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When in Birmingham, eat like a Brummie

The city is credited for the original chip butty (potato chip sandwich), balti curry, Birmingham soup, bacon cakes, and a bunch of dishes that evolved in the kitchens of the working-class population that lived here, writes Nivi Shrivastava
Last Updated : 11 March 2023, 19:15 IST
Last Updated : 11 March 2023, 19:15 IST

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Cheesecake with mango ice cream
Cheesecake with mango ice cream
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From steaks to fine cuts, fine dining in Birmingham is an experience to cherish
From steaks to fine cuts, fine dining in Birmingham is an experience to cherish

Just like the ethnically diverse population of Birmingham, the eclectic food scene of this city never fails to impress. It is the second-largest city in the United Kingdom in England’s West Midlands region, and famous for its world-class curry houses and food innovations that attract food lovers from all over the world. From South-East Asian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, French, and Italian to authentic English specialities, a food trail in the city of canals should be on your itinerary if you are planning a holiday in the UK.

Local love

Since its establishment, the city of Birmingham was developed as an industrial town where workers from different parts of the world were brought by rich businessmen to work in factories. As the city’s landscape changed with the influx of workers, the fusion of different cuisines and cultures led to some interesting food innovations that are famous globally. The city is credited for the original chip butty (potato chip sandwich), balti curry, Birmingham soup, bacon cakes, and a bunch of dishes that evolved in the kitchens of the working-class population that lived in the back-to-back houses and worked in the Jewellery Quarter once upon a time.

A must-try British dish in Birmingham is the chip butty sandwich. An easy-to-do recipe, which gets its name from chip fries (deep-fried potato wedges) stuffed generously between buns or bread pieces dipped in tomato ketchup. For a cold, windy day, order a generous portion of hearty and healthy Birmingham soup made of minced meat, and seasonal vegetables served with a slice of toast on the side. The original recipe using beef was said to be invented in the 17th century by British industrialist Matthew Boulton, who would sell this to his workers for a penny after a year of poor harvest. For a typical English breakfast, you may find the staple bacon cake served with baked beans, and scrambled eggs accompanied by a pot of freshly brewed tea or coffee. The bacon cakes are an OG Burmmie recipe with traditional ingredients of cheese and bacon; they taste similar to savoury scones and are paired with tomato ketchup and Worcester sauce. The morning meal comes with a side of smoked salmon or avocado toast followed by fluffy pancakes dipped in maple syrup for a complete English breakfast. By the day, choose a cosy little cafe or a microbrewery to enjoy a quiet drink with the quintessential fish and chips or a delicious key lime pie for a leisurely lunch.

Famous food innovations

Known as the balti belt of the UK, the popular South Asian restaurants here are famous for Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi cuisines that are made using authentic spices and served desi style in tiffin boxes (dabba) or bucket-like pot called balti. The balti or kadai curries (both veg and non-veg) are made in cast iron wok using ghee and masalas, slow-cooked to perfection, and served with large naan bread or steamed jasmine rice. Sample versions of pulaos, kebabs, chicken and paneer tikka masala, dal and rice, samosas, fritters, lassi, and a wide variety of Indo-Pak-inspired dishes prepared just the way they do it at home.

With a strong industrial influence, Birmingham was also a favourite destination for mass-produced food brands. Some of the famous food brands that originated in Birmingham are Typhoo tea, Bird’s Custard, HP Sauce and Cadbury’s chocolate. For families with children, a trip to the famous Cadbury World is a much sought-after attraction here with a first-hand experience in the art of chocolate making — a very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired visit for the inner child in you.

On a food walk

While London was always the hub for royals and elites, the upper crust in Birmingham were mostly industrialists and bankers, who established cultural landmarks in the heart of the city in the olden times. Some of these Victorian-style bank buildings, post offices, and old warehouses are now turned into posh bars and pubs, with interesting themes and menus. A stroll by the busy Corporation Street, Bullring, Temple Row, and Colmore Row will take you to some fine sushi bars, Italian pizzerias, and Mexican fast food joints. The colourful Chinese quarter adjacent to the gay village neighbourhood is the best place for spicy delicacies like Peking roast duck, stir-fried noodles, and dim sums.

The dynamic nightlife comprises fancy dine-outs and modern nightclubs that get alive with groovy music and heady cocktails post-sunset. Perhaps, this is the only city outside London to have five Michelin-starred restaurants that are booked months in advance by patrons. Digbeth, an up-and-coming market lane is where you’ll find the best of graffiti art, bars, eating joints, and daytime food markets selling locally sourced fresh produce. Similarly, the weekly Kings Heath farmers market is the best place to shop for artisanal cheese and sustainable food items.

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Published 11 March 2023, 18:34 IST

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