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The Curry Mile: The Classic Manchester night out

The Curry Mile
The Curry Mile

Marketing Manchester

Running south from the centre, the Curry Mile has grown from being a haven for hungry immigrants to a culinary institution, with Asian delights to suit all tastes and budgets.
Bright neon lights, the smells of a million different spices, cars blasting their horns, cyclists cheating death, and people shouting in more than a dozen languages: at first glance, it could be any big city on the Indian sub-continent. But Wilmslow Road is most definitely Mancunian. Indeed, this busy thoroughfare, and more specifically, the section that cuts through the working-class district of Rusholme, is one of the busiest and best-loved parts of Manchester. And it's all thanks to curry.
The story of what's now known, with no little affection, as 'the Curry Mile' dates right back to the 1950s. This was the decade when, needing workers for their booming textile mills and factories, Manchester's industrialists looked to Asia. Thousands of men, women and children migrated to the north of England, with some historians estimating that, by the 1960s, as many as 90 per cent of all the city's textile workers would hail from Pakistan, India or other nations with historic links to the British Empire. These migrants needed somewhere to stay, and they found affordable terraced housing in the neighbourhoods of Levenshulme and Rusholme, just a couple of miles south of the centre of their adopted city. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the newcomers were far from impressed with the native food, fuelling demand for authentic Asian cuisine.
It was this demand that led one culinary entrepreneur to open the New Taj Mahal Restaurant in the late 1950s. A photo of the pioneering establishment still remains, even if the restaurant itself has long vanished. Sandwiched between a teashop and a laundrette, it's a picture of a bygone age, when Wilmslow Road was still very much a classic English high street. Inspired by the success of the New Taj Mahal, others started opening up. And, notably, rather than simply catering to the migrant community, born-and-bred Mancunians had started getting a taste for curry, even if an aversion to too much spice led the chefs to adapt their dishes to suit local tastes.
By the 1980s, the Curry Mile was booming. Alongside the numerous restaurants, kebab shops and Indian sweet shops opened their doors, as did Asian grocery stores, music shops, Indian fashion specialists and Shisha cafes. Manchester's massive student population in particular helped make it one of the busiest streets in the north of England. Unencumbered by city centre rents, restaurateurs were able to keep their prices low, meaning young, hard-up youngsters from the nearby university halls could afford to both dine out and then spend the night in the pub. Amid the exotic restaurants and takeaways, several traditional pubs still remain today, with The Huntsman Inn especially popular with the student crowd. The Asian entrepreneurs also brought with them the practice of haggling over the price of dinner, something never seen before in the city. These days, virtually nobody sits down for dinner without bargaining with the waiter a little beforehand, even if it's just to get a pint of beer thrown in for free.

When to go

A night in the pub and then a curry: a match made in heaven. But in what order? Along the Curry Mile you will see two groups. Going in one direction are the students. Around 8pm or 9pm, they head here from the nearby halls of residence to fill up on cheap food before going into the city centre for the nightlife. Going in the other direction, meanwhile, is the older crowd; heading here around 11pm after their night out. This mix means that the road is busy well past midnight, smashing the stereotype of Brits always dining early.

Ever-evolving cuisine

The Curry Mile chefs have always responded to changing times and tastes. While in the past many diners may have preferred quantity over quality, these days they are more discerning. Sure enough, fine dining Indian-style has now arrived, with the standard and variety of dishes improving all the time. In 2012, Malai, the road's first £1 million restaurant opened its doors to rave reviews. How long before a Curry Mile chef wins a Michelin star?

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