Balti is one of those curries that is a clash of cultures and cuisine. There’s no nicer feeling than having a sizzling ‘mini wok’ shaped dish delivered to your table that’s full of herbs, fragrant spices (and a fair bit of oil). If you are looking to order and are wondering how hot is Balti, here’s the place to find the answer. Read on to find out more…
In a Rush? | Here’s the Answer to How Hot is Balti
Balti is definitely a medium curry. If you were to put it on the scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the hottest, a Balti would sit somewhere in the region of 4 or 5. The heat can vary between individual restaurants, but traditionally it isn’t what most would regard as a ‘spicy’ dish. Balti is an intensely flavoured dish that is part stir fry and part curry. It is traditionally served in a round ‘wok’ shaped metal bowl with two handles.
What is a Balti?
As with other curries like a Bhuna and a Jalfrezi, Balti actually refers to the cooking process more than the curry itself. The word ‘Balti’, loosely translated from Hindi, means ‘bucket’, Which may be something to do with the dish in which it is normally served.
A Balti bowl looks a little like a small wok, but instead of having one long handle, it has two small circular handles on either side of the dish. In most restaurants, this dish is only used to serve the curry, but some places do actually cook the curry in the dish in which it is served.
Interestingly, the Hindi word ‘Balti’ is a mispronunciation of the Portuguese word ‘balde’, which also means bucket. During the 16th century, the Portuguese established colonial rule in areas of India. The term ‘vindaloo’ also has its roots in the Portuguese language as it means ‘wine and potatoes’!
Balti curry is normally a light brown to orange colour with a loose, medium-spiced gravy. It tends to be quite an oily curry that is pretty tangy. Unlike a madras or a bhuna, you’ll find plenty of vegetables, such as tomato, green and red peppers and a few chopped chilli peppers.
Balti is a very popular dish in UK Indian restaurants. In fact, there is an area in Birmingham that has been called ‘the Balti Triangle’ due to the proliferation of restaurants serving the dish. Some even call Birmingham ‘the home of the balti’! And claim it was invented there…
What are the Ingredients in a Balti?
There are plenty of lovely ingredients in a Balti Curry. It is packed full of different flavours. Each chef has his own recipe, but generally, you’ll find: -
- Quite a lot of vegetable oil
- Garlic and ginger
- A small amount of chilli
- Bell peppers
- Tandoori paste
- A fragrant curry powder mix
- Garam Masala
- Meat such as chicken or lamb (it can also be vegetarian)
- A little vinegar and/or lime juice
- A rich base gravy.
You’ll notice from the above that chilli does feature. Still, it isn’t present in excessive amounts like the scorching phaal or fiery madras. So, while it isn’t a ‘cool’ curry, it shouldn’t be too much if you don’t like spice.
Consider it about the same heat as a strongly spiced chilli con Carne.
What does Balti Taste Like?
Balti is really tasty. It has quite a few textures and tastes going on, and it is great if you like both vegetables and meat in your curry.
You’ll notice that it features quite a lot of tangy elements. In addition, you’ve got a hint of acidity from fresh tomatoes, the piquant sharpness of the bell peppers, plus a little hint of sourness brought about by the inclusion of vinegar and lime juice.
The meat in the dish is precooked until tender, so think of a Balti as a little bit of an Indian spiced stew crossed with a stir fry. There tends to be a lot of sauce, so it is perfect when paired up with a light and fluffy naan bread.
The sauce tends to be quite loose, you have the soft texture of the meat, but this contrasts with the vegetables, which normally retain a little bit of crunch and bite.
The other notable thing about Balti is that it is the ideal curry for vegetarians. The meat kind of takes a back seat in this dish and can be easily replaced. You’ll find that both paneer or cauliflower both make a tasty substitute.
If you are bored of suffering the next day or want something that isn’t just meat and a sauce, then a Balti could be for you!
Here’s a quick video of someone making what I’d consider to be a pretty authentic Balti… You can see the dishes when he serves the curry!
Is a Balti Dish Hot?
This question can mean a couple of things, so I am going to run through them both.
As I said above, in certain restaurants, a Balti is cooked in the dish it is served in, so if we are talking actual temperature, then the dish can be pretty hot!
With regards to spiciness, Balti isn’t traditionally regarded as a ‘spicy’ curry. There is a little chilli in there, but it is added more for flavour than to create any meaningful kind of heat.
If you want to feel like you are having a ‘proper curry’ but don’t want to spend the next 24 hours feeling the after-effects, then ordering a nice chicken Balti would be a wonderful choice.
What is the Difference Between a Curry and a Balti?
A Balti is still ‘a curry’. The main difference is how it is served. Balti is nearly always served in a round bowl that is made of metal. The bowl is curved with a flat bottom and is shaped like a small wok, with a metal handle on either side.
If you are cooking an Indian dinner party, a curry presented in a Balti bowl adds a real ‘authentic’ look even if you aren’t serving a Balti curry. I tend to use something like these Balti bowls, they are pretty great value and easy to clean too!
The other thing that differentiates a Balti is the spices used when cooking and the inclusion of lots of crunchy vegetables.
What Curry is Similar to a Balti?
Ah well, there is no pleasing some people.
However, let me offer you a great alternative… But you will have to be brave.
You’ll find a jalfrezi is very similar to a Balti in ingredients and texture. Like a Balti, it contains lots of crunchy peppers in a rich sauce that is quite heavily spiced.
But, and it’s a big but…
Jalfrezi can be pretty spicy, so it may be worth asking for it to be made less spicy if you order from a restaurant. On the other hand, if you are making it yourself, make sure to cut back on the number of chillis! Or use one of my tips to cool curry right down!
How hot is Balti? Actually, not that hot. It is toward the lower end of ‘medium’ and is a curry that is more about flavours and textures than heat. It does contain a little bit of chilli, but there are no additions (like fearsome chilli powder). It’s a great dish to try, and if you are eating out, it is a little bit different from your ‘standard’ curry.
If you are worried about heat, don’t worry! Instead, why not check out my article on the mildest curries right here?