Authentic Italian grub is taking over the city.
And we sure aren’t complaining. A culinary scene previously dominated by the Pizza Express’s and Bella Italia’s of the world – Italian food has seemingly undergone a bit of a ‘glow up’. Except, it’s not a glow up at all. It’s simply an educational revolution that’s seen local chefs take the cuisine into their own hands, taking we civilians (and our tastebuds) on a journey back to its actual homeland, shedding any unwanted American and British intervention along with it.
And it’s about time, too. The ‘traditional’ British city centre has swiftly transformed in the past decade, gradually casting aside its grey-filtered, chain-dominated reputation in place of a much shinier, far more cosmopolitan image – supported by bustling independents at every turn. That transformation hasn’t just been reserved for the Capital, either. Thriving city’s such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds have benefitted – making way for a whole new league of restauranteur.
Enter, the era of the street food chef. Now, if we’d have said ‘street food’ even just a decade ago, the mind would have sprung to the copy-and-paste white trucks that could be found in retail complex car parks, all exuding the familiar scent of fried onions and processed (read: frozen) burger patties. Fast-forward to 2021 and the concept is highly evolved, seeing talented chefs tap into their heritage (and coveted family recipe books) to bring to life more authentic tasting experiences. As a result, the Italian food we knew a decade ago isn’t the Italian food we know today. The Italian food we know today is actual Italian food.
The Boot has finally, officially, authentically arrived in the rainy city. And sure, it’s like The Boot within a Nike Air Max, but when we’ve been blessed with restaurants such as Sugo Pasta Kitchen, Rudy’s and Salvi’s, it’s hardly noticeable. And hey, on a summer’s day, Manchester could easily be mistaken for Milan… Or, at least Salvi’s owner Maurizio says it’s compatible, and he’s a man who knows Italy better than anyone.
This year alone, Manchester has welcomed new and exciting ventures by small-scale chefs such as Mira MCR and Lazy Tony’s Lasagneria, both of which have brought unsaturated dishes to the city which have successfully shed a light on something other than Neapolitan pizza – a move that could be considered fairly risky in a city dominated by the fluffy, leopard-adorned crusts.
Speaking of their decision to bring proper Neapolitan street grub to Manchester, the team behind Mira MCR said: “A couple of years ago we visited Napoli and when looking for places to eat the Cuzzetiello immediately grabbed our attention. Obviously, we knew pizza and pasta were huge there but didn’t know anything about these mad sandwiches so we had to get involved! Not only do they look and taste great, but the story behind them is also so quintessentially Italian it was impossible to ignore.
“The Cuzzetiello was borne from the concept of tearing the end off a loaf of bread with the sole intention of using it to scoop up some ragú fresh off the stove. Picture kids picking up a loaf from the shop on behalf of their mothers and sneaking a taste of dinner with a dip; Nonnas giving in to impatient family members waiting for some slow-cooked goodness to be served; a snack packed by wives in the morning as men were sent off to work. Humble beginnings!”
Adding: “Variations are rooted in old school Neapolitan cooking aside from the occasional special, and it is a food that everyone in Napoli seems proud to keep sacred. When we got back we started trying various recipes, focusing on three Neapolitan classics: the meatball ragú, the aubergine parmigiana and the Genovese stew.”
It’s not just Mira MCR who were keen to bring the under-represented dishes to the city, either, with Lazy Tony’s proclaiming their love for lasagne, dubbing it “a little overlooked and underrepresented”. And we can’t help but agree. A hearty classic that incites warmth and happiness in each and every diner, Italy’s exports have so much more to offer than pizza and pasta. In fact, our revolution in Manchester has barely even begun.
So, what’s next for Manchester’s very own little Boot? Our very own Italian Town to rival China Town? A street food obsession with Panna Cotta? It’s hard to say. But what we do know is, the return of half-assed Italian-British fusion food is definitely not something we’ll be worrying about.