‘Birmingham Balti’, a version of food from the Indian sub-continent developed in Birmingham, is seeking protected status under European Union regulations that is accorded to quintessential British food such as Cornish Pasty or Stilton Blue Cheese.
Indian dishes have been modified to cater to the British palate ever since Sake Dean Mohamed from Patna opened the first Indian restaurant in London in 1810. The ‘chicken tikka masala’ is one such dish that is considered a British invention.
Official sources told HT on Wednesday that the application for ‘Birmingham Balti’ has been submitted to the European Commission for protection under the TSG category (traditional speciality guaranteed). The TSG status will give it legal protection against imitation throughout the EU.
Moved by the Birmingham Balti Association (BBA), the application defines the cuisine as “a fast cooked curry dish which can be made using chicken, fish, meat or vegetables. The Birmingham Balti is cooked and served in a thin steel wok-shaped bowl called the balti, from which the dish gets its name”.
The BBA said it is seeking the TSG status to “preserve this unique food, as a fusion between the traditions of South Asian and British cuisine”. An area of Birmingham is called the ‘Balti Triangle’, where many popular ‘Balti’ restaurants are based.
The history of 'Birmingham Balti' goes back to the 1970s, when people from Mirpur in Pakistan displaced by the Mangla Dam project migrated here, and brought with them their traditional method of cooking: slow cooking meat on the bone (chicken, lamb and beef) or vegetables, usually in an earthenware pot called a ‘haandi’ or cast iron receptacle called a ‘karahi’ over a low heat.
As the cuisine became popular in Birmingham, it was named ‘balti’ because the ‘Brummies’ found it easier to pronounce than ‘karahi’. The earthernware pot gave way to thin pressed steel bowls with two handles, similar to a wok, about 22cm in diameter, which they called a 'balti'.
In its application seeking TSG status, BBA set out five characteristics of ‘Birmingham Balti’, which, it claimed, combined to “differentiate it from other curries whether cooked for both the indigenous UK population or Indian sub-continent palates”.
The five characteristics are:
1. For meat baltis, the meat is cooked off the bone rather than on the bone as in other curries in the traditional ‘one pot’ cooking of the Indian sub-continent;
2. The meal is fast cooked in a balti and cooked at high temperatures over a high flame very quickly.
3. Vegetable oil is used instead of ghee.
4. Dried spices are used, with the exception of the fresh ginger and garlic puree. Pre-prepared generic commercial curry pastes and powders are not used.
5. The meal is served in the thin pressed steel 'wok’, commonly known as the balti, in which it is cooked and traditionally eaten with fingers using naan bread.
Under EU rules, TSG status is given to “products which are traditional or have customary names and have a set of features which distinguish them from other similar products. These features must not be due to the geographical area the product is produced in nor entirely based on technical advances in the method of production”.