India, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Manchester
This month has been an Asian odyssey for team Confidentials. Our culinary tour has taken in Thailand, Cambodia, India and China - and we've gone to Deansgate Mews for a distinctly British hot cross bun too (though these are also popular in India and Pakistan don't you know?).
Ever the contrarian, Gordo broke the trend with a cheesy churro.
We recommend you follow in our foodie footsteps and try them all.
Here are the dishes we recommend you eat in Manchester this May.
Cha Bai - Cambodian fried rice, Kambuja, Stockport Market (£12.95)
We eat a lot of food very regularly in this job. Posh food, dirty food and occasionally some pretty bad food. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a plate plopped in front of you that you know is just going to be wonderful. I know that rice holds a very dear place in a lot of people’s hearts. In its many iterations, it is the backbone of countless cuisines around the world and I rarely trust anybody to give it the respect it deserves. But Kambuja respects rice. Lighter than a Chinese version in colour and taste - Cambodian Cha Bai is delicate with its soy and oyster sauces, the egg running through the grains is bouncy, not chewy and the spicy lime sauce is a welcome option for a bit of a bite. I paired it with crispy Kambuja fried chicken with kimchee aioli and really made a meal out of it. Sophie Rahnema @sophieshahla
Cheesy parmesan churros, Carnival at Freight Island (£8)
Over at Freight Island, Manchester’s mega restaurant experience has added a new kitchen to the stable of well-chosen brands; Carnival is the name, a collaboration with The Belzan boys and Richard Turner, the meat gaffer at steak heroes Hawksmoor. I was there to check out their Sunday roast. Which turned out to be bloody fabulous. However, that was kind of expected given who was choosing the meat. What really got me cooing was a churro. I hate churros. They’re claggy, greasy, stodgy, stale fingers of grimness. You then (generally) dip them in melted brown stuff pretending to be chocolate. They’re horrid.
Richard has put “cheesy parmesan churros” on as a starter. I have never had cheesy churros. So, I ordered a plateful, and a plateful they indeed were, buried underneath a snowdrift of finely grated parmesan. They were beautifully crisp, light, and hollow. When you bite into them, there in the middle was a half-filling of molten cheese, oozing out creating a match made in heaven. A symphony of flavour, texture, and pure perverted sex. I thought to myself I must stick at two. Yeah. They are evil. They ain’t good for you. They’re riddled with fat, there’s far too much cheese, the calorific value is through the roof. When the last one was gone, I suddenly realised that the philosopher who said “most men live lives of quiet desperation” had just finished a bowl of these evil little bastards with the reality dawning on him that there weren’t any left.
Don’t order these. You will weep all the way home. Gordo @gordomanchester
Hot Cross Buns, Holy Grain Sourdough Bakery, (£2.50)
Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one for brekkie two for brekkie hot cross buns. Gordo, the gaffer, usually brings a batch of baked goods into the office for breakfast on a Friday. Sometimes it's croissants or quiche, but on a very good day this month it was hot cross buns. This might be controversial, but when it comes to the humble hot cross bun, I usually toast it, add a load of butter, and lightly spread on some Marmite, if I'm hankering after something saltier (thank you M&S for making Marmite hot cross buns a thing). However, these shiny, pillow-like blessings didn't need a trip to the toaster, and with a glaze that I could see my face in, I just cut one in half and coated it with salted butter.
There's nothing more disappointing than a HCB with too little fruit, but Holy Grain bakery on Deansgate Mews pack a little dark and sweet treat into every bite. As the rhyme at the start of this ode to hot cross buns suggested, I devoured one, waited approximately 3 minutes, and inhaled another. Why are hot cross buns only a thing in spring? Although Holy Grains buns aren't available until next Easter, they do cracking focaccia with garlic and aubergine and loads of different sourdough loaves all year round. Ellie-Jo Johnstone @elliejoj
Kashmiri thali, Ziya (£19.50)
First, a confession: I haven't tried the Kashmiri thali from Ziya. I haven't tried it because it's not on until May. The Rusholme Indian restaurant, Ziya, is doing a different regional thali one week of each month of the year taking in everywhere from holiday fave Goa to lesser-known regions (in Manchester anyway) like Lucknow and Hyderabad. I have an idea of how good the Kashmiri thali will be though because in April I managed to get in for the Punjabi version.
Thalis work for me because they are exactly how I like to eat, a little bit of a lot of different things. My Punjabi one had popular dishes like dal mahkani and butter chicken as well as a thangri kebab (deeply spiced chicken leg), pakora in a coconut and curry leaf sauce and, my favourite, an earthy, intense saag dish that made my eyes roll back in my head - green leafy veg has this effect on me. This was all served with Jeera (cumin) rice, a potato and paneer stuffed kulcha flatbread that sent me right back to India's transport caffs, and Bundi raita and a pistachio topped lassi to cool things down. Finish off with a sweet condensed milk and cardamom beetroot halwa all for under twenty quid. I'll be going back to Ziya to try the Kashmiri one (served 22-29 May only) and frankly, every month for the new one, it'll do in lieu of a 12-month Indian road trip for now but damn it's made my feet itch. Kelly Bishop @keliseating
Kow Moo Dang, My Thai, (£11)
I can't help sometimes (none of us can surely?) but to have my attention grabbed when other languages throw up amusing combinations of words or sounds which mean something different in English. No doubt other nations do the same with our words and they are very welcome.
Now, I'm sure there's a committee of tut-tut puritan kill-joy types somewhere who would disapprove but what attracted me to this dish in one of my favourite informal dining places, My Thai, was the name of Kow Moo Dang. Come on, it's funny: if only that last "a" were a "u" I could have even more childish laughs.
Anyway, enough of that because I bloody loved this dish even though much of it looked like a fight in an abattoir. What turned up in front of me was Chinese five spices roast pork with ginger gravy and rice capped by an egg. I tore into the dish, thought, this is rich, this is so good, the meat and "gravy" is zingy and (the deal-maker) it even has an egg breaking like dawn over the rice. I paused at that point and took a picture as I realised this had to be my dish of the month courtesy of My Thai, John Dalton Street's finest place to eat. Jonathan Schofield @jonathschofield
Salt and pepper chicken wings box, Salt & Pepper MCR (£7.50)
After a much-buzzed-about exit from the Arndale Market, Salt & Pepper has set up a happy new home at Black Dog Ballroom. Styling their offering as an “elevated Chinese takeaway”, siblings Cash and Chloe Tao have taken old family recipes and tweaked them for the Deliveroo generation to great acclaim and, more importantly, popularity. Even on a supposedly quiet Thursday afternoon, the kitchen is frenetic, fulfilling orders for office workers with 4pm cravings. Well if it’s good enough for Manchester’s knowledge navvies, it’s good enough for me. A quick afternoon delight comprising of juicy wings laden with enough fiery, moreish seasoning to have you licking your fingers and reaching for a cold beer at the same time (if such a thing is physically possible) is served atop crinkle fries and crunchy slaw for a munchie box of dreams. Lucy Tomlinson @hotcupoftea
Read next: Network trail: 10 walks by train from Manchester
Read again: Salty coffee, pink chai and a blue train - best things to drink in Manchester May 2022
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