November 24, 2020

Manchester’s Food Sector: Cuisine, History & Festivals

With the opening of our new Foodstars location in Manchester, we decided to take a look at the thriving food sector in this part of the UK. Manchester is a foodie hub that rivals London in its taste for innovative and multicultural cuisine. The food industry in Manchester had humble beginnings and in recent years has fast developed into a vast range of international foods, yet it still holds onto those traditional roots.

Here, we take a look at great Manchester grub, from classics to modern favourites, explore how the food sector went from strength to strength, and finish with a few of the top Manc food and drink festivals to put on your must-go list.

A (Quick) History Of Manchester Cuisine

For hundreds of years, Manchester has been a thriving marketplace for industry. Starting with textiles in the 1700s, the city went through major development during the 18th and 19th century following the Industrial Revolution. Immigration in the 1900s brought new citizens and flavours to a growing city.

The new millennium brought with it new developments in culture and cuisine, making Manchester what it is today. These later developments included the establishment of homes for many national food manufacturers within the Greater Manchester area, namely:

  • Kellogg’s in Trafford
  • Warburtons in Bolton
  • Heinz in Wigan
  • McVities in Heaton Chapel

Famous Manchester Foods

Breads, pastry and sweet treats are a signature of much of Manchester’s humble food roots. While there are various foods that some consider must-try Manchester specialities, the most well-known signature foods include:

  • Eccles Cakes – Named after the Eccles region, these small, round flaky pastry pies are filled with currants and topped with sugar. They are traditionally eaten with Lancashire cheese.
  • Manchester Tart – The recipe for the Manchester tart dates back to the Victorian era, with updated versions of the recipe making it a staple at school dinners until the mid 1980s. It is a small shortcrust pastry tart with a layer of raspberry jam then custard filling, topped with coconut flakes and a Maraschino cherry.
  • Rag Pudding – Not the most visually stunning dish but a favourite nonetheless, Rag pudding is made with minced meat and onions wrapped in suet pastry and cooked (boiled) in cheesecloth which gives it both its name and its rag-like look.
  • Pasty Barm – Carb lovers rejoice, the pasty barm is a buttered barm cake (bread roll) with a meat and potato pasty, with pastry, as the filling. It was supposedly invented by Bolton schoolboys as a cheap dinner in the 1950s.
  • Manchester Caviar – The resemblance to caviar is slim yet the Manchester namesake remains as popular with its own fans. You might know this dish by the name mushy peas, and they are what they sound like: boiled, mashed and seasoned peas.

Popular Manchester Drinks

There is a modern drinks scene in Manchester that includes breweries, like Cloudwater Brew Co and Manchester Brewing Company, plus cocktail bars and all kinds of new drink manufacturers popping up. But long before this there were a couple of signature drinks brands that called Manchester home:

  • Vimto – Created in Manchester in 1908 by Noel Nichol, this fruity soft drink was originally marketed as Vim Tonic and was registered as a health tonic and medicine.
  • Boddingtons – Founded in 1853, Boddingtons Brewery’s Boddingtons Bitter was one of the first beers to be sold in cans with a widget that allowed for the draught-style head when poured. Whitbread bought Boddingtons Brewery in 1989 and moved manufacturing away from its original headquarters and then discontinued the Manchester beer in 2012, ending its 160 year history with the city.

Manchester’s Modern Food Scene


The first Chinese restaurant opened on Manchester’s Oxford Street in 1948. Over the next 70 years the area that would soon be known as Chinatown developed into a thriving mix of shops, restaurants and bakeries specialising in Vietnamese, Malaysian, Japanese and other East and South Asian cuisines. This boost in international flavours was in part pioneered by Chinatown but it didn’t end there.

Curry Mile

The Curry Mile, in the Rusholme area, is famous around the UK. At its peak there were believed to be 50 curry houses along the Wilmslow Road in Manchester. Predominantly serving Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine, it has developed over the years to include Arabic and Middle Eastern restaurants and shisha bars. The area comes alive later in the evening with many establishments staying open till 1 or 2am, making it popular with club-goers and students.

Halal Restaurants

There is a 5% Muslim population in Manchester, which has led to halal meat becoming available in a slew of different restaurants and across various cuisines. There are so many in fact that there is a list of best halal restaurants which includes everything from steakhouses and Italian restaurants to well-known names like Dishoom and Nandos.

Vegetarian Restaurants

Manchester has been one of the UK’s biggests champions of vegetarian food, specifically through its food halls – market buildings with various restaurants and cafes. Food halls have done incredibly well in Manchester, offering a range of foods, including numerous vegetarian options. And without the more pretentiousness that is associated with London’s food scene, specifically in areas like Shoreditch.

Manchester Food & Drink Festivals

Finally, we wanted to look at the popular food and drink festivals in Manchester. There are many that take place within the Greater Manchester area, though COVID-19 has impacted the number of events that went ahead in 2020. However, there are few of note which come back year after year – and plan to return in 2021.

Manchester Food and Drink Festival

2020’s event was to be the 23rd for the Manchester Food and Drink Festival, though it wasn’t able to take place.Each year, this festival includes events across the city during late September and early October. Regular events each year include:

  • Oktoberfest – the Germanic folk festival includes parades, German food and plenty of beer.
  • Urmston Fringe Festival – a special mini-festival for independent food and drink traders.
  • Pop-ups – there are a range of these each year. One of 2020’s pop-ups was due to be a Caribbean pop-up by family-run Jamaican takeaway JJ’s Caribbean Kitchen at Harry’s Temperance Bar.

Manchester Gin Festival & Gin & Rum Festival

The next Manchester Gin Festival is due to take place in February 2021. The Rum & Gin Festival is also set to take place in March 2021. Both are due to be held in the stunning Manchester Cathedral. These drink events are ticketed events with hundreds of gins and rums on offer, along with food and music, and include a Copa Glass for you to taste drinks with and then take home.

Rochdale Food and Drink Festival

The Rochdale Food and Drink Festival takes place in early April each year. It features a number of cookery demonstrations by local chefs, an outdoor food and drink village, workshops and live music. Unlike many food and drink festivals, this is a free event for both adults and children, with additional charges for certain demonstrations and shows.

Events in 2020 were to include cooking demonstrations by local chefs, namely Austin Hopley, head chef at Bombay Brew, Tom McNeeney, head chef at The Oxford. There were also to be “stunt shows”, showcasing the science of cooking like colour changing cocktails and how sweets are made, by Stefan Gates, creator and presenter of CBBC’s Gastronauts.

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