Rusholme is in Manchester is a popular tourist spot due to it’s history, it’s also got a vibrant nightlife due to it’s high student population but it’s most famous feature is actually it’s impressive collection of restaurants, shisha cafes, exotic bars and world food markets. Known around the world as Rusholme’s ‘Curry Mile’ Wilmslow Road in Manchester has been associated with Middle Eastern food and culture since the 80s. Although not technically a mile long the Curry Mile has become a must visit location for lovers of Indian and Pakistani cuisine over the years.
Due to the areas increasing population and constant footfall the location became ideal for many people of Indian and Pakistani origin to set up their businesses. Middle Eastern cuisine has boomed in popularity in recent decades and the area quickly became synonymous with it. The various cafes that used to occupy the Curry Mile in the 1950s and 1960s were used as social meeting places for many working men during this time. The spot became a social hub for many people of Middle Eastern descent that had started working in many of Manchester’s textile mills or the various factories that are located nearby.
Many of these men and their families must have recognised the areas potential for future business ventures, giving birth to the Curry Mile as we know it today. There are even reports from people who grew up in the area that these new entrepreneurs even walked around the streets playing music, banged drums and gave out free samples of their home cooked food to entice the locals into visiting. Seeing what Wilmslow Road looks like today, it’s clear these methods to literally drum up business worked.
One restaurant that existed on the Curry Mile known as the New Taj Mahal Restaurant was in fact set up during the 1970s. This was proven to be true when a single photograph that was discovered from this time verifying the claim. Amazingly this is still considered the first business on the Curry Mile to start serving Middle Eastern food. This restaurant no longer exists but the site itself does indeed still occupy a business that makes its trade serving curry. A restaurant known as the Shere Khan now sits on the spot where the New Taj Mahal Restaurant used to occupy.
One local business owner in an interview with the BBC stated “When my father set up the restaurant in 1968, there were very few Asians and only one other Indian restaurant, Gulam Sweet Centre, but that’s gone now. In a short space of time, the area totally and utterly changed. There were an increasing number of Indian restaurants, as the success of one business attracted others. So in the space of about 15 years, it became obvious everywhere you went, Asians were moving in either from abroad or from other areas like Bradford or Derby.”
He went on to say that by the late 1970s, many of the Indian and Pakistani families living in Rusholme had moved nearby and that the area was starting to transition into what it has become today. More and more families realised that they could make better money by cooking the food they eat at home every night for those who had never experienced it than working for someone in a factory for minimum wage eight hours a day. After the turn of the Millennium Manchester City Council then put up official signs stating ‘Curry Mile’ making what had been previously an affectionate nickname into a legitimate title.
However in recent years the Curry Mile has had an influx of other cultures and just like the last time, this has had a noticeable effect on the areas food and the residents that sell it. Rusholme is near two of Manchester’s leading universities and has always been a popular area for students to go out partying, rent flats and of course, fill their hungry bellies. The Curry Mile is starting to compete with new fast food outlets aimed at students selling kebabs. This is causing many people who enjoy the areas food to start referring to it as the Kebab Mile.
In a later interview with the BBC the owner of a new Afgan café revealed his reasons for choosing the Curry Mile to set up his restaurant, “This area was better for us than the city centre as I didn’t want to have to sell alcohol and you would need to in the centre to survive. Here, there’s already a culture set by other Asians, such as the Pakistanis, so it is not expected that you have to sell drink. We offer something different from Indian food, providing choice and hopefully customers for us.”
Academics from nearby universities have offered their thoughts on why this recent change has taken place, suggesting that the new restaurateurs who are opening businesses in the area share many cultural values and customs, so it makes sense to choose the Curry Mile. What may differ however are the recipes and food that they grew up with. They go on to state that cultural similarity, “is a reason why the Curry Mile is currently being transformed by the presence of Iranian, Kurdish, Lebanese and other Middle Eastern influences.”
The residents believe that this cultural shift is mostly due to the new generation not wanting to be involved in the restaurant trade. “They want to follow a different career path, which is fine as we provided them with the education, but it does leave us with no-one to run the business. Every time a business is sold, Middle Eastern people have been buying them and turning them into restaurants.” These new restaurants may still be Eastern cuisine but from a different part of Asia.
Whether or not Rusholme is home to the Curry Mile or the Kebab Mile, what’s certain is it is likely to always be associated with delicious Eastern food and for years to come attracting people from all over to come and experience it’s famous treats.