Thursday, December 13, 2012

New blogs: The cheap shills edition

Wow are there are a lot of blogs to be added to the good old Manchester Blogroll. The upside of having to trawl through the 543 blogs nominated for the Blog North Awards is finding a few good ones. And it's been so long since I updated the blogroll that whole new amazing blogs have sprung into existence in that time. Praise be! (On the flip side, some people who emailed asking me to add them have actually lost interest in blogging and wandered away to do something else in the meantime. Sorry guys.)

As you can see food blogs continue to be popular, as more of us cotton on to the fact that there is such a thing as a free lunch (kidding, food bloggers!) But more seriously, bias, transparency and independence are getting to be real issues in blogging these days. During the BNA nominations this year we were flooded with blogs that almost entirely consisted of pictures of stuff that the bloggers want to buy or have recently bought, or free products they've been sent for 'review' by media-savvy companies. I affectionately call them 'flogs.'

I'm sure they all have their audience, but for me that's not what blogging is about; It's about showing a piece of yourself, sharing your passion, and communicating something personal and unique, whether you're writing about music, football or your adventures in dog training. It's not about providing cut-price advertising. Wise up.

I'm not going to link to flogs unless they are extraordinarily original, helpful, independently-minded and well written. Sadly, most of them are not. They're all weirdly alike in tone and format, like the bloggers are writing from the same creepy script. For ages I have been building up to write a massively ranty post about PR, the commodification of blogging and the rise of the will-shill-for-freebies  blog, but then I saw that Ebba at Jenny Wren and Bella Wilfer had essentially written it, so go read it. (Thanks Ebba, that saved me some time.)

Anyway, here's some good ones for you. Happy reading.

Foodie blogs
The Afternoon Tea Club
Flavours of Manchester
Gin-Fuelled Bluestocking
The Offal Club
Two Greedy Mancunians
All you can eat

Icarus City
Manchester 503
Young Explorer
Love Levenshulme
Street Art Mcr

Life on Pig Row
Everyone and Everything

Literary Relish
The Literateur
The Endist
EM Powell
A Fine Lung

Arts & culture, design, fashion
Let's all do colouring in
32 things
Wonderman Diaries
Norton of Morton
The Mancorialist  
Silent Radio

(Image: Duncan)

Friday, December 07, 2012

Eat on the street: Guerrilla Eats

I'm sorry, but anyone who thinks the street food situation in Manchester is just fine needs to have their palate examined. When it comes to street food we most certainly do not have game. If Manchester is going to be a (whisper it) 'world-class city', as we seem to be constantly striving to become these days, then we gotta do better than the Friday Piccadilly farmers' markets, nice though they are, annual one-offs like the MFDF or Manchester Picnic markets and the yuletide currywurst invasion currently on display at a public square near you. And you know, I like the potato kiosk too, but it's hard to get that excited about a jacket potato*.

Let's be clear about this: When I say street food I'm not namechecking some mindless foodie trend. I  mean food that you  buy from a cart or a kiosk on the street, not necessarily as part of a council-sanctioned street food market, but individual traders just there, or there, on the street. (See the ace Northern StrEATS for illustration.) Other cities have a thriving pavement ecosystem that encompasses everything from shi-shi gourmet food trucks to tiny stainless steel push carts selling dosas, dumplings or tacos, from the highfalutin' to the humble; the good, the bad and the tasty. Why the hell don't we? We've certainly got the footfall to support it. It's a mystery to me, though I've heard grumblings for years about high trader fees and beauracratic insanity detering all but the most determined food vendors. And I can understand that space is at a premium here and the weather isn't amazing year round, but it seems to me that with all we have going on culturally Manchester should be better at this.

Why does it matter? If we had better street food we might have better restaurants. It all goes back to this idea of the ecosystem: Without the little guy plankton of a healthy street cart population the whole culinary environment struggles. Street vending provides an ideal first crack at running your own catering business. A popular street cart often spawns a great restaurant, maybe after expanding to two or three mobile units and doing a pop-up restaurant or two, contributing positively to the city's food scene along the way. And street carts provide a great low-cost, low-risk way to try new cuisines. People who might balk at having dinner at a Colombian restaurant will often be quite happy to buy an empanada for a couple of pounds if it's in front of them and smells good. Eventually what you get is a dining public that can support a more interesting variety of restaurants than the standard parade of identikit Mod Brit places, chippies and kebab shops. Everybody with tastebuds wins.

So I'm watching Guerrilla Eats with great interest. This new collective of seven of the city's most interesting independent street food vendors is running their first event, a group gathering at a car park on Port Street in the Northern Quarter, this weekend. They'll be serving up barbecue, burgers and dogs, paella, chaat and cakes and ice cream. I've sampled some of their wares (I still dream about the peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream on warm brioche I scoffed at Rammyfest two years ago courtesy of Ginger's Comfort Emporium) and heard great things about lots of the others. Go forth and eat yourselves silly. Remember: you're noshing for a good cause.

*Though I have heard things about a mythical foodstuff known as a Christmas potato that you might be able to get at the All Saints potato kiosk about now. I believe stuffing may be involved.

Image of Ginger's Comfort Emporium from Pretty Nostalgic, who have done a great piece about the country's best street food providers here.