• The fresh ingredients of Balti (Anna Gibson)
Birmingham is moving to trademark the Birmingham Balti, which will give the dish a similar protected status to Champagne. Carla Grossetti visited the city to find out the history of the city's signature creation.
By
Carla Grossetti

15 May 2017 - 11:02 AM  UPDATED 18 May 2017 - 2:52 PM

The Birmingham Balti is - thanks to Brexit - one step closer to obtaining legally recognised status, as it no longer needs a nod of approval from the European Union. 

If the cooking method for the Birmingham Balti is officially trademarked, it will help put the southern part of the city on the map for food tourists who are already drawn to the UK's second capital in droves for everything from its street food to its Michelin-starred dining scene.

The first Balti restaurant opened more than three decades ago in an area now known as the Balti Triangle, which is centred around the Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Sparkhill areas of the city.

Birmingham's self-described Balti-holic is local tour guide Andy Munro who has been pushing for the city's signature dish to receive the UK trademark of authenticity for 10 years. The 68-year-old says he is confident the Birmingham Balti will be officially recognised as a Brummie invention. He says the Balti is the coming together of Pakistani cuisine and the classic British curry (as featured on Luke Nguyen's United Kingdom).

"The first Balti I had was like a culinary epiphany. It was so nice. Although I'd love the story of how the dish evolved to be romantic … it 'aint. The word Balti is found in Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali, and means "bucket" so the term refers to the receptacle the dish is cooked in," says Munro, author of Going for a Balti.

Today, there are more than 50 Balti houses in Birmingham. Although debate rages about the origins of Balti cooking in Birmingham, the Adil Balti Restaurant in Sparkbrook maintains it pioneered the dish in the UK in 1977.

Munro, who was born and bred in the Balti Triangle, supports this claim and says he met both the chef Mohammed Asif and the Birmingham manufacturer who created the thin-pressed metal pan that the city's signature dish is named after.

"If you go into most British curry houses, you will find the chefs using a heavy cast-iron pan called a kahari. But this guy Asif went to a Birmingham manufacturer and asked him to create a special thin-pressed steel wok that would stand up to a high flame," says Munro, co-founder of Alternative Tours.

Munro says the term 'Balti' has been bastardised and is now often used as a generic term for a standard curry. Munro, an adviser to the Birmingham Balti Association, says he would like to see the city's most famous creation protected because the dish is under threat from fast food derivatives and retailers jumping on the Balti bandwagon.

"You can get a pre-packaged Balti meal from the supermarket. You can get a Balti pie at the footy. But what I like to see is people coming from all over the world to enjoy Birmingham on the back of a Balti," says Munro, who also has a website promoting the restaurants offering an "authentic Balti experience." 

Munro hopes it's the unique cooking method that will preserve the Birmingham Balti's integrity for generations to come. "I want people to be able to see a sign in a window and know that if they are going to eat there, they are going to get a proper Birmingham Balti," he says.

Although this English-style Indian dish has made it to Australia, Munro believes Baltis are best eaten in situ in the Birmingham Triangle. Also worth venturing to are the Australian restaurants that are trying to put this curry in the spotlight - think Marpha in Melbourne and the Balti House in Adelaide.  

 

Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs' Line airs 6pm weeknights on SBS. Check out the program page for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @carlagrossetti, Facebook Carla Grossetti - Writer, Instagram @carlagrossettiPhotographs by Carla Grossetti and Anna Gibson.

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