I was eating vegetarian at Tampopo as part of my own challenge during the month of January. Tampopo is local to Manchester and has several branches serves up East Asian cuisine from different countries. I was invited to eat there as part of a showcase for the Golden Chopstick Awards. Read on to discover more about the restaurant and the awards!
If you just want my favourite dishes of the evening, I highly recommmend the Smacked Cucumber Salad, Pad Thai and Mango Sorbet! All three are or can be made vegan too!
Eating vegetarian in East Asia
If you ever travel there, eating vegetarian in East Asia is not the same as in many Western countries. Fish is not necessarily seen as meat so many vegetarian dishes might contain fish or have sauce which contains seafood, such as oyster sauce or fish sauce. On the other hand, in some countries, mushrooms are seen as near meat. Even if a dish looks vegetarian, it could be cooked in lard or the broth used could contain pig bones. The only sure-fire exception to this is anything labelled as a Buddhist meal.
This is, of course, improving but I’ve found that whilst there is progress being made in the original countries, sometimes that change is slow to arrive in Western countries. My hypothesis is that vegetarianism, as we know it in the West, is largely driven by the younger generation around the world. When you look at the hospitality industry, the majority of people setting up a business from an East Asian background are largely older. The recipes they bring across are traditional and these usually contain meat or fish.
It is therefore refreshing when there are actual vegetarian options available when dining out at East Asian restaurants in Manchester. This is what Tampopo does, with a dedicated menu which lists all their vegetarian options on one side, and all their vegan options on the reverse. They also have some halal options too, just ask the staff about it!
The History behind Tampopo
Tampopo was set up in 1996 by two former accountants from London, David Fox and Nick Jeffrey. It was David Fox, who fuelled by his love of street food when travelling around East Asia, who started the idea. Having also participated in various cookery schools over there, he was keen to share with others his experiences. Manchester seemed like the perfect place to start the business given its cultural diversity. The restaurant was further supported with Supper Clubs which got customers trying a range of items they might not have necessarily have ordered and cooking workshops.
The word Tampopo is taken from the Japanese, meaning dandelion. However, the restaurant actually takes its namesake from a Japanese movie of the same name, starring a girl with the name, Tampopo. The story follows Tampopo as she tries to create the best ramen (soup noodles) by visiting other shops/people and learning from them. The movie is essentially several mini-stories tied together by a love of food, something I aim to create on this blog.
Snacks and side dishes
Clockwise from left: Edamame £4.50, Kale and Coconut Stir-Fry £3.95, Vegetable Tempura £5.95
All the plates above are also naturally vegan!
Edamame are immature soybeans in their pods. The name “edamame” refers to the Japanese name for it, but it was actually cultivated in China several thousands of years ago. The name means, steam beans/peas; eda-mame. Tampopo has rightly labelled this dish as just edamame, whereas I have often seen it misadvertised as edamame beans and therefore, “branch bean beans” *shudders*.
The pods themselves are not edible, but to eat these you would pop the pod into your mouth, and then push the beans out using your teeth until they are out of the pod. You would then discard the pod and continue chewing on the beans.
In Japan, these are prepared by lanching them in saltwater without the addition of salt on top, but Tampopo serves these in two alternate ways. These are either with crushed sea salt or with sesame chilli oil and sea salt. I only got to try the sea salt ones, but they were amazing, even if they weren’t authentically Japanese.
Tempura is taken from the Japanese and is actually influenced by fritters when the Portuguese missionaries were living there in the 16th century. The name is derived from the phrase “quatuor anni tempora”, meaning the Ember Days. These were days in which Catholics consumed no meat, so the fritters were cooked as a way of sustaining the body during this time. The batter was made from egg, flour, water and salt and eaten on its own.
The delicate balance of frying something so it is crispy but without overdoing it is an ongoing thing with fried food, but Tampopo excels at this and I thoroughly enjoyed the vegetable tempura here.
Modern Japanese tempura is made with ice water and wheat flour. This gives a very light batter when deep frying, and the result is beautifully light and crisp. A dipping sauce accompanies tempura which is usually salty and sweet.
Kale and coconut stir-fry
The kale and coconut stir-fry is a wonderful European and tropical fusion. Kale originates from Europe, so it is abundant in the UK, whereas coconut is more commonly found in the tropical regions near the equator. With a bit of a chilli kick, this dish has bitterness, heat and sweetness. It is very, very moreish.
Vegan sharing platter (for two)
The sharing platter contains clockwise from left: corn fritters, sticky tofu, jackfruit rendang & roti slices, mushroom lettuce wraps and smacked cucumber salad.
Vegan sharing platter (for two) £16.90
Corn fritters are popular in Thailand and Indonesia and this one comes with a sweet and sour peanut dip. I’m afraid that for me personally, I found these too oily and wasn’t fond of them.
Tampopo’s sticky tofu are marinated in a sesame, soy and chilli glaze. The result is sweet, salty and a bit spicy, which is nice. I really like tofu, so this is usually a winner for me.
Jackfruit rendang is a curry made from coconut milk and spices. The term “rendang”, actually refers to the meat, which is slow-cooked and braised in this sauce. I was not a fan of this personally, but that’s because I don’t like jackfruit. My Malaysian friend said that jackfruit in Malaysia is usually riper than the stuff they serve in the UK (probably the canned stuff). The roti (a flatbread whose name literally means, “bread”) is nice though.
The mushroom wraps were ok. I like mushrooms and these are cooked in a sauce, then served with peanuts and chili on top of a gem lettuce leaf. They weren’t amazing, but they were fresh tasting which contrasted greatly with the rest of this platter.
Smacked cucumber has Sichuan Chinese roots and traditionally contains soy sauce, garlic, honey, brown rice vinegar and chilli oil. Tampopo’s take on this is really spicy, but also delicious. Sweet, salty, sour and spicy. What’s not to like?
Japanese Salad and Tofu Hot & Sour Stir Fry
Both these dishes are naturally vegan.
Japanese Salad £5.95 and Tofu Hot & Sour Stir Fry £10.95
The Japanese salad contains Chinese leaf, mizuna (Japanese mustard green), shredded cucumber & carrot, black radish and pickled ginger in a sesame and ginger soy dressing. This salad has crispness, sourness, saltiness, and sweetness. I know some people weren’t keen on the pickled ginger, but I love it! This is the only vegetarian salad on the menu, which I do think is a bit of a shame. Thai salad is one of my favourites, personally, because I love a bit of heat in my salad. Tampopo’s Thai salad could easily be adapted for vegetarians if you just remove the fish sauce used in the dressing!
The hot and sour stir dry has roasted ginger, chilli, shallots with lemongrass & tamarind. It is served with bok choi (Chinese cabbage), cherry tomatoes, peanuts, and Jasmine rice. This dish has a lot of different flavours and textures and that is exactly what I love in food. Sweet, sour and spicy! Do note that this dish as three chillies in Tampopo’s chilli rating, which is the highest!
Vegetable King Pad Thai
King Vegetable Pad Thai £12.95
Pad Thai is a classic Thai dish and already a favourite of mine when I eat at a Thai restaurant. The dish is fairly new in conception, originating in the 1930s by the president at the time. He wanted a dish to unify the nation in a time when World War 2 was just around the corner. The idea was to create a strong Thai identity and culture which could withstand colonisation should it happen. At a time when most people were eating rice in Thailand, the Public Welfare Department gave the people free noodle carts and gave people the recipe for Pad Thai. 
Tampopo’s version contains rice noodles with bok choi (Chinese cabbage), egg, beansprouts, roasted peanuts, and lime. It is sweet, sour, salty and spicy with plenty of texture and crunch from the bok choi and beansprouts. You can get this dish without the omelette, but I recommend paying the additional £2 to get it with!
Sweet Potato Katsu Udon Soup
Sweet Potato Katsu Udon Soup £10.95
Sweet potato in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) served with a curry soup, udon noodles and a soy seasoned egg. The term “katsu” is taken from the English, cutlet and as pointed out by Osaka Local MCR, it refers to something which is covered in breadcrumbs and then fried. A katsu curry sauce, therefore, does not exist because you cannot have a cutlet curry sauce without the cutlet. In addition to this, “panko” literally means breadcrumbs in Japanese, so saying “panko breadcrumbs” is slightly inaccurate but more forgivable. These are two things which Tampopo have incorrectly used in their own menu definition:
The katsu curry wording is strangely something they have referred to correctly in their own Katsu Curry with rice offering:
Having said that, I enjoyed this dish. The sweet potato katsu is nicely made and the curry sauce with udon is a lighter take than the traditional rice base. I would suggest that perhaps the katsu be served in a separate dish so you can maintain more of the crunch of the panko. You can then dip it into the curry sauce as and when whilst you are eating. I also recommend ordering a salad or vegetable side dish to go with this in order to balance out the nutrition you are getting from this meal. It is on the more carb-heavy end of the scale.
Roti Pancake £4.95, Mango Sorbet (3 scoops) £4.75
In the Roti Pancake, the roti is rolled and drizzled with condensed milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. It is then served with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream and a mint leaf. Now, I love cinnamon and condensed milk was a popular childhood favourite for dessert, so this was a winner for me! The flaky roti combines well with the smoothness of the ice cream. Eat this quickly before the ice cream melts!
The Mango Sorbet was perfection. It tasted exactly like a ripe mango, one might even suspect that that’s all it’s made out of! You get three scoops of this garnished with a mint leaf.
The peppermint tea is served in a teapot with the filter at the top. This doesn’t prevent the tea from brewing, but it does stop the leaves going into your cup! For 25p more, you can go for fresh mint tea instead. I grew to like mint teas over time, especially as I’ve heard it’s very good for settling your stomach.
Vietnamese Coffee is traditionally served with condensed milk and is super sweet. This is equivalent in sweetness to a British coffee shop’s iced coffee, if not more so. It was the French who brought coffee to Vietnam, but milk farming was in its infancy in Vietnam, so condensed milk was used instead. The drink is practically a dessert! Tampopo serves this hot or cold with a drip filter.
The Golden Chopstick Awards
So I mentioned this post was done in conjunction with The Golden Chopstick Awards, which was set up in 2017 by three friends who are passionate about East Asian cuisine.
- Gok Wan: TV presenter, fashionista and fellow British Chinese
- Lucy Mitchell: Managing Director of Oriental Food Specialist SeeWoo UK
- Sarah Lewis, PR specialising in the food and drinks scene
The aim of the awards is to showcase brilliant East Asian food across the UK. Traditionally there have been many nominations down in London, but this year it’d be amazing to see more representation elsewhere! (Shout out for Manchesterrrrr!)
Public voting starts on Monday 16th February and closes on 12th March! https://www.thegoldenchopsticksawards.com/
Overall rating and comments
8/10, -1 for the oily corn fritters, -0.5 for the lack of a veggie-friendly Thai salad and my own personal dislike of the jackfruit rendang. -0.5 for the Katsu Udon Soup, minor improvements could be made on this dish. Tampopo has charm and heart and its diverse menu will cater to many dietary requirements as well as have you coming back, again and again, to try out another dish.
As I was invited to eat with a bunch of other bloggers, you might want to read up on their review too so you get a better idea of what you should try!
Would visit again?
I think it’s definitely worth another visit, yes.
Address: Corn Exchange, Exchange Square, Manchester M4 3TR