What is a Balti Curry?

Balti Curry Description

A Balti curry is a stir-fry curry that either originated in Baltistan, which is in the northern mountainous region of modern India and Pakistan (the Punjab), or in Birmingham (England) in the 1970s. The Balti curry is cooked in a type of karahi and served in a Balti bowl.

In essence, Balti is a type of cooking, rather than a particular type of curry, where the ingredients are quickly cooked over a high heat in the same way as a stir-fry.

The Balti makers in the 1970s used vegetable oil for cooking instead of ghee, which is high in saturated fat, and Baltis have been cooked using vegetable oil ever since.

A Balti can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian and has a medium heat.

Was the Balti Invented in Birmingham?

Nobody is really sure where the modern Balti style of cooking came into existence but it may well have been adapted from Baltistan cooking when Kashmiri and Pakistani (Punjabi) immigrants settled in Birmingham.

Birmingham City Council (in the middle of England) claims that the Balti cooking style arrived in Birmingham in 1977, with the dish being made by a Pakistani immigrant.

The delicious Balti curry was an instant hit and became very popular in the Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Moseley areas of Birmingham – the Balti Triangle.

There are around 25 Balti Houses (Balti curry restaurants) in the area of Birmingham known as the Balti Triangle. The sides of the approximate triangle are Ladypool Road, Stoney Lane and Stratford Road.

It is hard to believe that such a popular style of cooking arrived in the UK as late as 1977. But there has been a massive growth in curry consumption in the UK over the last few decades so it might be true.

Around 2009, the Birmingham Balti Association applied to the European Union to get something called “Traditional Speciality Guaranteed Status” for the Balti. This is, in effect, a trademark and means that the word “Balti” belongs to Birmingham and can only be used by Birmingham Balti Houses. Searches on the Internet do not say whether this application was successful so maybe it wasn’t. We are all familiar with products being given such a status (for example, champagne and Cornish pasties) but it is hard to see how a style of cooking can be trademarked in this way.

So was Balti invented in Birmingham? Probably not, although it may have been adapted in Birmingham from a Punjabi cooking style in order to produce a delicious type of curry. There is no denying that Balti is a hugely popular type of curry in Birmingham. And the popularity of the Balti is not confined to Birmingham – nowadays you can get a Balti curry almost anywhere in the UK.

What is a Balti?

The word Balti is Punjabi (and Urdu) for “bucket” and this describes the cooking pan in which the curry is cooked. This “bucket” is pretty much like a small wok that has 2 handles and the Balti curry is cooked and served in the same “bucket”. The Balti “bucket” is the standard cooking pan in a Balti House but not is necessarily used in a curry restaurant, although the curry restaurant still produces a Balti style of curry.
Balti Serving Dish
     A balti

Although this is a one-pot cooking style, it is not making a curry in a slow cooking way. Rather it is a stir-fry that is cooked quickly over a high heat.

A Balti curry from a Balti house is usually a complete meal with meat and vegetables being cooked together (if a non-vegetarian curry is being cooked) whereas a Balti curry from a curry restaurant tends to be a stir-fry of a single main ingredient. Naan bread is often used to scoop up a Balti curry and you may not be offered a knife and fork to eat a Balti curry in a Balti House (they will always be available but you may need to ask for them).

A Balti curry is a dry curry with very little sauce.

How Hot is a Balti Curry?

A Balti curry usually has a medium heat so is less hot than a Madras curry but hotter than a dopiaza curry. Of course, you can always ask for the curry to be made hotter or milder when you order the curry.

What is in a Balti Curry?

It almost goes without saying that a Balti curry contains spices, onions and chillies (or chilli powder) – most curries have these basic ingredients.

In addition, a Balti curry can also have just about any ingredient that a non-Balti curry can have. So meat lovers can enjoy chicken, beef, fish, lamb or prawns with the addition of potato, peas, spinach, aubergine (eggplant) or mushrooms and vegetarians have a wide variety of curried vegetables to enjoy such as cauliflower, green capsicum (green peppers), spring onions (green onions/scallions) and chickpeas.

The stir-fry method of cooking a Balti means that the tastes and flavours or the ingredients are locked in during the cooking, producing a delicious and fresh curry.

What is the Difference Between a Balti and a Curry?

Most curries are cooked more slowly than a Balti. A Balti is a stir-fry that is cooked quickly whereas a non-Balti curry takes a lot longer to cook, especially if it contains meat.

And a Balti tends to be a dry curry without much sauce.

There are no real differences between the ingredients in a Balti against the ingredients in a curry.

How to Make a Balti Curry

You can make your own Balti curry at home very easily.

All you need is a cooking pan, a recipe and the ingredients.

You do not need to buy a Balti pan. You can, if you want to, but it is not a necessity. A Balti curry is cooked in a single pan so you can just use what you have in your kitchen. I tend to use a large frying pan or large saucepan. You can even use a wok if you want. The pan that you use is not really important – it is the end result that is important.

And you do not need Balti dishes in which to serve the Balti curry. It is OK to serve your Balti curry in a bowl or on a plate.

A recipe will tell you what ingredients you need and how to cook the Balti curry.

Cooking a Balti curry is usually really easy. The simple Balti cooking style means that it is pretty easy to make a Balti curry.

Where to Find a Balti Curry Recipe

There is a whole category of Balti curry recipes on the Curry Focus website. Why not try one yourself?

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