28 October 2019

Last held in 2015, Middlesbrough's Elected Mayor, Andy Preston has brought back the competition for 2019, with a public vote set to decide the final four to compete in a big Parmo showdown this coming Monday

The 19th century French politician and author Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin famously wrote; "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."

Well for Teessiders, the answer to the first part of this Medetations de Gastronomie has to be Boro's beloved Parmo, for the now legendary breaded chicken, béchamel sauce and cheese covered treat, often very much enjoyed following a night out on the town, has firmly become an iconic symbol of Middlesbrough's modern-day cultural heritage.

Yet despite the Parmo's growing popularity and status, both here in the North-East and further afield, one important question has gone unanswered for too long...

Who makes the best Parmo?

Return of The World Parmo Championships

The last occasion the best Parmo was definitely decided was back in 2015 at the Stockton Show, held in within the grounds of Grade II listed Preston Park, where Yarm Lane, Italian restaurant, Borge were judged to be the champions.

Since that time, the delicacy has been seen on BBC's Masterchef and labelled 'monsterous' in The Times by the Chairman of the National Obesity Form, Tam Fry, on account of the 2,000 or so calories that a Parmo contains.

To put that in perspective, the NHS guidelines for the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) calorie intake for men in 2,500kcal, whilst for women it is 2,000kcal.

But Middlesbrough's Elected Mayor, Andy Preston was unperturbed in bringing the competition back to the Parmo's spiritual home, declaring in a Facebook post to earlier in September, "lets get sharing pictures, talking about our favourite dish."

And Nunthorpe Councillor and Executive Member for Culture and Communities Mieka Smiles, was also backing the return of the competition to Middlesbrough, revealing that the online vote on Love Middesbrough's dedicated World Parmo Championship page had already attracted over 8,000 votes, adding "it's really captured the public's imagination."

Responding to our question on whether there was any concerns about promoting a dish with a high calorie intake, Mieka reflected;

"There are lots and lots of different foods and specialities with high calorie intake.

"But people know its to be eaten in moderation.

"Obviously it's not to be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but there's no harm in having a Parmo every now and again."


The route to becoming #WorldParmoChamp

With 30 different restaurants ranging from near and far, battling for the accolade of being crowned #WorldParmoChamp competition couldn't be fiercer.

"We've got one from Australia, we've got places in North-Yorkshire, places from Stockton, it's a wide geographical spread" commented Mieka on the restaurants taking part in the competition, before explaining how the winner will be decided on Monday, from the four finalists decided by the public vote.

"They're going to have a cook-off, a 'parmo-off' in the Town Hall.

"It's going to be a blind taste test and we're going to be judging them on the béchamel sauce, the topping, there's some quite specific criteria that the judges are judging on.

"It's going to be a really fun night and we're really looking forward to it."

Judges on the night include Mayor, Andy Preston, BBC Tees, Scott Makin and Middlesbrough's three-times BDO World Champion, Glen Durrant.

Asked about her own personal Parmo tastes, for Mieka it was as much about the round as the Parmo itself.

"I'm a chicken Parmo person. I know people are in two minds about this, but I definitely need a side salad with red onion, tomato, chips and loads and loads of garlic sauce."

The Parmo: A brief history

One of the reasons the Parmo is such a celebrated dish in these parts is because it's origins began here in Middlesbrough.

A dish that was originally prepared with either a breaded cutlet of chicken or pork, there are a few different tales that lay claim to being the official story of how the Parmo came to be, but perhaps the most convincing is that of involving an ex-Chef in the US Army.

Having been wounded in France during World War II, Nicos Harris was brought to the UK to be treated in a British hospital. Some time after the war, Nicos would move to Middlesbrough and setup 'The American Grill' on Linthorpe Road, which is thought to have been the birth place of the Parmo as far back as 1958.

It is also suggested that the dish gets its name from the Southern Italian bredded eggplant or meat dish, Parmigiana - rather than from being created by a hungry and inspired Algerian student named, 'Mustafa Parmo' from the remnants of his fridge.

But there is one further party laying claim to being the creators of the Parmo.

When judging the inaugural World Parmo Championships in 2007, chef, Charlie Constantine of the Buck Hotel in Great Ayton is quoted by the Northern Echo's, Chris Lloyd as a potential godfather of the Parmo.

"We just couldn't get the veal in the 1960's" Charlie reminisced, "so we took the béchamel sauce from our moussaka and put it on a deep-fried pork fillet.

"Parmesan goes hard when you grill it so we replaced it with cheddar, but we forgot to change the name on the menu."

So another plausible story there you may think, but whilst the definitive history of the Parmo remains a case for Redcar's, Parmo Hunters to solve, it's reassuring to know that the Parmo's sixty-year history has at least been immortalised in song.

Here are links* to local Punk band The Amazing Spacefrog's and Teesside's MC Clive and Shotta Shah's musical homage's to the humble Parmo.
*links are clicked at users own risk!

"It's the best thing in the world to eat!"

Having seen how a Parmo is made, my curiosity as a journalist turned to finding out who Teesside University students thought laid on the best Parmo.

An early enthusiastic recommendation was provided by Early Childhood Studies student and self-confessed Parmo-Lover, Nicole Gardiner, who declared Mama's Pizzeria in Ormesby as the best place to get a takeaway Parmo.

Nicole would go on to become largely lost for words, when asked to explain why the Parmo was so special to her;


"The sauce... the cheese... the sauce... everything!   It's... I DON'T KNOW!

"It's just like the weirdest combo, but it's the best thing in the world to eat."

Another suggestion we enticed. as I implored passers by to give me their personal endorsements on a beautifully sunny Autumn's day was from fellow journalism student Liam Jones.

"I'm quite a fan of Sopranos" offered Liam after a moments hesitation, who went onto warn against venturing outside of the locality.

"You can only get it round here. You go anywhere else, it's not the same. You go to Newcastle, it won't be as nice.

"It's the best thing about Boro really."

It's in the sauce (that's where it is)!

Next to respond to our distant cries to speak to us was Marketing student, Mark Richardson, who came across as someone who knew a thing or two about the Parmo.

Prefacing his response with the warning "they're not very good for you, so you're not supposed to eat a lot of them" Mark, who's preference is the "Hot Shot" variety, was to give a strong recommendation for Manjaro's offering.

"They have their own recipe for them, they have their own recipe for the sauce, so that's the best for me. A very nice Parmo", said Mark, who also revealed that he makes his own Parmo's at home.

And in what started feeling like a full blown advert for one of Linthorpe Road's best loved restaurants, Mark would again reference their 'special sauce' when asked to explain why the Parmo is so special.

"I bet most people would say the béchamel sauce; it's what comes in the béchamel sauce.

"But Majaro's has the speciality sauce! So that's what makes it special."

Yet, in another Parmo mystery, Masters student and adventurous Parmo fan, Joseph Holroyd would suggest the best Parmo can no longer be found in Middlesbrough, but struggled to identify who actually sold it.

"Ooooh, the best Parmo is already closed, it's closed down.

"Do you remember where Tesco, on Linthorpe Road down the bottom... there was a place... oh gosh what was it called?!?

According Joseph, the unknown eaterie, that was in existence around seven-years ago, provided extreme Parmo's including a mixed grill version, a spicy version where the sauce was mixed with habaneros or ghost chillies, plus what was described as a "not thought through" 'vegan option' that had inexplicably maintained a chicken base?

Perhaps for the best for legal reasons, despite much effort Joseph could not recall the name of this former haunt that had clearly created such wonderful personal Parmo memories for him, but he was to close with some great words of wisdom on why Middlesbrough's own Parmo is so great.

"You can't really go wrong with Chicken, béchamel sauce and cheese, especially if you need something lubricating!"

Now you've heard all about The World Parmo Championships and everything you didn't need to know about the delicacy itself, we want to know your thoughts on everything Parmo.

Where's the best place to get one? What type of Parmo do you go for? Join in the debate by using the #WorldParmoChamp

Latest Instagrams

© The Southernist. Design by FCD.