Being born and raised in deepest Manchester (in Rusholme to be exact – more of which later and its famous ‘Curry Mile‘) fish and chips featured very much in my growing up. I was always fascinated as a small boy by the potato peeling machine in Jon’s Chip Shop on Washway Road in my home town of Sale (we moved there when I was 6..I was born in Rusholme, and then we had a spell in London, before moving back north) Mushy peas were de rigueur. Cod was not an endangered species yet and plaice was as popular as haddock. Chippies became more adventurous in the early seventies and the Conway Chippy near one of our locals as a teenager began selling curry sauce. The Conways chips were the real deal; they stuck together just a little and were always moist yet firm, just greasy enough and eating them out of proper newspaper made the experience perfect. Without doubt, fish and chips were outstanding up north…I can’t vouch whether that is still the case having been living too long in the soft south. Sadly, you can no longer get a free dollop of scratchings with your chips – they were the leftovers from the battered fish and truly scrumptious.
Mushy peas get a bad press down south but good ones are hard to beat. You can’t beat a good chip butty – it has to be on white bread, a little butter first then chips, a little salt and vinegar. If they are available a spoonful of mushy peas crammed on top before you add the top slice of bread. Press down and then salivate before you get your chops round it. When I lived in Yorkshire I became besotted with the pickled egg from chippies. Then I found that pubs sold them and I have been hooked ever since – drop one into a bag of cheese and onion crisps, preferably Seabrooks, shake the bag slightly then withdraw the crisp bespeckled white gem and tuck in! In my late teens Chinese restaurants were becoming very popular. We had a decent one in Sale called the Mido. What used to fox some of our friends was the finger dip that appeared to wash your hands in when eating things like spare ribs with your fingers. It was a new concept and we got a rather cheap giggle out of seeing some people dip their food in it, thinking that was its purpose. In Manchester the curry houses were blossoming though there were still some fairly basic affairs. One in Piccadilly just served three types of curry: Hot, Vindaloo and Suicidal! I never got past the first one, though some of my more mad mates tried the third one and paid the price for several days after! Near where I was born in Rusholme, Manchester, there were lots of Indian restaurants, sweet shops and grocers. The best ones were where there were Indians eating themselves and they were often upstairs over an Indian sweet shop or bakers. This area is now called The Curry Mile and it is very well worth a visit. The atmosphere is so vibrant, colourful and bustling that you would think for all the world that you were in Bombay. The quality of the restaurants is very high and yet the prices are very competitive. Well, there are so many restaurants they have to be. If you like curry and you have never been, go! I remember eating curry at the amazing restaurants in Bradford in the late 70s. They were very basic and traditional. The first time I walked in one I was rather bamboozled to see a hand basin plumbed in by the front door. It was only when the meal began that I realised why it was needed; there was no cutlery, you just used chapatis or your fingers! By the time I had finished my fingers were stained yellow and on the way out I got to wash them! It is a very back to the beginning way of eating and would horrify some but it was very enjoyable once you got into it. It certainly put you ‘in touch’ with your food!