There is often confusion and debate about just what exactly an authentic Balti is. Lots of supermarket sauces and karahi bowls 'borrow' the name- but just what is a Balti?
Balti is simply a method of cooking invented, in the 1970’s by a Pakistani restaurant owner in Birmingham, eager to attract more Western customers to his restaurant.
The concept was a fusion of the slow one pot cooking popular in the mountainous areas of Pakistan, with the western customers’ desire for comparatively fast food. Served up sizzling in the piping hot Balti bowl straight to the table from the flame, the unique concept of the Balti attracted a cult following in Birmingham which soon spread nationwide.
So a special pressed steel flat bottomed wok was designed and then made in Birmingham- pressed steel so it would heat up very quickly and was light enough to manoeuvre on a stove and flat bottomed to also add stability and increase manoeuvreability on the hob. Balti is also fast cooked with meat off the bone rather than slow cooked on the bone and vegetable oil is used rather than ghee, with fresh spices tossed in during the short cooking process.
Why is the Balti bowl itself so important? If cooked and served in the same dish it retains maximum flavor and aids the caramelisation, giving the end product a distinctively savoury, rounded and slightly sweet flavor. A restaurant Balti will be cooked from start to finish in under 10minutes, although on a domestic home hob the process is obviously longer.
In addition a number of studies have also shown that eating a Balti when it’s been cooked and served in the pressed steel Balti bowl has health benefits due to its iron content.
To find out more about the origins of Balti check out 'Going for a Balti' by Andy Munro (signed copies available in our shop)