Homesickness hits: bring on the Balti Challenge

Being British seems to make most people assume that you are a raving tea addict. When I talk about the rare times I’m homesick, Canadians imagine that I am craving oceans of Earl Grey, that I am wistfully musing about a pot of PG Tips… but nothing could be further from the truth. Home, for me, tastes of curry – Balti, to be precise. A sag aloo Balti, fragrant with spices, with just the right hit of heat, eaten with a buttery, garlic-y naan bread. Heaven. But, guess what? Turns out that they don’t have Balti in Vancouver.

Ask a curry fan about the origins of the Balti and you’re asking for a l-o-n-g drawn out debate. Is it an Anglo-Indian dish? A Pakistani one? Or is it simply a type of curry named after the shallow handled dish that it’s served in? I think that it combines elements of all those things but one thing I’m sure of is that I’m missing them like mad.

Hands down the best bhaji I've eaten in my life

Hands down the best bhaji I’ve eaten in my life

I was expecting the curry houses to be overflowing with fine Baltis; after all – Brits are everywhere here, one of the largest immigrant communities in fact – and Baltis are incredibly popular back home, but no, no Baltis at all. So I asked on Twitter if anyone knew of anywhere that might help and hurrah for the Palki restaurant who stepped up and offered to try to make my curry dream a reality.

Delighted, I headed off to Palki on Commercial Drive. Unlike many traditional British Indian restaurants, the Palki has a modern Zen-like feeling with plum-coloured walls, water features and a bright airy interior. While I was waiting for the balti to be prepared, I snacked on the best onion bhaji I’ve tasted since Naffees in Leeds in 1989. Crispy, spicy and not a doughy cake like so many are – these are reason enough to pay a visit.

Let the games commenceTheir first Balti attempt arrived and smelt heavenly – but the texture was wrong and it had too much heat. I tried to explain as best as I could what I was looking for to Sharath, the incredibly patient manager, and he disappeared off into the kitchen to discuss it with Chef Shiv Singh. Balti mark 2 arrived and although the texture was better, it was still missing something. I’ll be perfectly honest – I take my hat off to the team here for trying to create a dish that I haven’t eaten in almost 7 months, that they may not have experienced either! Chef Sigh is an experienced and talented chef from Uttar Pradesh and I love that he tried his best to whip up an Anglo-Indian creation, as explained by a British non-chef.

Yes!!

Yes!!

So – third time turned out to be the charm; not too spicy, not too hot, the perfect slow heat and texture – this was the food equivalent of Goldilocks’ ‘Just Right‘! I scooped up a judicious helping with the delicious garlic naan, and savoured the aromatic taste of home. If you’re craving a Balti, or fancy trying one, unless you can get a ticket back to Britain, this is absolutely your best bet. Sharath said that they’d be adding the Balti to their menu – I couldn’t be happier to have made a mark on the Vancouver food scene in a more spicy way.

Thanks so much to everyone for being such good sports and getting stuck into the Balti challenge – go see them & try for yourself.

I was a kind of annoying guest of Palki – who sends food back so much?! – but my views are 100% my own.

Palki Restaurant, 1130 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC V5L 3X2

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