The basic idea behind balti cookery allegedly comes from the nomadic inhabitants of Baltistan/Kashmir on the northern fringes of India and Pakistan in the Himalayan lowlands. Being a travelling people they had to make do with a minimum of possessions, and for cooking they used the large, flat-bottomed metal pan known as a karahi across most of southern and central India, and very similar to the Chinese wok.

As with most food served at Indian restaurants in the UK, the dishes that you will get served if you order a balti bears little or no resemblance to anything that exists on the Indian subcontinent. Invented by curry chefs in Birmingham (popular myth says that the world's first balti was served at Adil's in Balsall Heath), the defining characteristic of a balti is that it is cooked and served in the balti pan. However if you were to get most Indian restaurant chefs to talk honestly they would tell you that they don't cook their balti dishes in a, er, balti dish, but simply transfer it there prior to serving for the sake of appearance.

Whilst in South Wales recently, I visited a bakery where there was a sign:

Have a taste of the orient with our new Balti pasties!

Apparently, the woman behind the counter had even tried to plug this hybrid confection with the words 'That's Balti. It's from China, you know.'

The name of the style of cooking comes from the vessel, the balti, which in Pakistan and India is more usually called the karahi or karai or karhai.

There is also a Balti people in the far north, in Pakistani-controlled Azad Kashmir, but this appears to be merely a coincidence. In their homeland, called Baltistan or (pre-Islamic) Balti-yul, they eat very little meat, and live mainly on root vegetables, lentils, wheat, and barley. Their main dish is a kind of pasta called bal-ley.

The Baltis (the name means 'people of the rock') speak a language related to Tibetan, but written in Arabic script. There are about 370 000 speakers in Pakistani areas and 70 000 in Indian areas.

The capital of Baltistan, an autonomous tribal homeland administered by Pakistan, and also known as "Little Tibet", is Skardu. Their main cultural event is the Jashn-e-Baharan or Spring Festival, at which their Ragi Kar or Sword Dance is performed.

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