It’s 25 years since the deep-fried Mars Bar was invented at a chippy in Stonehaven. Gayle Ritchie looks back at the history of the iconic Scots snack and explores the secret of its global appeal.
It started out as a dare.
Nobody in their right mind would deep fry and eat a Mars Bar, right? Wrong.
Twenty five years ago, cheeky Stonehaven schoolboy John Twaddle dared his mate Brian McDonald to try the chocolate bar – in batter – for his lunch.
Evelyne Balgowan, the fryer at The Haven Chip Bar (now The Carron Fish Bar), found the concept funny but was unsure how to go about deep frying the chocolate, nougat and caramel confection so she phoned her boss for advice.
He talked her through it and the bar emerged, melting and ready to be devoured.
The lads loved it. When they returned to Mackie Academy, they told all their classmates, inspiring pupils galore to pop in and ask for the unusual delicacy.
The quirky tale came to the attention of the Evening Express, which covered the story, and then it appeared in various national and then international newspapers. Suddenly everyone was talking about deep-fried Mars Bars.
TV presenter Keith Chegwin ate one on The Big Breakfast and the BBC World Service did a feature on it.
Even Jay Leno, host of NBC’s Tonight Show, name-checked the snack in 2004.
To this day, The Carron Fish Bar is known as the birthplace of the deep-fried Mars Bar and it continues to attract fans in search of the caloric treat from across the globe.
As the iconic Scots snack marks its 25th anniversary, owner Lorraine Watson says it’s just as popular ever, although it’s not locals who are its biggest fans.
She and her husband Charlie took on the Carron Fish Bar in 2012.
“People from all over the world flock here just to try one,” reveals Lorraine, 59.
“There’s still a big buzz around it, even 25 years on. In summer, even with lockdown, we were selling around 200 a week. The demand is there.
“We don’t have anyone local buying it on a daily basis. It’s more that tourists and students come here especially to try one. It’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists.”
There’s still a big buzz around it, even 25 years on. In summer, even with lockdown, we were selling around 200 a week. The demand is there.”
Lorraine got hacked off with people claiming the battered treat had a staggering 1,200 calories so she got it tested by food scientists last year. It turned out it has only 306 calories.
There’s no doubt the deep-fried Mars Bar has helped boost tourism in the north-east over the years.
“We feel quite proud of that,” says Lorraine. “It’s all about community spirit.
“If the deep-fried Mars Bar brings people to Stonehaven to spend money – whether in the shops, at Dunnottar Castle or here in the chip shop, then surely that’s a good thing.”
The Carron Fish Bar, which was crowned the best in Scotland at the UK Fish and Chip Shop of the Year Awards in 2019, is still beating rivals who copy them in a bid to cash in.
While the Carron charges £2.50 for a deep-fried Mars Bar, some chip shops in London charge up to £5.
The appeal of the treat is global, and sampling the original version of the treat in Stonehaven appears in ”must-do” sections of multiple travel and guide books of Scotland.
Singer Eddi Reader is the latest fan of the treat. She popped into The Carron during a break from filming an episode of Songs of Praise at Dunnottar Castle last year.
“She came in asking for deep-fried Tunnocks Snowballs but we only do them at Christmas so she had a Mars Bar instead,” recalls Lorraine.
Tennis superstar Andy Murray admitted he wasn’t a fan of deep-fried Mars Bars in 2017. During a TV interview he warned Roger Federer to avoid them when he visited Scotland for the first time.
Andy said: “I tried one of them for the first time last year and it was horrific. Stay away from that.”
It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing snack – the yellow, crinkly batter enshrouding the brown chocolate, which, when cut in half, oozes out.
But looks can be deceiving – it’s delicious. I should know – I’ve had one.
The savoury taste of the flour mingles with the sweetness, and the fluffy batter gives it a surprisingly pleasing texture and bite. Mixing salt and caramel is, of course, all the rage these days, although perhaps less so back in 1995.
I admit I struggled to eat my deep-fried Mars Bar in one sitting. It was simply too much.
I ate half of it and saved the rest for later – cold. That wasn’t quite so tasty.
Let’s put it this way – eating one is an adventure and probably not something you’d make a habit of.
While the deep-fried Mars Bar is adored by many, it’s received a significant amount of negative publicity over the years.
Apparently the Mars Corporation is unhappy with the trend and refuses to condone it, but, as Lorraine says, they haven’t yet complained about the boost to sales!
In 2015, Aberdeenshire Council requested the chippy remove the famous banner stating that the deep-fried Mars Bar was born there.
The council was forced into an embarrassing climbdown after the local community rallied to save the banner, and indeed, it remains to this day.
Unofficial national dish
Many people thought that the hype would fizzle out over time, but it hasn’t.
The reality is that the deep-fried Mars bar is here to stay.
The battered treat deserves a round of applause for holding the grand title of the unofficial national dish of Scotland for quarter of a century.