the Friday night fish fry capital is the abundance of lakes and fish. Not only does Wisconsin have many inland lakes, but it is bordered on the east by Lake Michigan, and part of its northern border is along Lake Superior. Together, these waters provided Wisconsinites with plenty of freshwater fish for their Friday ritual. The synergy between these three factors made the ascension of the Friday night fish fry in the state a natural occurrence. But Friday night fish frys are not limited to the state, and neither is Friday Fish Fry Day, which is celebrated all around the world today!
How to Observe Friday Fish Fry Day
Enjoy a Friday night fish fry with family and friends at a local eating establishment! If you happen to be in Wisconsin, you could have your fish fry at one of the best places to get one in the Madison or Milwaukee areas. If you are unable to dine in-person, pick up a fish fry to take home or make your own. Make sure to share a photo of your fish fry on social media along with the name of the place you got it from and the hashtag #FridayFishFryDay! When you are finished eating, you could watch a documentary such as We're Here for a Fish Fry! or Fish Fry Night Milwaukee. Finally, you could donate to Feeding America in the spirit of "buying dinner" for a neighbor in need, and then vote for your favorite fish fry establishment and be entered to win a Korbel prize pack.