The British have loved curries since the days of the Raj, though in earlier times what passed as a curry may have been just mince and onions with a bit of curry powder added.
With the influx of large numbers of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants in the second half of the last century the provision of more authentic curries improved radically, with meals to suit every pocket from impoverished student to wealthy gourmet.
The Balti can perhaps be seen as the next stage in the evolution of the British curry. Many sources date its birth though to 1976 in Birmingham in the West Midlands , but its parentage is not clear. Some say Baltistan in Pakistan was the source. Others that Kashmir originated the dish. What can be said with some security, however, is that in the Balti triangle of Brum the dish rapidly developed a specific character and impetus of its own, and a very British identity.
A few facts: Balti means bucket, or in this case bucket-like cooking pot, made from steel or cast iron to hold heat for quick cooking; the Balti curry is cooked in such a pot, marinated meat - lamb is perhaps the classic, but beef and prawns are regulars too - stir fried with fresh vegetables, spices and sauces then served at the table (glass topped for preference in deference to the early days in Birmingham when the Balti was a cafe dish) and eaten with fingers and naan bread.
Baltis can be of varying degrees of heat, but should always be well spiced - ginger is often in evidence, along with a hint of cloves, cumin, cardamom, plenty of black pepper, coriander and sometimes cassia bark.
Baltis can be made at home, but if you live near or get to Birmingham make a date with a Balti House in South Birmingham - Sparkbrook and Moseley are at the centre of the triangle. A good Balti is fresh and filling, tasty and spicy, and an enjoyable thing to eat with friends, pretensions going out of the window as fingers (carefully) dip in to the sizzling food.
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