Modern Birmingham, which owes its origin to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century when it turned into an impressive manufacturing centre, is still an economic powerhouse. Tucked within its folds are cultural landmarks that speak of the city’s industrial past, its art and culture.
“But do you know the city is also the birthplace of the famous Balti cuisine?” asked Bruce Bucknell, British Deputy High Commissioner Kolkata, when I went to meet him in his office to inquire about cricket tourism during the ICC World Cup Cricket 2019.
Edgbaston in Birmingham will be hosting several league matches and one of the semi-finals of the World Cup, including India’s group matches with England (June 30) and Bangladesh (July 2)
Although it has not been established beyond doubt how and where this flavourful meat dish originated, Birmingham in the United Kingdom is largely accepted as the place of origin.
What is Balti? The name is derived from the ‘balti’ or the two-handled thin steel wok (resembling the Indian ‘karahi’) in which the food is cooked and served. The diner is also expected to eat out of it, scooping out the food with freshly baked bread. A word of caution – the Balti or the bowl and the food can be very hot when served.
According to Andy Munro, Birmingham’s much-acknowledged expert on Balti cuisine, it was the local Pakistani Brummie population who introduced this fast-cooking dish here, which later spread across the UK. Mohammed Arif, owner of Birmingham’s Adil Balti and Tandoori Restaurant, in the Balti Triangle in Birmingham, claims to be the first to introduce the Balti to Britain when he opened his restaurant in 1977, reported Michelle Warwicker in BBC Food back in 2012.
Spices are added during the cooking, with many specialty restaurants claiming to use their secret ‘masala’ and the meat is cooked off the bone. The speciality of the dish is that it is cooked over a high flame using vegetable oil and not ‘ghee’, giving it a cleaner, lighter taste, says Munro. It is said that the food retains its subtle flavour since it is not removed from the bowl it is cooked in.
So between matches, repair to Birmingham’s Balti Triangle, located to the south of the city, where you will find some of the award-winning city centre restaurants as well as authentic family-run establishments.
Apart from the exclusive Balti restaurants in the Balti Triangle, there are other restaurant who serve Balti dishes alongside Indian and Pakistani dishes. Some of the most popular restaurants include Adil’s, Al Frash, Shabab, The Kyber Pass, etc.