A guest post from parmo-loving Oi Card member Richard, of Bradford

“This is gross, mate.”
“How can you eat this?”
“I can’t stop crying.”

To those of us who have forced the chicken parmo onto our friends, the above statements might activate some memories.

For the uninitiated, the parmo is breaded chicken breast (lovingly deep-fried) topped with béchamel sauce and melted chedder cheese. A Pret a Manger Quinoa Pot this ain’t.

The dish is said to have originated in Teesside in the 1950s, yet its popularity took decades to spread beyond Middlesbrough, almost certainly after the death of whoever created it.

But this posthumous blossom of fame is simply testament to its creator’s artistic credibility – echoing Vincent van Gogh, Franz Kafka and Biggie Smalls.

As a native of Leeds, I was introduced to the dish through Armley takeaway, Sicily’s. Living in a house of “Ladz”, it soon became our roast of choice. Sunday soon became Parmo Sunday. X-Box usernames were now “xParmox”.

But as watertight a culinary concept chicken, cream sauce and cheese sounds, it is very rarely mastered by the takeaway. To achieve parmo perfection, one must balance the nuances of its bland-yet-rich flavours.

And this is where the philosophy of the dish comes into play. You probably won’t enjoy it. But the parmo transcends ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – it simply ‘is’.

Bradford seems to have got the par-memo (ha-ha-ha!). Several eateries are now having a pop at the champ of the takeaway. With varying results.

At the risk of creating serious health problems – I’m starting off with three of Bradford’s best.

And here they are:

Bobby’z –  Bolognese Parmesan – £6.99

Where to start? There is so much to discuss, but I’ll say two words.

Cheese slices.

You can get away with this on a reasonable burger, and that’s it. I felt cuckolded. Like coming home from a hard day at the Bechamel sauce factory to find your spouse – who is made of cooked chicken meat – (stay with me here) getting busy with someone else. Only that person is much worse looking than you.

The human equivalent of a cheese slice? Greg Wallace? Yes. Greg Wallace. Greg ‘Kraft Single’ Wallace covering his modesty with your bed sheets wearing nothing but a look of impish victory. Your chicken breast wife swearing it’s not what it looks like. Have that image in mind the next time you’re enjoying a Bobby’z Bolognese Parmo.

See, there’s a heartbreaking tale to be told here. The chicken was fresh and thick. The sauce and Bolognese was anything but bargain basement. They even have decent chips. Had they used a cheese to match, this would have been a solid 8, or even 9, out of 10.

But alas, I’ve been to enough family barbecues to know the tight, orange film that forms over a warmed cheese slice. I’m willing to be proved wrong on the usage of cheese slices, but Bobby has undoubtedly used an inferior cheese, and has nobody to blame but himself. I just hope he sticks at it. It could be wonderful, but at the moment, Bobby’z Parmos are simply ‘calci-yummy’…  6/10

New Cedar Tree – Pepperoni Parmo – £6.99

Brazil, 1970. Reigning world champions England lose their grip on supremacy after failing to come to terms with the modern concept of tactical substitutions. Not even the endless supply of crispy pancakes could console Alf Ramsay’s bewildered squad.

This is one of history’s many examples of how failing to keep pace with innovation can leave you behind.

And innovation is the name of the game when it comes to the New Cedar Tree’s parmos. A layer of tomato sauce is one Bradford’s great takeaway curveballs. It adds a new dimension to the taste. Not entirely welcome, yet not unpleasant.

Tomato sauce needs to be discussed when it comes to the future of parmos. If the dish wants to make it past Nottingham, it needs crossover appeal. London is no place for stodgy post-war food, and a layer of tomato sauce could be the healthy kick that the parmo needs. Like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, a little coaching could introduce the dish into high society.

Otherwise, it’s a reasonable size. It’s well cooked. The topping does the job without any nasty surprises or spectacular flourishes. Very much the workman of Bradford’s parmo scene. A Nobby Stiles to Bobbyz’ Charlie George (that’s a 1970 football call-back – aren’t we clever?). 7/10

MyLahore – Half Special Parmesan – £6.95

You know things are getting serious when MyLahore get involved. They’ve spent the past decade becoming every Bradfordian’s new favourite place to eat and, having mastered the cuisine of south asia, they’re taking a stab at the northeast of England’s favourite dish.

Predictably, they’ve smashed it out of the park. MyLahore have done their parmo homework. MyLahore finished their parmo homework before the six o clock news and they’re getting extra pudding after tea. The stakes have been raised. My ideas of the heights a parmo could reach have been duly smashed.

Let’s start with the chicken. The quality of the ingredients cannot be understated when it comes to this, and the chicken was some of the freshest and well-crumbed I’ve had in fast food.

I said “special” didn’t I? This came with a topping of chopped peppers, tomatoes and minced beef – all of which gave a spicy – almost Spanish – kick to the dish that was in no way overpowering.

It didn’t have much cheese on top, but it didn’t need it. These are the levels we are talking about.

Hell, even the chips were nice. Like, really nice. The sort of chips which reaffirm your faith in chips after too many encounters with the usual soggy starch-prisms. It even comes with four (FOUR) different dips.

I’ve seen Parmo Valhalla. It’s on Great Horton Road. 10/10

I hope this guide will help you when making your terrible life choices. Godspeed, Parmo lovers.

UPDATE

Since publishing this guide, ‘Parmo Valhalla’ – or MyLahore as it’s known to everyone else – is offering a free dessert to any Oi Card members who spend £10 or more on parmos or on any of their other delicious dishes. Find out more.

Do you have a parmo tip-off for our readers? Tell us in the comments