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.
Many of my Asian patients with blood sugar problems tell me that they struggle to replace flatbreads or chapattis in their diet. Unfortunately, most shop-bought flatbreads these days are made of highly refined wheat flour, whereas in India they are traditionally made with wholemeal chickpea flour, which is relatively lower in carbohydrate and high in protein and fibre. It is also gluten-free. This is what we have used here. Chickpea flour can be found online and in most health food shops and Asian supermarkets. This is adapted from an excellent recipe posted online by Ingenue.
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