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The Curry Quotient

29/09/2010
Chicken balti from Delta Indian Takeaway, Edin...

A Balti too far?

I am not an economist, as a brief glance as my bank statement would show.
So, I would like some help. I want to know more about a phenomenon I have called The Curry Quotient.

Like many Brummies, I am fond of spicy foods from the Indian sub-continent. Too fond, my wife says.

We disagree about spicy foods – a little grit that makes for the pearls in our married life.

But we do agree about the number of Indian, Pakistani, Kashmiri, Bangladeshi restaurants – curry houses to you and me – that have begun to spread beyond the area known as ‘the Balti Triangle‘ in East Birmingham. (A balti is, I understand, a large wok or pot that is used for cooking curries in the Punjab. The term has stuck as the local Brummie name for a curry).

This area, Sparkbrook in South East Birmingham,  is something of a sub-continental culinary ghetto, with restaurants standing cheek and jowl and business brisk. Although there are lots of similar eateries around the city – several considerably better than these – the Balti Triangle has become the destination of choice, especially for visitors.

This is explained by Hotelling’s Law or ‘the ice-cream seller mechanism’, I am told. Some years ago, it was noticed that that ice-cream sellers tended to cluster together on the seafront and that this – somewhat counter-intuitively – was better for business than were they to stand apart, seperated from their competitors.

You can see this working in the aforementioned curry district. People know where it is so, when they have visitors, or fancy a curry themselves, they go there for a taste of Birmingham’s multi-ethnic culinary community. Multi- ethnic, because, until very recently, there was a rich mixture of Italian, Thai, French, Spanish, Chinese etc restaurants in the neighbouring hinterland.

But, not any more. Silk Thai – lovely restaurant – closed down last year. Da Marco: da ditto… and even foodies’ paradise Liaison ceased liaising just last month. This trend continues and most are being replaced by curry houses.

Now, this is great for me, but not for my wife. And, that – as any husband knows – is not a recipe for a happy marriage. Nor for a happy city. A culinary monoculture will, in the end, be bad for the local economy as variety is squashed and bored visitors stay away.

So, does anyone knows what happens when you reach ‘Peak Balti’?

What is the ideal curry quotient – allowing a free market for restaurants but also a plural culinary economy?

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From → Communities, Research

3 Comments
  1. Humorless as I am, I want to point out that you are probably left with the healthier choices in your area (“probably” because it depends to a great degree on the cooking oils they use – and I can smell it when I enter the premises, but not across the Internet…). Italian and French cuisine often have more calories – delicious calories though; of course, freshly prepared in Tuscany, Italian tops everything else. Oh, and I have a lemon grass allergy – so Thai is out for me.

    Perhaps you wife will get into spicy foods if you tell her they are loaded with anti-oxidants. On the other hand, the weather in Birmingham most likely does not warrant spices – in India, etc., they keep foods from spoiling.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

  2. Pauline permalink

    Food for thought 🙂 An interesting read for me – as an economist, and as said wife! True I’m a very reluctant curry eater, but it also seems that alongside the increasing number of local curry houses there has been a decline in quality. And when we do go past these restaurants in the evenings (hurriedly in my case), most seem eerily empty of customers. I was never really convinced about supply creating its own demand.
    For sources of antioxidants, you could do worse than eat plenty of fruit and veg. I do – unspiced.

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