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.