Many people will know Andy Munro from his various roles in the Jewellery Quarter over the years, the most interesting one perhaps being when he rejoiced in the title of Jewellery Quarter Animateur. He certainly got things done during that period. His passion for “The Quarter” and ability to bring people and organisations together for the collective good is legend.
I always knew that, beyond his professional work there, he had a personal interest in Birmingham Balti Culture, indeed was something of an expert and I often took his advice about which restaurant in the Balti Triangle was most interesting at any given moment.
Now, in what he describes as semi-retirement, he has written a new book Going for a Balti, published by Brewin Books of Studley, and with a foreword by Local Cultural Treasure Professor Carl Chinn. This offers a history of the Balti from its invention by Asian immigrant restaurateurs, its acceptance by other communities, and it development as something of a cult cuisine with followers and copyists across the country. If you have ever met Andy, as you read this slim but packed volume, you will hear his authentic and very individual voice coming through loud and clear.
He is able to write authoritatively largely because, as a youth, he lived in the Sparkhill area of Birmingham and got to know the restaurants, owners, and chefs as they opened up shop, grew and prospered, in some cases closed down or reinvented themselves. His knowledge is thorough and deep, learned from first principles, real empirical research, as you might say. His passion for curry in general and the Balti in particular is evident and, even as a social document, this is a valuable publication.
Besides the history and reminiscences, there is a useful list of current Balti Houses, a glossary of the various typical ingredients, as well as some sample recipes provided by a selection of chefs. As someone who has recently been attempting to make “the perfect curry paste” I found some very useful information and ideas to try out. As a guide to the Balti Triangle and beyond, this is a valuable little book and something of a Vade Mecum for anyone with a reasonably serious interest in the cuisine and for those who have never tried one but need a chatty and friendly guide.
Over the next few weeks I hope to reacquaint myself with some of the restaurants I already knew and frequented in past years as well as sampling some of the more recent arrivals. I shall keep you posted.
#KnifeandFork columns by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman