Andy Munro is a balti expert from Birmingham and was born and bred in its now famous Balti Triangle. His book is entitled Going for a Balti: the Story of Birmingham’s Signature Dish. The balti first appeared in Birmingham around 1975 and was invented by the local Pakistani/Kashmiri community who developed the dish loosely based on home-style cooking where the meal is served in the bowl it’s cooked in, so it retains all its flavours. Naan, rather than rice, accompanies the meal and is used to scoop up the food and to wipe clean the bowl at the end. Enter our competition to win an authentic Balti Bowl & Balti Spice Kit here.
How would you describe a balti to a Martian?
A spicy dish fast cooked over a high flame, cooked and served up in a steel pan.
When and where did you have your first balti?
In 1985, at a place called Azim’s in the Handsworth area of Birmingham… a particularly memorable meal as the restaurant was burned down a week later in the Handsworth race riots!
What’s the key to a good balti?
It must be fast-cooked, using vegetable oil not ghee, with spices thrown in during that cooking process. It must also be both cooked and served up in the balti, a flat-bottomed, thin pressed steel two-handled pan.
What’s the best balti you’ve ever had?
Balti Lamb and Aubergine at the Royal Naim (sadly now closed) in the Balti Triangle
What’s your go-to balti, your standard order on a quiet Tuesday night?
A Balti Chicken and Mushroom at the Shahi Nan Kebab House in the Balti Triangle.
If a Balti were an animal what would it be?
A dragon… legendary and fiery!
What’s the difference between a Birmingham balti and one from Baltistan?
The Birmingham balti is uniquely a fast-cooked Brummie invention right down to the Birmingham-designed and made Balti pans. Balti has nothing to do with the slow-cooked on-the-bone dishes served up in Baltistan. To say there is a connection is like saying jam comes from Jamaica!
What’s the difference between a balti and a ‘normal’ curry?
Balti is faster cooked over a higher heat, which helps caramelise the ingredients, uses vegetable oil not ghee for a cleaner, lighter taste and most critically has to be cooked and served up in the balti pan, thereby conserving the integrity of all the flavours. However, the mix of spices are down to the individual chef but are usually similar to those used in a ‘normal’ curry.
What ‘normal’ curries do you like when taking a balti break?
If I’m pushing the boat out I’ll go to the Michelin starred Opheem, which do a mean Goat Biryani. Otherwise I tend to eat more South Indian food for a change, such as a Paneer and Cashew Nut Masala curry or something like a Keralan Malabar Chicken.
Tell us about three restaurants we must visit next time we are in Birmingham?
Shababs, Shahi Nan Kebab House (both in the Balti Triangle), or the Royal Watan, just up the road in Selly Park.