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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
Birmingham's balti triangle

Birth of Birmingham's balti

Balti dish
A balti served in the traditional shaped dish
© Courtesy of Marketing Birmingham
Mohammed Ajaib served Birmingham's first balti in 1977. His intention was to create something different, a dish that would give him the edge in Birmingham's fiercely competitive Indian restaurant market. The main difference between a balti and a curry is the way it is served. The ingredients for a balti are cooked largely in the same way as those for a curry. However, for the last ten minutes, the contents are cooked at high temperatures in a distinctive flat-bottomed wok which gives the dish its name: a balti. The fresh spices, herbs and chillis added during the final stages of cooking make it flavoursome and colourful.
Flaming pan
The balti is cooked at extremely high temperatures
© Courtesy of Marketing Birmingham

By the 1990s, the balti restaurant had established itself as the leading eatery in Birmingham and the dish appeared on Indian restaurant menus across the country. Unlike other trends in Britain's Indian restaurants the balti was not just a flash in the pan, it has been around for over 25 years and continues to attract customers all over Britain. The balti triangle area of Birmingham has
From what area of the Indian sub-continent does the balti originate? Baltistan you might logically conclude. But if you asked for a balti in India you would probably be handed a bucket, as this is what the word translates to in English. So its origins remain a mystery . . .
around 50 balti restaurants, its own trade association and restaurant guide.

Mohammed Ajaib's restaurant in the balti triangle now boasts equal numbers of Asian and white customers, all tucking into the curry dish which originates from England. Although the balti may not be an example of authentic Kashmiri cuisine, its mix of English and Asian influences makes it a genuine product of multicultural Britain.

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Your comments

1 Keith Templeman from London - 29 October 2003
"A Punjabi friend of mine used to cook and serve what he said was a traditional dish called Khurri (however spelled) which was made from spices and buttermilk. "

2 Steve Godwin from Bristol - 29 October 2003
"I had my first Balti in Saleems Birmingham in about 1981. I have not really found the match of the Birmingham Balti for price and quality outside of Birmingham and always revisit the Balti triangle when I return. I have also gradually tried to develop my own culinary skills and recently had my first go at making pakora which was a great sucess, and homemade chapatis (relatively easy). Why do the supermarkets charge so much for the spices. In the small shops around the Balti triangle you get about 5 to 10 times the weight at the same price."

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