The Balti Triangle of Birmingham

Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
Trip End Nov 04, 2011

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Where I stayed
The Arc Apartments

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I don't know what Richard was thinking when he suggested we meet in Birmingham. When he said, "I haven't been there in years!" I then realised. No one who has been to Birmingham recently would want to go back. Come to think of it, I hadn't been there in years either. Maybe it had changed. I used to go to Birmingham quite a bit in my music industry days to see bands perform in clubs and bars that I don't care to remember. Well, at least there's balti. It may not be the most attractive city in England but it's got some wicked curry. I've always been a fan of Birmingham's regional dish and while many of the bands I had to see were quite mediocre, at least the curry was good.

Balti originated from Birmingham in the 1960's but it didn't really get much national attention until the 1990's when it became a bit "de rigeur" in pubs around England. Not many people are aware of Britain's contribution to curry and we all tend to think of all curry coming from the sub-continent - mainly India, when in fact, curry is a part of many people's diet, from South Africa to Japan. Sure - a lot of the spices originated in places like India or Indonesia, but the inventiveness of each country to come up with a version of curry is what gives it a different accent. The Japanese love their katsu curry which is a sweet curry over a pork or chicken cutlet whereas the Germans are addicted to their currywurst - a sweet curry sauce over a bratwurst. Curry is everywhere and Birmingham is no exception.

Since Richard suggested Birmingham as a half-way meeting point for both of us, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce him to the Balti Triangle, where this famous curry first originated. As I arrived the previous evening to get settled in a hotel near the station, I thought it'd be a good idea to take a bus to the mysterious Balti Triangle before Richard arrived the next morning as a kind of a "rehearsal". It would have been nice if the Balti Triangle was within walking distance of the city centre but Birmingham is a big place (more than a million inhabitants) and the bus trip was not that complicated. A few bus stops later and I took a guess that this was where it all happened.

As it was a Monday evening, not much was opened and I roamed the empty streets in search of something edible. I passed many kebab shops, newsagents, sari shops and greengrocers - but no balti. Where was all the balti? Eventually I came across a restaurant called Shahab which looked a lot better than the nearby kebab shop that claimed to have balti on its "menu". I took a gamble and went inside. There were a few other customers at other tables (always a good sign), pleasant staff and ....... a whole list of different types of balti on the menu. I'd struck gold! This was a typical balti house! I ordered the spinach and lamb balti with garlic naan and as is always the tradition in restaurants that serve curry in England, a plate of pappadums with accompanying sauces and chutneys came to the table beforehand.

The balti arrived in a huge steel bowl, known as a balti bowl, and the meal was superb. I couldn't wait to bring Richard here the following day. Hopefully there'd be more restaurants open during the day as well. I made my way back to the city centre by bus, quite full, and wondering how an average portion of balti could be so filling. Maybe it was all the naan bread. I was looking forward to the next balti expedition and when I met Richard at the station the following morning, I had it all planned.

Strangely, the second attempt to find a good balti was doomed to failure. Sometimes this happens after striking gold. We arrived at the Balti Triangle and I got us a bit lost. It was as if the streets had moved around and the area looked more depressing than it had the previous evening. Also, nothing was open. I was determined to find us a good balti, even if it meant going back to Shahab but that place was closed as well. We eventually found a restaurant that was open and there was balti on the menu. It wasn't the greatest balti and there was too much bread served with the meal. Actually, the quantity of naan bread was ridiculous and it could have made a mattress for a small child. There was also a piece of metal in Richard's mango lassi. Meanwhile, it rained outside and the view was ....well, let's just say it wasn't Sydney Harbour. I guess it wasn't a good day for balti.

Ironically, my hotel in the city centre was next to a restaurant called Balti Festival. I guess these days people don't venture out to the Balti Triangle to get the real deal. Still, if you're interested in seeing the actual birthplace of this curry, it's worth a visit. Take any bus towards Stoney Lane and head straight to Shahab on Ladypool Road. Otherwise, good luck with your balti.
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