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Balti (Urdu: بالٹی) is a type of curry served in a thin, pressed-steel wok called a "balti bowl". It is served in restaurants throughout the United Kingdom, and the consensus appears to be that the term refers to the pot in which the curry is cooked,[unreliable source?] rather than to any specific ingredient or cooking technique.
There are several theories regarding the origin of balti and balti-style dishes. Some believe it was invented in Birmingham, England, while others believe it originated in northern Pakistan in the region called Baltistan, whence it spread to Britain.
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." 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:
|“||The balti pan is a round-bottomed, wok-like heavy cast-iron dish with two handles.... The origins of Balti cooking are wide ranging and owe as much to China (with a slight resemblance to the spicy cooking of Szechuan) and Tibet as well as to the ancestry of the Mirpuris, the tastes of the Moghul emperors, the aromatic spices of Kashmir, and the 'winter foods' of lands high in the mountains.||”|
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. Written evidence seems to be scant prior to 1982, and the Oxford English Dictionary and The Curry Club welcome any contributions which will verify the first mention of balti in Britain.
One local legend 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.
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. Balti houses typically offer large "karack" naan bread pieces, to be shared by the whole table.
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, 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.
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.
- Curry Club Balti Curry Cookbook, Piatkus, London — ISBN 0-7499-1214-6 & ISBN 0-7499-1342-8 (1993)
- Modern Balti Curries, above title republished by John Blake Publishing, London (2006)
- Pat Chapman’s Balti Bible, Hodder & Stoughton, London — ISBN 0-340-72858-2 & ISBN 0-340-72859-0 (1998)
- 2009 Cobra Good Curry Guide, John Blake Publishing, London — ISBN 1-84454-311-0
- Richard McComb, Birmingham Post, 20 February 2009
- "Chicken Balti". UK: The Curry House. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
- "Balti". TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
- "Baltistan's mystery food". The Hindu. 17 July 2003. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
- 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.
- "Welcome to Adil — The Home of Balti Cuisine". UK. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- birmingham.gov.uk : A Brief History of the Pakistani Community
- Birmingham, the latest hot destination for foodies
- birmingham.gov.uk : Birmingham tornado
- Has the great British curry house finally had its chips?
- Indian restaurants seek government help as recession bites
- OED Online - Balti
- Birmingham City Council pages about the 'Balti Triangle' in Sparkbrook, Birmingham