Food. It’s been my downfall for many years. I used to think it was drink that would ruin me, but no; put a pile of chips and buffalo wings in front of me with a cold lager, and I’ll be on my last mouthful before I remember the beer is even there. This actually happened more than once. And I know my grub, don’t get me wrong. I like high-end five star nonsense in oak paneled chambers where they sweep away your crumbs with a funny brush and give you sorbet between meals, but I prefer steaming fried onion caravans where fat lorry drivers drool over hot sausage and HP sauce butties in grease spotted white paper bags. I’ve had my ultra-lean times; years on end spent running miles every day and being very classy and salad-oriented with a bit of fish or foul thrown in for good measure. But my true self is the perennial fat bastard who doesn’t give a bollocks what he eats (and will undoubtedly die of a massive coronary). After all, as a native of Manchester, albeit an ex-pat, it’s my birthright to eat myself into an early grave.
Here’s a list of my favourite Manchester-themed killer dishes. Don’t be surprised if they sometimes involve chips.
1 - Chip Butties. When I used to meet people from other parts of England they’d say, “Oh, Manchester? Chip butties!” accompanied by a gormless smile that made me think they’d just emerged from a long coma and possibly needed a twatting to properly wake up. Only later did I find that most normal people view the consumption of chips and bread as individually adventurous – dangerous even – and the notion of combining the two was something only people from a self-obsessed city of provincial ignoramuses with a collective death wish could find appealing. But there’s something so luscious about the vinegar saturated bread, and the massive salt overkill that borders on the electrolytic capability of a lethal injection that I love. The clogged epiglottis, that struggle to get the fucker down into the stomach, combined with the resultant chest pains, make a proper chip butty a challenge as well as a transcendental experience. So touché, all you food-group-studying geniuses from sensible places, you go on off to your underwater origami class while I smoke weed, drink 7% IPAs and fret about the fact I shovel the equivalent of ten bricks of lard into my gob on a weekly basis. There’s no point in stopping now. I have to go all the way.
There’s something so luscious about the vinegar saturated bread, and the massive salt overkill that borders on the electrolytic capability of a lethal injection that I love.
2 - Chips, pudding and gravy. Imagine my horror upon discovering that outside the Greater Manchester area (with the exception of Blackpool) of my youth, chip shops didn’t sell steak puddings or gravy! How this dire situation came to be I have no clue, as those grey, wobbly domes of moist angel turd, with their meaty innards and a nice dark pool of Chinese gravy in the slightly recessed crown, is truly the food of the gods. When combined with a heap of chip shop chips (and half a thick loaf of heavily buttered Warburton’s and a cup of PG Tips to wash it down), having been showered in a gallon of Sarson’s malt vinegar and a blizzard of salt, I am in semi-asphyxiated, chest-clogged Heaven. Gravy may be substituted for Chinese curry (that stuff that looks like yellow-green baby shit but tastes like something Sinbad the Sailor would die for) if desired, but the pudding isn’t optional. Living abroad, the total absence of steak pud is one of the chief vexations as I lie in bed at night, dwelling on where it all went wrong.
3- Fish, chips, mushy peas and parsley sauce. As a kid, the only time I saw parsley sauce was on Good Friday, incidentally my favourite day of the year. I was fascinated by its whiteness, and those sparse flecks of green that added so much flavour despite their low concentration. Then there was the fish, fried in thick batter (note: NOT breadcrumbs; “poor man’s batter” where I come from, nor beer batter, fuck that!) containing enough flour, eggs and cornstarch to kill a warthog. The mushy peas and chips go without saying, as does the avalanche of salt ‘n’ vinegar to give the whole thing a mental acid-alkaline coating that shimmers like snake venom and puts an edge on what is basically a mountain of different fats. The PG Tips is needed again here, as this dish is yet another one capable of inducing fatal choking, or more accurately the way I wolf it down is. “No-one’s gonna take it off yer!” my parents would shout across the dinner table, as I struggled to breathe even as I folded yet another round of Warburton’s around a sauce-sodden mass of fish and chips and forced it down my gullet. I knew that; I was just trying to finish before my dad so I could beat him to the bit that was left in the pan on the stove. He’s been a bit slower since his second heart attack but he can still move when the chips are down, if you’ll allow me to use that expression.
“No-one’s gonna take it off yer!” my parents would shout across the dinner table, as I struggled to breathe even as I folded yet another round of Warburton’s around a sauce-sodden mass of fish and chips and forced it down my gullet.
4 - Fry-Up. Any self-respecting man who compiles a list of his favourite foods and doesn’t include the fry-up is a cunt, simple as. Some people call it the Full English, but out of respect for our Scottish, Welsh and Irish readers, I shall refrain from such aggressive acts of imperialism. The fry-up varies from place to place, person to person, but here are the absolute essentials, in my opinion: Bacon, eggs, sausage, beans, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, fried bread, toast and HP sauce. The HP should be lashed onto the majestic whole with no discrimination whatsoever, the full bottle if possible. First order of business is then to try to eat every single morsel wrapped in Warburton’s (or whatever your brand is) and to round it off by taking a final slice and wiping up all the sauce, tomatoes, beans, bacon remnants, etc, and stuffing that one last pleasure down thy throat. A piping hot cuppa should follow, and the burn from the HP will send your tastebuds glowing in tribute. A job well done. Excellent for hangovers, if, like me, you drink your beer instead of frying fish in it like some kind of savage.
5 - Donner Kebab. I had my first ever donner in a kebab shop in Ruislip Manor in 1987. It was the start of a lifelong love affair with putrefying shaved meat on a vertical spit. I once worked in a pizza place where they sold kebabs. One night the Italian owner asked me if I wanted the leftover kebab meat on the spit. I can still see his stricken face, as I tore into it with my bare hands like a polar bear with a baby Eskimo. Another time I went into a kebab house pissed after a long Saturday sesh. I went to the front of a long line, and was amazingly served without being viciously assaulted or kicked out of the place. Even better, as the guy handed me the 5 lb. package, I simply disappeared into the night, cackling like Zorba the Greek. Unfortunately, the next morning I realised I’d fucked up big time, as this was the best kebab house in the area and now I was looking at a self-imposed ban. So I went back that night, and paid the man. It taught me that crime pays. A valuable lesson. Kinda like when I got caught trying to steal my Cousin Paul’s purple Matchbox beach buggy with the yellow spatters as a child. They were all the rage in the early-70s, and as a result of being accosted and slapped by my mam, my auntie Viv bought me a new one. That’s how I felt whenever I returned to that kebab shop; the owner would gesture for me to come to the front of the drunken queue and present with me a big fuck off bundle of fresh baked pita bread wrapped round an idyllic mass of lamb, onions, yoghurt and chili sauce, and more. Christ, imagine racing along on some distant dune in a purple beach buggy with yellow spatters, a naked beauty by my side, and a kebab in hand. I could die. And, as I was saying earlier, I probably will. Soon. Cheers.
More recent stories that might interest you...