The Balti is to Birmingham what the baguette is to France. Sort of.
Andy Munro is a balti enthusiast, activist and author.

Check out Andy’s blog balti-birmingham.co.uk/ and see photos of the 1985 Handsworth riots www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midland…985-10011300

Intro tune by James Iball and photo by Paolo Bendandi.

Transcript

Storyteller: My name is Andy Monroe, and I’m a born and bred Brummie, which is a word for somebody born in the Birmingham area. I’m a passionate advocate of the true Birmingham Balti.

Carys:

Hello! So this is another story produced under lockdown. Like Andy, I’m a proud Brummie.

Carys: I’ll let the expert talk about it more, but among Cadbury chocolate, the bull and Ozzy Osbourne, the Balti curry is an icon of Birmingham, and it always features on the tour I give when friends visit me. My non-Brummie friends often find it surprising that one of the best local dishes here is a curry, but it’s the legacy of Birmingham’s large Asian community. Andy Munroe is a Balti fan, activist and author.

Storyteller: My involvement with Balti stems from being born and bred in what is now called the Balti Triangle area. I was brought up there in the ‘50s with some rationing still being in force. So the food that I ate was bland and unexciting with my parents’ experience of curry being confined to what they considered poor quality meat disguised by a sauce and served up by army cooks to the troops.

My first Balti was like a culinary epiphany, with its vibrant spices and sizzling presentation. And from then on, I was completely sold on this dish.

People often ask me when I had my first Balti, and actually it wasn’t until 1985. In fact, it was in a restaurant in an area called Handsworth. And it was particularly memorable because exactly one week later from me sitting down for my Balti, the area was burnt down in the Handsworth race riots. So I often think to myself, I’m glad I was not there a week later.

News archive report: It started here at the Villa Cross bingo hall. It ended seven hours later, with fires blazing all over Handsworth. What had been a thriving shopping centre had become an inferno, with first light the grim reality that the violence of claimed lives.

Storyteller: The Balti triangle area of Birmingham was mainly English when I was young, but this was followed by a large influx of Irish and African-Caribbeans. Then, in the 70s and 80s, it became mainly Pakistani and Kashmiri Muslims trying to escape the poverty and troubles, particularly in the Kashmiri region. This led to a number of restaurants opening in the Baltic triangle area.

The Balti came about when a Pakistani restauranteur wanting to attract indigenous Brummies, as well as his normal Pakistani custom. So, he devised a dish, which could be fast cooked, with any meat used left off the bone, which was the English tradition at that time.

The Balti, named after an Urdu word, used for a food bucket, which is often used at weddings and celebrations, is a fast cook dish cooked and served up in a specially designed, thin pressed Steel flat-bottom wok type pan, with spices thrown in during the fast cooking process.

Unfortunately, the word Balti has become synonymous with any sort of curry or curry flavoured food. So the integrity of the Birmingham Balti has been compromised. In a mission to regain the integrity of the dish, I lead a consortium of restaurants to apply for the European Union’s traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG )mark of authenticity. This is ongoing.

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