Bradford's multicultural menu is not just about the award winning curry
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 October 2017
Joan Russell Photography
It might be a record-breaking Capital of Curry, but there’s so much more besides on Bradford’s multicultural menu.
To win the UK Capital of Curry title once could be seen as good luck (and a good jalfrezi). To win it twice, even luckier. Three times and you can’t really claim it’s a fluke anymore. But four, five and six times in a row? Surely that can only mean one thing – Bradford is the UK Capital of Curry.
As we go to print, the West Yorkshire city is battling it out once again, aiming to top its unprecedented double hat-trick with a seventh title.
Team GB (that’s Great Bradford) work hard every year to make their city stand out from the crowd, building on what has now become known as the ‘Bradford Blueprint’, which aims to promote community cohesion through a mutual love of Asian food while raising much-needed funds for charitable causes like the Curry Tree Foundation.
The city’s last winning bid included a sensational garden party to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday and a special Curry Capital Olympics (presumably the discus was a poppadum and the 100-metres was a sprint to be first in the queue for the pickle tray). But when it comes to the beating heart of Bradford’s culinary success, the everyday heroes who fire up their ovens and our tastebuds, you have to look no further than the plethora of family-run restaurants that liberally pepper the city.
Restaurants like Mumtaz in Great Horton Road, launched in 1979 when ‘Grandma set up a stall offering good, wholesome, homemade food’ and now boasting a range of premium chilled ready meals as well as authentic Kashmiri cuisine in its 500-cover eatery; relative newcomer MyLahore, also in Great Horton Road, founded in 2002 by cousins Asghar Ali and Shakoor Ahmed and now taking what they describe as their ‘100% superlicious’ food further afield, expanding on their Bradford flagship with restaurants in Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham; and Sweet Story, something of a legend in Lumb Lane, where it was opened on December 12th 1964 by the wonderfully formal-sounding ‘Mr Rehman and Mr Bashir’ as a traditional Asian sweet shop – the first in Yorkshire – before successfully transitioning into a celebrated family-run restaurant offering the very best in Asian cuisine.
While curry is most definitely still dish of the day in Bradford, families from other cultures have also made their mark on the city known for its love of great grub.
Gunther Giangregorio runs Roswitha Delicatessen in the John Street market with his mum (who the stall is named after) selling a massive range of goodies from around the world, including German pumpernickel, lupini beans, Italian speck and pancetta, haloumi, feta, Yorkshire Blur and 12-month-old Manchago, olives, houmous, all manner of dried beans, freshly-made baked cheesecake and traditional pasta in all shapes and sizes. (If you’re not hungry now, you never will be.)
‘This deli has been here for almost 60 years, which makes it one of the oldest in Yorkshire,’ he said. ‘I started working here as a kid on a Saturday and, frankly, I wouldn’t really want to be anywhere else.’
Roswitha is Austrian, coming to the UK when she was nine, Gunther’s dad was Italian and his grandfather Polish, which probably explains his love of food from around the globe.
‘We are very much customer-driven in terms of the items we sell,’ he said. ‘Some of the newer Polish shops offer cheap brands, but that is not our way. Our produce is not expensive, but it’s quality. To get in the shop, it has to get past me, and I’m not easy to please.’
Bradford council plans to move Roswitha’s – and the rest of the John Street traders – to two new sites in three or four years’ time. One will be a general market and the other, in the former M&S building, will be a dedicated food market.
‘I think we should follow the rest of Europe and make our markets food-orientated,’ said Gunther. ‘Leeds is going that way already and I think the rest of us should too. People from the UK actually travel to the European food markets, but we could have them right here on our doorstep.
‘I recently went to Madrid and their market was full of specialists selling beautiful produce. One guy was just selling tiny eels. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that here; high-end produce – speciality bread, delicious cheese and plump olives – as part of our everyday shopping?’
Just across the market aisle from Roswitha is another traditional Bradford family business, Priestley Fishmonger – the only independent fishmonger still operating in the city – now run by Neil Priestley, the fourth generation of his family to don an apron and get gutting.
His stall is a smorgasbord of the sea, with monkfish, sprats, red snapper, tilapia, enormous king prawns, razor clams, whelks, swordfish and parrot fish sitting alongside more traditional white and oily fillets, steaks and whole fish.
‘This is my family business and something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid,’ he said. ‘It was a lot busier then though. Bradford centre as a whole is struggling a bit at the moment and, here in the market, footfall has certainly decreased substantially since Morrisons closed. The move to the old M&S will certainly help though as we’ll be more central, and it’ll also help Bradford as it’ll add another level of independent shops.
‘The city centre has become much more condensed over the years and no one wants to walk very far for anything. Our occasional outdoor markets and themed markets – especially at Christmas – draw people in, but to retain them we have to be at the heart of the city.’
Running a family business, whether it’s a restaurant, deli or market stall, means long hours and hard work so, we had to ask, where do Gunther and Neil go on a night out to relax and enjoy some of the best food in town? Funnily enough, they both recommended the same place: Mamma Mia’s.
And guess what? It’s another family-run business. The Upper Piccadilly restaurant is run by Nella and Gianni Massimo, serving up Italian favourites from what they describe as their ‘family kitchen’ for more than 30 years.
‘Mamma Mia’s always hits the mark,’ said Gunther. ‘They’ve been in the city for years, through thick and thin, and are valued by everyone. Unfortunately, lots of good businesses have disappeared. If we want to bring more colour and diversity to the city centre, we need to attract more independent restaurants like this, not more chains.’
In other words, Bradford needs to keep it in the family. Families like the Massimos, Priestleys, Giangregorios, Alis, Ahmeds, Rehmans and Bashirs.