Hidden away amongst the backstreets of Manchester’s vibrant Northern Quarter lies This & That, a small Indian café owned by Ismail Mallu and his son Mohsin. Ismail is a first-generation Indian migrant who came to the UK in 1966 during the peak years of migration from the subcontinent, and has since gone on to run a number of successful takeaways across Greater Manchester.
From the outset, it was clear in our minds that we wanted Ismail to dictate his own story in our film, and we were keen to display that the migratory experience continues throughout the life of a migrant and into subsequent generations of their family. A Bit of This & A Bit of That provides an insight into the integration and assimilation of Ismail into Mancunian society, but it also illustrates the loyalty and diversity of his clientele, who continually return to consume his delectable cuisine. It highlights the perpetuation of his home culture through culinary dissemination, but it also represents how both Ismail and Mo hold dual identities; they are partly Indian and partly Mancunian, a bit of this and a bit of that.
The famous This & That mural
Through their culinary artistry, Ismail and Mo have been able to enrich the culture of Manchester to the point where the ‘rice and three’ has effectively become a staple of the city. Cooking links Ismail to his homeland, but it also gives him the opportunity to share his culture with friends, acquaintances, neighbours, guests and tourists. Within the spatial confines of the restaurant, you can find visitors that hail from a wide variety of different races, religions, genders and ages, but they all come together to break bread (or naan!) and share the delicious food on offer. In other words, everyone is made to feel welcome at This & That.
Ismail hard at work in the kitchen
Throughout Manchester, there have been significant strides to illuminate the stories, cultures and histories of South Asia in museums and galleries across the city. The influence of South Asian migration in Manchester has been substantial, and the heritage sector has begun to embrace these cultural and diasporic identities within their collections.
Our project was commissioned by Manchester Museum, an organisation with a current collecting theme based on migration, and we felt that our film could help to raise awareness about the influence of migrant populations on British culture. The role of a museum as a cultural centre for discussion makes it essential to represent the wide histories, both macro and micro, that make up Mancunian society. Through our film, we hoped to complement the stimulating dialogue on South Asian diaspora in Manchester by providing an insightful narrative for Manchester Museum’s collection as they push ahead in their plan to open their South Asian gallery in 2022. The story of Ismail and Mo provides a fascinating and heartwarming tale of shared culture and community spirit at the heart of Mancunian society.