In the first of a new series on traditional Northern scran by the Northern Soul team, Karen Connolly reminisces about The Wigan Kebab.
Raised in Wigan by an English mother and a Sicilian father, I was fortunate to enjoy a diet that some of my friends termed ‘exotic’.
Tagliatelle, spaghetti, lasagne (this was the early 1970s don’t forget) and ravioli that didn’t come from a tin, it was all very exciting whenever they came to tea.
“Her mum and dad drink wine with their tea,” was often bandied round school the day after, with the same incredulous gasps as if my parents had hunkered down at the table butt-naked, gnawing on a sheep’s head.
But the town in which I grew up offered up its own unique signature dish: The Wigan Kebab.
The very fact that the culinary delight contained the word ‘Wigan’ in the middle must surely provide a bit of a clue as to its ingredients. And let me point out there is an absence of anything you might have enjoyed on, say, a Turkish holiday.
A Wigan Kebab is a buttered barm cake with a meat and potato pie slapped in the middle. Eh voila. So popular is it, it even has its own Facebook page.
How did this delicacy evolve? Well, a visit to Wigan will reveal that its townsfolk like to eat ‘on the hoof’ and eating a hot pie as you do a spot of window shopping can be extremely messy and somewhat dangerous too. Hot gravy can stain and burn. So, what better solution than to stick the pie in a barm cake and transform your lunch into a portable and tasty hot dish?
Despite having a childhood nickname of ‘Spaghetti Berretti’ (my surname was Berritta) my roots demanded I also be known, along with the rest of us Wiganers, as a ‘pie eater’. We didn’t earn this term for eating the things, it all harks back to the 1926 General Strike when Wigan miners were starved back to work before their counterparts in surrounding towns and so were forced, metaphorically, to eat ‘humble pie’.
But, in the years since, Wiganers have embraced the pastry-enveloped foodstuff and become, quite happily, actual pie eaters instead of just metaphorical ones.
There’s a saying in the town, ‘you’ll never find a pie shop closing down in Wigan’, and I’m pretty certain it’s the truth, even throughout the economic turbulence of the last few years.
But let’s get back to the kebab. We all know that variety is the spice of life and it’s no different for my beloved home town.
Over the years, The Wigan Kebab has diversified with the ‘filling’ being substituted for a butter pie (potato, onion and butter), a cheese and onion pie and, for the more bohemian perhaps, a pastie. However, no matter the filling, it must always be held in place by that other love of us Wiganers, the barm cake.
Folk from other town call these bread rounds by all manner of names – a stottie in Newcastle, a tea cake in Burnley and a bin lid in St Helens. But it will always remain a barm in Wigan. A perfect marriage for the meat and potato pie.