Maybe delicacy is an inappropriate word. As with most “local delicacies” like Italian Beef in Chicago or Clam Rolls in coastal Massachusetts, “Parmo” is fast food. You can get a Parmo at pretty much every pizza place and fish and chip shop in the Teesside area.
Parmo is a term that has been shortened over time, the original name was Parmesan Escalope and now it is just called a Parmesan or colloquially, Parmo. It is kind of like the delinquent nephew of veal or chicken Paragiana in Italian cuisine. It is a piece of chicken or pork beat down until it is as thin as possible and about the size of a small dinner plate. It is then breaded, fried and covered in bÃ©chamel sauce and melted cheese and served with chips and a bit of salad on the side. Here in Teesside we like to put garlic sauce on everything, its kind of a cross between garlic mayonnaise and ranch dressing, so its usually served with a side of garlic sauce (because two layers of fatty topping just aren’t enough). Funny enough, although its called a Parmesan, there isn’t actually even a gram of Parmesan cheese in a Parmo, leave it up to Teessiders.
Photo from Wikipedia by Karl Bomersbach
When I first moved here I thought that Parmo was an English thing, but I just recently discovered that its actually a very local thing that can pretty much only be found in Hartlepool and Middlesbrough and the adjacent towns. There is really nothing like it anywhere else and its totally unique to this area.
The thing I find the most unique about this dish is that it hasn’t taken the same path as most of your local fast food favorites. Most of these unique local foods usually start out in a greasy spoon or roadside stand and now we are seeing these types of foods showing up on fine dining menus with a gourmet twist. Its all the rage these days to take something like macaroni and cheese with gourmet ingredients, add a little bit of luxury with some lobster tail or filet mignon and put it on a plate next to some kind of foam or puree and charge $40 for it. Parmo is the exact opposite though, it is an adaptation that took a fine dining dish off the fancy plate and transformed it into an inexpensive, fast food dish served in a pizza box and best consumed after a night of drinking. It is kind of a rare thing for a dish to actually regress from fine dining to pizza shops and burger stands.
I am sure you are probably not jumping out of your seat to come visit Teesside and sample a Parmo, after all you can always go to an Italian restaurant and order a chicken or veal Parmigiana and get something that is similar and probably better quality. However, Parmo is set to make its national debut and soon it could be available outside of our little corner of this island. Earlier this year, Asda (part of the Wal-Mart conglomerate) began selling Parmos in their Teesside supermarkets. It has been so successful that they are considering rolling out the product in other areas of the country. Still, even with the convenience Asda version available in supermarkets, nothing will ever be as authentic as a greasy, saucy and cheesy parmo from a Teesside shop. Maybe some day Parmo will come to respresent British street food the way chip butties and bacon sarnies do, but for now it remains Teesside’s shining beacon of culinary innovation (sort of).