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The Asian Tale Of Two Menus

Jonathan Schofield finds that 'apna' 'appens - but not for everyone.

Published on August 2nd 2012.

The Asian Tale Of Two Menus

SO this week I wrote a review of The Great Wall in Chinatown and the Tale of The Two Menus - click here

I wrote: 'One of the menus is for 'us', the Westerners and the rest, who are given what we're supposed to like, and the other menu is for 'them', the folk of Chinese origin'.

All the best food - and it was delicious - was on the 'them' menu.

The Chinese community is not alone in this policy

Most foodies in Manchester avoid Rusholme with it's generic menus, give us the 'apna' choice and we'll be back

People, on our rant section, wrote in to say this happens in Asian (i.e. Indian and Pakistani) restaurants as well. 

The trick is to ask for the food 'apna style' - 'our style'. It appears that white faces won't get 'apna' automatically. The choice is taken away.  

We tested this in a city centre takeaway sending in a Pakistani-background gent who asked for the same dish 'apna' and not apna.

We got karahi dishes. One was a sloppy mess of heavily liquid lamb the other was dryer, spicer, better flavoured, it had definition and it had edge.

Just not ap'ningJust not ap'ning

Guess which was 'apna'?

You've got it - the dishes shown at the top of this page. 

There was also a chicken 'apna' dish which was restaurant standard and again a meaty, spicy, thing without the shocking slop of the generally available offer. 

As this was a takeaway, the difference in approach took place in front of the other punters. The 'apna' dish was taken out of the curry pot and re-prepared at which stage all the extra herbs were added. 


Apparently of Manchester restaurants Zouk is one of the few that serve all their food 'apna'.

Most of the rest, even the big names in Asian Manchester cuisine, are another Tale of Two Menus. 

I find this patronising.

As I put on the Great Wall review: 'I feel insulted that I don't have the opportunity to try this food as standard. If restaurants are afraid that they may put off the average British diner then all it takes is a simple insert in the 'Westerner' menu. Their concerns are twenty years out of date. Britain and its tastebuds have generally moved on, adapted, become more adventurous.'

As with Chinatown, as with the Indian Subcontinent's representatives here. Most foodies in Manchester avoid Rusholme with it's generic menus, so give us the 'apna' choice and we'll be back.

It makes financial sense too. After all who would ever advertise their restaurant as providing, 'inauthentic, just as mother never used to cook, totally 65% Indian food'? Now turn that sentiment around, starting with 'authentic'.

I feel that without the 'apna' choice being offered me I've wasted a lot of money in Asian restaurants over the years. I feel conned, whether or not this came about because the chefs were concerned for my cute delicate tastebuds.

Maybe as Manchester's most serious magazine for food and drink we should put up a marquee in Albert Square and another in the car park in Chinatown. 

The first would be filled with counters from Asian restaurants, the second with those from Chinatown representatives. Both would serve the food they serve their own community.

There'd be queues round the block. 

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14 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

shabob1August 3rd 2012.

I think it is exceptionally insulting and patronising and at the end of the day just take your custom elsewhere. Its like having a classic british menu in a classic english cuisine restaurant for white people but if you are not white making sub standard food and assuming without even asking, that that is what you will want. And serving different food in front of everyone.

Yvonne BarryAugust 3rd 2012.

thats really really annoyed me - do Akbars do this?

Kat ParneyAugust 3rd 2012.

If somewhere like Mr Thomas's Chop House decided that they would serve a family of Japanese tourists a completely dumbed down menu, because their palate "couldn't cope" with HP sauce, there would quite rightly be an outcry.

By and large the restaurants of Chinatown are the worst offenders for this - and have treated the punters of Manchester like mugs for years with their patronising, rude and high-handedc attitude.

How the Yang Sing is touted as a "must visit" restaurant is beyond me when they have the rudest service known to man, and a laminated leatherette menu for the White Devils. The place is all brass and no class. The level of sycophancy towards the establishment and it's owners by the "great and the good" baffle me.

Vote with your feet, there are far more interesting and exciting places without any food apartheid.

TAugust 3rd 2012.

Although I do appreciate the British tastebuds have changed over the years and it is important to be given the options to choose, I am not sure how many British would like to try truly 'authentic' dishes with offal or be served with a whole chicken (with the head) at the table. Also, I am sure we are all aware that many British holiday makers do end up eating 'familiar' cuisine (e.g. fish and chip, British, pizza and pasta) rather than eating with the locals.

I do, however, agree that it is important to serve good quality food - quite frankly, I think the above do seem to be an UK phenomenon as 'food' does tend to travel to many other places around the World with good quality and standard.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Swiss JamesAugust 6th 2012.

Agree with the first paragrpah- chickens heads, duck bills, every piece of meat with bone attached, gizzards, innards, lizards.
Authentic isn't always what it's cracked up to be, and I can see a lot of it being sent back.

Mark GarnerAugust 3rd 2012.

I must say that anyone who has watched one of the great Indian chefs on TV, or had a go at the cookbooks and made a curry from scratch, has to have noticed that 99% of all "Indian" food in restaurants out there is shocking and has absolutely bugger all to do with true Asian cooking, in particular from the Indian sub continent.

The exceptions seem to be Thai, Korean, Malaysian, Indonesian and, in particular, Vietnamese. I had Pho and Bun today in Pho on George street; spectacular.

The Indian restaurants are just taking the piss. There are a handful of real restaurants in the Capital and one here which is about half way there. When will someone start cooking the real stuff? A really good British chef could handle this really well, you don't have to be French to handle French food really well. Come on, step up to the plate guys. Let's have a truly great 'Indian', Confidential for one will ensure you become a household name and make great money.

Kris CullineyAugust 5th 2012.

I don't count myself as an expert on indian/asian cooking,but i feel you have been a little harsh on Rusholme. I feel that there are a few restaurants in Rusholme that provide good food with choice and good service. Rusholme gets let down by the majority, additionally they cater for the demand of their customers.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
pollolocoAugust 6th 2012.

come on then Kris...spill the beans

AnonymousAugust 6th 2012.

Mughli is the best of the lot in Rusholme and they list items on their one menu which are available to order apna style.

Kris CullineyAugust 6th 2012.

Ah Mr pollo I don't know whether they would meet your exacting standards,but here goes.....la hawelli and for a late night curry next door at al nawaz. I Will put a disclaimer on this though It's not earth shatteringingly boundary pushing,but tasty nevertheless. My opinion pollo. Btw have eaten at both zaika nd east is east recently and not been overly impressed. Looking to go to samini soon. But for good tasty food without the colouring the 2 aforementioned areok.

1 Response: Reply To This...
pollolocoAugust 7th 2012.

Must admit, haven't been to Rucholme in quite a while. For me, Dilli in Altrincham still does some good stuff and Zouk in town isn't bad either. La Hawelli used to have an offshoot in handforth...it wasn't very good though.

Haroon KhaliqueAugust 9th 2012.

Corriander (withington and chorlton) make a deal about the way they cook etc, but ordered a couple of times and been disappointed. On both occaisions the food was ready for collection within 15 mins ie the meat had not been coocked in the sauce - just some generic lime flavoured stuff they used.

As someone from south asian background there are two key markers for south asian style food firstly its just hotter, you can fix that yourself by adding/asking for more chilli powder.

The other is that the meat is cooked on the bone in the sauce. Its the juices/stock released from the bones and things like cartiledge melting away that make the curry tasty. Not like above what Gordo says that the curry is just drier, all that's done there is that its been re-fried with more chilli, the re-frying just makes it drier. Gordo has been conned by fake 'Apna' style, not suprising as these restaurants try it on with us, trust me its not a racial thing. the other reason why they dont generally serve westerners apna style, is that its the whole chicken chopped (head optional), which is not popular as people jsut want the meat and not pay for the bone. Also that on the bone, things come in all shapes and variety, so its more difficult for people to apprecaite they are not being out done in their portion size to their fellow dinners. keeping it off the bone makes things easier for the diners and staff.

To get real Apna food you have to wait for it be cooked on the bone and in the sauce, chicken takes 40 mins at least, lamb longer. So how many restaurants can do this? their table turn over will be too low, they will loose money and western customers cant wait that long - see reviews on this site if food takes takes to long its considered a bad sign, where as I consider it good (wait for sunday lunch at the Bar in Chorlton, worth it).

However, there is a chance you might get a genuine apna curry in a restaurant. There are some that will do what is called a 'staff curry' (it might be on the menu but just ask) its a pot cooked for the staff this will be either lamb or chicken and may be a veg option. They make just enough for them and when its gone its gone, also you dont get to choose karaha/ balti (whats the difference another con there), masala, rogan etc, nope its just standard how mum used to make it. Some times this is explicitly on the menu, but I'd say phone in advance and tell them and I'm sure most places will be happy to cook a batch.

1 Response: Reply To This...
pollolocoAugust 13th 2012.

not been in a while...but isn't that how "this and that" do it? I love their stuff...nothing like the usual restaurant fare and costs peanuts.

NorthernGeezerAugust 14th 2012.

The carnivore in me always orders the mixed grill, the 'gravy' is just to dip me bread in.

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