Andy Munro, who knows a few things about the subject, on the state of Birmingham’s greatest culinary export.
For one reason or another the Balti Triangle has been in the news recently and the question has been asked whether it still is a Balti Triangle given the fact that the remaining balti houses are outnumbered by fast food joints and other restaurants.
However, let’s get a couple of things straight. The area will always be the birthplace of Brum’s iconic dish and that is part of the city’s cultural history.The fact that there are no more than half a dozen ‘genuine’ balti houses is not surprising given that the ares is of mainly Pakistani/Kashmiri origin and like many indigenous Brummies they like to try all sorts of food, from Moroccan to Turkish. Unfortunately, the quality of the food offer is diluted by a fast food burger culture but, let’s face it, that now applies to most of the UK.
However, back to Balti and there are two main reasons why there are far fewer balti houses in the area. Firstly because the ISIS phenomenon and perceived cultural tensions put many people off travelling to the area. In reality, I must have continued to visit hundreds of times for a balti and always felt welcome and have never had my car broken into.
However, the second, and main reason, is that the Pakistani/Brummie Balti has become a bastardised term where diners can by a Balti Pie at half time down the match (I like them myself but they’re just curry pies), a Balti Chicken from a supermarket (it’s just a chicken curry) or a Balti Chicken or sim ilar from their local curry house or takeaway (it’s just a chicken curry, for goodness sake).
This is all because most people fail to understand that balti is just a method of cooking and not a precise recipe. It’s all about fast cooking ingredients in veg oil in the pressed steel balti and serving it up in the same dish with some extra spices added in the latter stages of the cooking process.
Interestingly, some recent research findings will soon be available on the health and taste properties of a ‘proper’ Birmingham balti. I’m no curry snob and I like all types of south Asian cooking (even if balti is my favourite) but would throw out this challenge – o you know any decent curry houses in Brum that serve a proper Birmingham Balti? Without going into the kitchens, a good test is if your balti is sreved up in a blackened pressed steel bowl (not a heavy cast iron karahi!) where the handles are red hot to touch.
Let me know and I’ll pay them a visit as we are looking to badge restaurants that serve an authentic balti. This is because ‘proper’ balti is only just surviving and is in danger of becoming a protected species!