How town’s tastes became more exotic as diversity grew
- Credit: Archant
In the final part of our series on multicultural Ipswich, we take a look at some of the international restaurants, festivals and musicians that the town is now home to.
“Everyone here in Ipswich knows me,” says Manik Miah, owner of the town’s Maharani restaurant. “My customers are my friends.”
Restaurateur Mr Miah prides himself on his hospitality almost as much as his award-winning cuisine and believes it has helped him and his business become part of the fabric of the town.
Today, the Maharani in Norwich Road is one of dozens of international restaurants Ipswich has to offer, including Turkish, Japanese, Moroccan, Portuguese and more. Just this month, a new Jamaican restaurant announced it was opening in Upper Orwell street. All but one of the town’s top-ten rated restaurants on TripAdvisor now specialise in cuisines other than British.
However, when Mr Miah first opened the Maharani, almost 30 years ago, the town’s culinary offer was far less diverse.
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“People used to say chicken Tika Masala was the national dish,” he said.
“They used to come for curry, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – every day.
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“Since then, there have been different cultures and different nationalities coming to the town.
“Whereas people mainly used to know only Indian or Chinese, now they can have tastes of many different cuisines.
“It’s very good for the town.”
Originally from Bangladesh, Mr Miah came to Ipswich after running restaurants in London and Bungay. Ever since his arrival in the early ‘90s, he said Ipswich had made him feel “very welcome”. “I think it’s a very nice place,” he added. “Wherever you go, you get one or two bad people, but Ipswich is very nice, there’s very little racism. People try to help other communities, I’ve not found any problems here.”
Mr Miah says he believes sharing cultures, such as through food, can help build stronger intercultural communities. But he also believes it is important for newcomers to integrate by involving themselves in the community, something he has sought to do by hosting charity nights and supporting different organisations in the town.
He now considers himself to be a respected member of the local community and takes great pride showing his wall of photographs featuring well known Ipswich figures among his customers, as well as a number of celebrities from out of town.
He acknowledges, however, that there have been challenges for newer arrivals, particularly in the area around Norwich Road, where his restaurant is based.
“I’ve noticed that some English people are not happy to see the new arrivals hanging around outside,” Mr Miah said.
“They don’t know about the culture here, they’re not used to it and they’ve still got to learn.
“But I’m still proud to be serving in Norwich Road, proud of the different cultures and cuisines.”
Despite some of the negativity around Norwich Road, many of the restaurants based in that area feature among the town’s best rated on review sites such as TripAdvisor.
Ararat Turkish restaurant scores highly, with praise for its “friendly staff, warm, welcoming and peaceful atmosphere” as well as its “wonderful choice of cuisine”. One reviewer described it as an “asset to Ipswich” and a “credit to our community”.
The nearby O Patio Portuguese cafe in nearby St Matthew’s Street, also scores highly, with one reviewer describing it as a “real gem” for Ipswich.
Across the town as a whole, international restaurants are among the best-rated, indicating a growing taste for more exotic cuisines among the population and its visitors.
The number one rated is Fore Street’s Takayama which serves Korean and Japanese cuisine and has won praise for its “fantastic” food and “excellent” service.
Others in the top ten include Biryani Hut which serves Indian cuisine in Princes Street; 92 Noodle Bar, which is the town’s best rated Chinese restaurant, the Ottoman, which serves mainly Middle Eastern dishes and Casablanca, which specialises in Moroccan and Lebanese food.
Amanda Bond of Visit Suffolk, said Ipswich’s increasingly multicultural restaurant offering was an important part of its tourism offer. “The diverse food offering of any given destination helps visitors to enjoy a more rounded experience,” she said. “The culinary offering in Ipswich is exceptional, with flavours from around the world, positioning the county town, and Suffolk, as a truly global experience. And what’s more, the more experimental or diverse we become, the more visitors will site this as one of the main attraction for visiting the county.”
Organisers of multicultural festivals in Ipswich say they “break down barriers and bringing people together”.
Ipswich hosts an ever growing array of festivals celebrating diversity and international cultures.
One of its largest and longest running, the One Big Multicultural Festival, which takes place in Alexandra Park, has attracted crowds of more than 8,000.
Organiser Shayra Begum said the festival had gone from strength to strength.
“It’s all about breaking down barriers and bringing people together,” she said.
“What’s special about this event is that it doesn’t promote one culture above any other, it’s celebrates all cultures equally. It’s really amazing to see all of the different people together enjoying the food and music.”
Other international events include the Pita Festival, which celebrates Bangaldeshi food; Global Rhythms, which celebrates music from around the world and Holi, the Hindi festival of colour.
Ipswich’s growing diversity has led to its involvement in a unique musical project.
Ipswich Community Media recently hosted a variety of global musicians, now living on the town, to perform at its South Street Studios as part of a British Library funded scheme to document international performers for a national archive.
Organised by Phill Minns, of Best Foot Music in Brighton, the project has collated recordings of community musicians from diverse backgrounds.
Those performing in Ipswich included a Zimbabwean marimba player, Syrian singers and an Eritrean performing with a self-built instrument.
ICM’s Cad Taylor said it was an “extraordinary project”. “It’s all about celebrating the fact that right here in the town, and in the county, we have musicians who have brought this incredible cultural diversity through music and yet sometimes we don’t always get to hear it,” she added.