Balti (food)

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A lamb version of Balti gosht

Balti (Urdu: بلتی‎) is a type of curry served in a thin, pressed-steel wok called a "balti bowl".[1] It is served in restaurants throughout the United Kingdom. The name may have come from the metal dish in which the curry is cooked,[2][3] rather than from any specific ingredient or cooking technique.[4] Balti curries are cooked quickly using vegetable oil rather than ghee, over high heat in the manner of a stir-fry, and any meat is used off the bone. This combination differs sharply from a traditional one-pot Indian curry which is simmered slowly all day. Balti sauce is based on garlic and onions, with turmeric and garam masala among other spices.[3]

Balti seems to have arrived in England in Birmingham in 1971; one theory is that it originates from Baltistan in northern Pakistan.[5][3]

Origin and etymology

Balti, as a food, is named after the steel or iron pot in which it is cooked. The word is found in Urdu, Hindi and Bengali, and means "bucket."[6] The word developed from the Portuguese 'balde', meaning bucket or pail, and traveled to South Asia via the Portuguese seafaring enterprises of the early sixteenth century. One can deduce that the word made its way into the English language during British colonial rule of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

According to Pat Chapman, a food historian, the origins of the word can also be traced to the area of Baltistan, in northern Pakistan, where a cast iron wok, similar to the Chinese wok, is used for cooking. This makes sense, since Baltistan shares a border with China. In his Curry Club Balti Curry Cookbook, Chapman states:

Balti was once the subject of analysis on the BBC TV series Balderdash and Piffle, wherein a menu from 1982 was cited as the first written reference of the word, and in winter 1984 The Curry Club's Curry Magazine, Edition 29, followed with a definition of Balti. One claim regarding the origin of Balti cooking in Birmingham was that it was first served in 1977 in a restaurant called Adil's. At that time, the restaurant was located in Stoney Lane, Balsall Heath, Birmingham 12.[7][3]

Balti houses

Balti gosht in Pakistan
Balti chicken with rice and naan served at a balti restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland

Balti restaurants are often known in Birmingham as 'balti houses'. Some balti houses have a plate of glass on the table top with menus secured beneath.[8] Balti houses typically offer large "karack" naan bread pieces, to be shared by the whole table.[9]

Balti houses were originally clustered along and behind the main road between Sparkhill and Moseley, to the south of Birmingham city centre. This area, comprising Ladypool Road, Stoney Lane and Stratford Road, is still sometimes referred to as the 'Balti Triangle', and contains a high concentration of balti restaurants. On 28 July 2005, a tornado caused extensive damage to buildings in the Triangle,[10] forcing many restaurants to close. Most re-opened by the beginning of 2006.

Balti restaurants have now spread beyond the triangle, and can also be found in the south of Birmingham, along the Pershore Rd in Stirchley. Lye near Stourbridge to the west of Birmingham has become known as the 'Balti Mile' with up to a dozen restaurants clustered along the High Street.

The food and its style of presentation proved very popular during the 1980s, and popularity grew in the 1990s. Balti restaurants gradually opened up throughout the West Midlands, and then a large part of Britain. The expanded curry market in Britain is now said to take in 4 billion pounds sterling per year; but some still claim that it is impossible to get a 'proper' balti outside the urban West Midlands[citation needed].

Outside Britain, there is a small number of balti houses in Ireland and many other English-speaking countries, particularly New Zealand and Australia.

Since the late 1990s, British supermarkets have stocked a growing range of pre-packed balti meals, and the balti restaurant sector has since faced increasing competition from the retail sector and from changes in customer tastes, along with other traditional South Asian and Indian restaurants.[11][12]


See also


  1. Richard McComb, Birmingham Post, 20 February 2009
  2. "Chicken Balti". UK: The Curry House. Retrieved 19 December 2013. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Warwicker, Michelle. "What makes the Birmingham Balti unique?". BBC. Retrieved 15 November 2015. "People like (it)... sizzling and hot and with the naan bread," said Mohammed Arif, owner of Adil Balti and Tandoori Restaurant, in the Balti Triangle in Birmingham. Mr Arif claims to be first man to introduce the Balti to Britain - after bringing the idea from Kashmir - when he opened his restaurant in 1977. He said that before he "recommended the Balti in the UK" in the late 70s, "there was different curry" in Britain, "not like this fresh cooking one".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Balti". Retrieved 19 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Baltistan's mystery food". The Hindu. 17 July 2003. Retrieved 18 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Hobson-Jobson: Being A Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, by Col. Henry Yule and the late Arthur C. Burnell. London: John Murray, 1886, at page 40.
  7. "Welcome to Adil — The Home of Balti Cuisine". UK. Retrieved 31 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. : A Brief History of the Pakistani Community
  9. Birmingham, the latest hot destination for foodies
  10. : Birmingham tornado
  11. Has the great British curry house finally had its chips?
  12. Indian restaurants seek government help as recession bites

External links