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.