If you asked for a balti on the sub-continent, there’s every chance a bucket would be thrust upon you. But in Britain, the word has taken on an entirely different meaning. First served up in Birmingham in 1977 by restaurateur Mohammed Ajaib, the balti has become perhaps Britain’s most famous – and arguably tastiest – homegrown dish.

Following its debut, Birmingham’s Pakistani Kashmiri community took the dish to heart, and it soon spread to other curry house menus across the UK.

And nowhere will you find a better balti than in the Balti Triangle, which takes in the Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Moseley areas of south Birmingham. This area, which is now being aggressively marketed to attract ‘food tourists’, is home to most of the city’s best curry and balti houses – more than 50 of them, the majority of which are both affordable and BYO.

According to Britain’s Food Standards Agency, 2.5 million Brits tuck into an Indian” every week, with the industry worth £3.2 billion. It is estimated that in London alone there are more Indian restaurants than in New Delhi and Bombay. ‘Indian’, however, is something of a sweeping generalisation, and can include everything from Kashmiri and Punjabi cuisine to Bangladeshi.

The balti dish is a type of curry which features fresh meat and/or vegetables which are marinated and then cooked for the last 10 minutes in a flat-bottomed wok (or balti) over a high temperature. Extra spices are added near the end of the cooking process, and the dish is served sizzling in the balti.

Each restaurant in the Balti Triangle jealously guards its own recipe, which typically incorporates spices such as cumin, coriander, cloves, cassia bark and ginger. Naan bread is used to transfer the dish from balti to mouth.

Also on the menu

Bhaji: spicy deep-fried fritters made from onion, mushroom, chicken, etc
Katlama: a pastry filled with mince and deep fried in oil.
Keema: mince
Naan: flat bread made with flour, yeast, milk, sugar and eggs
Pakora: potatoes, onion, flour and spices deep fried; can include chicken and fish
Sheeskh kebab: skewered minced lamb, cooked and strongly spiced.
Sharmi kebab: usually beefburger shaped, made with flour, mince and spices
Tikka: lamb or chicken pieces marinated in yoghurt and cooked on a skewer
Source: www.birmingham.gov.uk/balti.bcc

While in Birmingham…

Take a Tolkien tour
Lord Of The Rings author JRR Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892 but grew up around Birmingham. He was visiting his grandparents in Birmingham with his mum and brother when they received word from South Africa that his father had died. The three stayed in Britain, settling in the village of Sarehole, near Birmingham in 1896. Sarehole is thought to have been the inspiration for the Shire in The Hobbit.
Call 01212-025 050 or email callcentre@marketing birmingham.com for a copy of Birmingham City Council’s Tolkien Trail By Bus brochure.

Sail the canals
More than 100 miles of canals – more, apparently, than in Venice – pass in and around Birmingham. The waterways stretch from the heart of the city and meander out into the countryside.
Canal walks and tours can be arranged on 01212-025 050.

Make some jewellery
Design and create your own jewellery at the School of Jewellery in the Jewellery Quarter, which dates back more than two centuries.
Wander around the area, which takes in Hall and Great Hampton streets, on your own or take a formal tour during which you can learn the basics of making your own jewellery.
See www.the-quarter.com for more in the area. The next jewellery making weekend is scheduled for May 7-8. Call 01212-025 050 or email callcentre @marketingbirmingham.com.