Australasian Quarterly Lifestyle & Culture Magazine

The 1955 Chiko Roll

By Chris (I may have consumed too many of these) Soulidis.

“Not bad for a boilermaker from Bendigo and his cohort the ice vendor from Moonee Ponds.” [Peter McEncroe, son of Francis McEncroe]

You can’t knock the roll.

The Chiko Roll – originally conceived as a humble savoury snack that could be eaten on the go – has become an Australian icon. In fact, its legendary status is right up there with Aussie Rules Football, kangaroos, meat pies and Holden cars. It was initially developed for young men as a portable and tasty hot snack that could be taken to football matches. It was designed to be conveniently eaten with one hand so the other was free to hold the ubiquitous cold beer stubby. The perfect Aussie combo.

In the past, the Roll was often bought as a weekday lunchtime snack and at the weekends as a handy fast-food takeaway, perfect for anyone who was out and about. Today, the Chiko Roll can be bought frozen in supermarkets all over Australia and its reach even extends beyond Australian borders and it is now exported to Japan.

The Chiko Roll was the invention of Francis McEncroe, a boilermaker from Bendigo. It first appeared at the Wagga Wagga Show in 1951 but by 1965 it was available in most restaurants milk bars and fish‘n’chip shops throughout Australia. By the time of McEncroe’s death in 1979 it was estimated that Australians were consuming over 40 million Chiko Rolls every year, though in 2011 that number was down to just 17 million. This decline could possibly put down to competition from other fast food products and the fact that its traditional audience has become more health conscious.

The Origins of the Chiko Roll

The Chiko Roll was originally inspired by a combination of two traditional Chinese rolls: the egg roll and the spring roll. When it was first produced, it was simply called a “Chicken roll” despite the fact that it didn’t have any chicken in it all. Later it was renamed the Chiko Roll to take the emphasis away from the absent ingredient. It looks like a giant Chinese spring roll and is wrapped in a quintessential trademark red and black tubular serving bag.

The Chiko Roll includes ingredients from all the main food groups: boned mutton, celery, cabbage, barley, rice, carrot and spices. This ‘meal-in-one’ mixture is then wrapped in a tube of egg, flour and dough before being deep fried. The reason for this sturdy construction was to make the Roll strong enough so that could survive being taken to a football match.

The Chiko Roll Today

The Chiko brand has been owned by Simplot Australia since 1995 and is now manufactured in Bathurst, New South Wales. Their manufacture is unusual in that the Roll is produced on a specially designed machine that makes up the pastry case and the filling in one single long rolls that are then sliced and the ends folded with their distinctive round-ended tuck.

Chiko Roll Advertising

Since the 1940s, Chiko Rolls have been advertised by an iconic “girl on a motorbike” holding the Chiko in a phallic gesture, all in line with the fact that the Chiko Roll is firmly aimed at a young male target market.

In keeping with this, publicity slogans have included “Couldn’t you go a Chiko Roll?”, “You can’t knock the roll” and “Grab a Chiko”. One of the first slogans to be used in the early 1950s was a clever sexual innuendo: “You can’t knock the roll,” featuring a woman on a Vincent motorcycle.

In the period between the 1960s through to the 1990s the posters became even more raunchy with the models gradually being depicted revealing ever more flesh. The girls were shown in ever more suggestive poses, usually straddling motor-bikes, a theme that would be continued for a long time.

In one notorious campaign, a leggy, busty blond was shown sitting on a Harley-Davidson suggestively holding the Chiko Roll near her thigh. However, after complaints from the public, the poster was withdrawn. Not surprisingly, originals in good condition fetch large sums today.

In 2008 the search was on for a new model as the company declared that it was ditching its old, saucy images and looking for a girl who was quintessentially Australian, fun, cheeky, down to earth and, above all, active. In short, a modern representation of the far more acceptable ‘girl-next-door’.

The Gold Chiko Roll

Francis and his brothers had been running a large silver service catering venture, from the 1930s-50s. With a team of about thirty hometown staff, travelling around country shows Francis was renowned for his ingenuity, always  on the look-out for new and distinctive ideas to stay abreast of his competitors.

Hugely successful in its own right, the Chiko would most likely have remained a regional Victorian curiosity if not for a fortuitous meeting with some other visionaries, and the money Frank’s wife Annie had saved up during the war.

Wagga Wagga was the birthplace of the Chiko Roll.

McEncroe used the money his wife Anne saved during the war, to buy a small factory in Coburg, Victoria. It happened to be located near the Floyd Family Ice-works. The Floyds encouraged Frank to freeze his products for distribution and together they formed Frozen Food Industries to market Chiko’s and other fast foods.

By 1956 every fish ‘n’ chip shop and milk bar in this wide brown land could grab a Chiko out of the freezer, pop it in the fryer, give it a squirt of sauce and slide it into its own little bag.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Chiko Roll, the current manufacturer, Simplot, presented the cities of Bendigo and Wagga Wagga with gold plated Chiko Roll replicas.

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