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.
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.
Their 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.
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