Regular readers of this site will know by now that I’m particularly fond of my food, especially if it doesn’t come ready prepared or in a packet. For instance… When most people (who aren’t Chinese) want Chinese food they will either go to a restaurant or a takeaway. I make it myself… Or rather I fudge it together by use of a Ken Hom cookbook. Now usually I muddle through by using what I can get my hands on at the market/supermarket/corner shop. But there are some recipes that call for things you can only get in specialized places… Specialized places in Chinatown…
There are two Chinatown’s close by… One in Liverpool and one in Manchester. Now what I’m after is something very specific… Something refered to by Ken Hom as a Wonton Skins… That’s not the hide of some mythical beast if you’re clueless, it’s actually used for making dumplings out of. Based on initial research it seems that the best place to find these mysterious Wonton skins is actually the Chinatown in Manchester, being as it is the larger of the two… And it seems to have Chinese supermarkets (Whereas Liverpool’s doesn’t appear to have any based on what I could see on Street View.) So it looks like my quest will take me to Manchester…
Manchester? Ahhh yes… Last time i went there i kind of told a bunch of kids I had Cholera… Not the best of experiences and to tell you the truth kind of embarrassing in hindsight. And as I have a habit of this sort of thing then wandering into the third largest Chinatown in Europe is likely to result in some sort of diplomatic incident… Not that it perturbed me. If anything the increased chances of danger resulting from the potential of a diplomatic incident makes me want to do it all the more. So I head off out of Hell and into Manchester.
And this means getting off at Piccadilly station… A station I loathe with a passion. Last time I was there I spent half an hour trying to divulge what platform I had to get on. It’s a big mass of corridors and tubes and platforms and huge advertising boards with very little telling you where the exits or what train is leaving from where… Except in the entrance which is only useful when entering the station to catch a train. It’s as big as a small airport as well and just as crowded. As this isn’t my first time in this station i find my way out without much of a fuss, though it still means going through the pointless mini-mall at the front. (Why? What is the point? It’s a train station… You arrive and get on or off a train!)
Either way… I get off at Piccadilly station and begin to make my way into Manchester city centre, which is a really odd place considering it’s a BRITISH City. Now in places like London, Liverpool, Chester and York there are random streets and small nooks everywhere… But Manchester? That’s a whole different world. Central Manchester is very much like an American city, particularly once you’ve moved away from the station and are heading towards the centre. It’s most unlike any other British city, even the similarly industrial based ones such as Leeds or Sheffield. No… You could easily transplant Manchester right onto the east coast of America and it wouldn’t feel out-of-place. That’s the kind of city it is. It’s long discarded it’s old Victorian industrial status and it has become a metropolis, sprawling out in all directions. Unlike other places in Britain it lacks the overall randomness that makes a place distinct from being just another sprawling metropolis. In fact, Manchester has substituted for New York in a number of films… Which kind of proves my point really. Not that it disturbs me… Manchester has its good points and its bad points and the fact that I’m wandering into Anglo-New York doesn’t perturb me in the slightest. I’ve been here before and I know what to expect.
Last time i headed up this way I almost got killed by a tram so this time I’m extra careful to make sure that doesn’t happen again… And, as is usually the case, It doesn’t take me long before I come across the place I’m looking for. Labelled as the second largest China Town in the country, I’m expecting something a bit more than what I find. I expected it to be an actual proper miniature town sort of place… Like you see on television. Like China, only in miniature. Instead what you get amounts to about three streets and a car park… Which barely even qualifies it to be a village. I’ll admit that on these three streets there are a number of restaurants and a few shops… But nothing wholly remarkable. In fact, there is a whole road in Bangor (Wales) which has more Restaurants, shops and takeaways of a Chinese variety than you get here… Although saying that Bangor’s ‘Chinatown’ does have a more international flavour to it as it also has a mix of other cultures in there. But anyway… I discover Manchester’s Chinatown very quickly largely thanks to this thing:
Still, those three streets and a car park are what constitutes Manchester’s Chinatown and it’s here that I will most likely find what I’m looking for. So I wander the place for a while and soon come across a Chinese supermarket… And this really isn’t what I was expecting… I think I was expecting something that was more like a corner shop or a Tesco-Express or something like that… A small grocers if you will. Instead what I enter is a large, head spinning mass filled from floor to ceiling with really odd looking, brightly packaged food. Rather unsurprisingly, all the food had Chinese labelling but at least they’ve also put the English for idiots such as myself who happen to wander in off the street. Although it’s a bit strange at first, as I walk around i start to get acclimatised to my surroundings and soon I begin to look for the elusive Wonton Skins and find not even a hint of them.
So I leave without much of a fuss (apart from almost knocking over half the displays… But you don’t want to know about that!) and try another supermarket just down the road… I wander around for a while, looking upon all about me and trying to establish where the hell the Wonton Skins might be. I circuit the shop a couple of times and find nothing of use… So this time I decide to ask if they sell them. I think the first shop assistant I asked was a bit scared of me to be honest, then again i do have a very scary face. Now this is where the problem begins… The shop assistant, who was scared of me, had no idea what i was talking about and pointed me towards the till where I ask another shop assistant about the Wonton Skins. Again, she has no ideas what I’m talking about until I spell out WONTON and she writes it down… And that’s where she realizes what i’m on about and I discover an important piece of information that Ken Hom neglected to inform me of… It has about five different spellings/pronunciations/variations and they aren’t necessarily interchangeable. As it turned out they didn’t have any in stock that day so I was forced to try my luck at a third supermarket. Once more I fail to find the fabled Wonton Skins but i come across what I believed to be essentially the same thing… Gyoza wrappers. As it turned out later they weren’t exactly the same thing… But they were close enough for what i wanted to try and in the end they turned out to be perfectly adequate for what I needed.
So… It turned out the chances of my creating a diplomatic incident were greatly exaggerated. But the worst was yet to come as I left Chinatown and headed further into the urban nest of Central Manchester… For some much needed cultural trolling courtesy of the Manchester Art Gallery. Which was more interesting than it sounds as a matter of fact… I’m not an art snob and wandering art galleries isn’t usually my forte. I can’t draw for shit for one thing and I get easily jealous because of that fact (A post on my drawing skills is in the works 😉 )… But as it was there I thought I would give the place a quick going over just to see if it sparked anything…
I’ll admit that there was a point as I was wandering around how possible it would be to take one of the paintings off the wall and sneak it out under my coat… But this soon passed as I realised I’m not sophisticated enough to commit an art theft. But still… There were some decent enough paintings in there, a couple of Lowry’s and Canaletto’s… (The Canaletto’s are surely worth a mint aren’t they? And they’re just hanging there without much security…) As is usual I might have spent far too much time in the interactive part of the gallery whilst failing at drawing some flowers… But thankfully there were no kids around to complain… (Although how many kids do you know who want to wander around an art gallery? It’s just not a kids kind of place so why have an interactive section at all?)
The only issue I had was with the modern art section. Which seemed to consist of too many photographs of people’s fat, hairy stomachs. A photo of someone’s ugly looking chest isn’t worth putting in an art gallery. If any hack can do it then it isn’t worth putting in an Art Gallery. I mean… Even I could do that!
But there’s only so much art a man can take in one day so I didn’t spend all too long in the art gallery. Though I will say this… It is actually very different looking at proper pictures in an actual gallery than seeing them on the television or on the internet. They jump out at you more and it’s almost like THEY’RE ALIVE….. It’s something I’d recommend doing, even just once in your life… Visit a proper art Gallery like this one and look at all the living pictures!
But enough is enough and it’s time to move on. The rest of my day in Manchester was essentially trivial and nothing that’s worth really writing about… Unless you want to hear about how for some reason I actually look good in a Bowler hat… But you don’t so I guess that’s swell!