As Birmingham’s legendary dish turns 40, we ask those in the know for the Balti facts and the best places to try one in the Balti Triangle.
Birmingham’s food scene befits its status as the UK’s second city. Local boy Glynn Purnell has become a regular on TV cooking shows, drawing nationwide attention to the city’s blossoming fine dining scene and ever-growing list of Michelin-starred restaurants. But, whatever the food future holds, Birmingham will always go hand in hand with Balti, the curry dish so popular they even named a part of the city after it.
To celebrate Balti’s 40th Birthday, we spoke to Balti Birmingham’s Andy Munro, author of Going For A Balti and a partner in Alternative Tours, to get the lowdown on the dish and its Brummie origins. We also sent four food bloggers out into the Balti Triangle to find some of the best places to sample the dish.
Andy Munro of Balti Birmingham – the Balti Basics
The Balti phenomenon started years ago when a Pakistani restauranteur decided he wanted to attract more western customers. The culinary conundrum was that his Pakistani customers liked one-pot cooking – meat on the bone, slow cooked in ghee – while the somewhat more impatient westerners wanted food off the bone served up quickly.
The solution was a specially designed bowl made of thin pressed steel which could heat up quickly over a high flame. Instead of the ghee used in Pakistani cooking, he used vegetable oil, which could better stand a high heat. It also gave the Balti a lighter taste and allowed the dish’s individual spices to stand out more.
Balti became a nationwide curry craze, but beware of imposters. To be authentic, it must be served in the dish it’s cooked in and be fast cooked in vegetable oil over a high flame, with spices tossed in during the process. The best way to ensure that you are getting the real deal is to head for the Balti Triangle.
Brummie foodie A Glug Of Oil falls for Pushkar
Pushkar, 245 Broad Street
We discovered a real gem at Pushkar. With so many delicious sounding dishes on the menu, it made sense to start with the ‘Pushkar Panorama’, a taste of several different appetisers. My husband Paul chose murgh makhani, which he declared to be the best Indian food he’d ever tasted. For me, it had to be murgh jalfrezi. The chicken was beautifully tender and the sauce was rich and delicious, with just the right amount of heat. We will definitely be returning.
Charlene Flash enjoys a break from the norm at Mughale Azam
Mughal-E-Azam, Stratford Road
Mughal-E-Azam“>is located in a former church, the imposing building offering an intriguing change from the usual curry house setting. We started off with crisp poppadum and a series of chutneys before moving on to masala fish and kastori bout, tenderloin of chicken marinated with ginger, gram flour, fenugreek and topped with cheese.
When it came to mains, there was a refreshing absence of the usual suspects, so we ordered lamb karahi – which could have used a little more heat – and lamb bhindi, an enjoyably rich combination of lamb and okra. On the side, we had lemon rice – the citrus flavour making the perfect accompaniment to the rich curries – and two naans (what can I say, I love naan bread), one keema and one garlic. Both were amazing.
Food blogger Brummie Gourmand found a lot to love at Adil’s
Adil’s, 148–150 Stoney Lane
When we were asked to review a curry spot in Birmingham, where else could we go but where the dish is said to have been born? For starters, we plumped for the ‘Meat Platter’, which contained everything a meat lover could want from the menu, all served on an enormous sizzling platter with onions. It was a hearty portion, to say the least.
We decided to see what the creative minds in the kitchen could concoct and ordered the ‘Chef’s Specials’ for our mains. The chunky bell peppers in my Balti tikka e khaas added depth and colour, while my wife reported that her Balti makhan chicken was rich and tender to the point of melting in her mouth.
Al Frash gets two thumbs up from The Gastronomic Gorman
Al Frash, 186 Ladypool Road
Birmingham is famous for the Balti, and Al Frash in the Balti Triangle is deserving of that fame. Don’t be fooled by its humble location on Ladypool Road. Their lamb tikka Balti is one of the best you’ll find, with smoky barbecued lamb tikka pieces in a thick, richly spiced sauce spiked with fresh coriander. Order it with a huge, fresh naan bread and get stuck in for a proper Brum Balti experience.