Exploring Vegetarian Delights in Birmingham: A Culinary Journey

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vegetarian dining in Birmingham

This feature is presented by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

The balti announces itself with a sizzle even before it’s in sight. Emerging from the kitchen in a scorched metal bowl, it’s a spectacle of a curry – a dense, tantalizing medley of spices. Accompanied by a lightly charred, soft naan, it’s ready to be devoured. Forget manners, I dig in while the server is still near.

Birmingham’s food scene has that kind of effect. A melting pot of extraordinary culinary experiences, it boasts more Michelin stars than any other UK city, save London. The Good Food Guide celebrated it as ‘Britain’s most thrilling food destination’ last year.

But I’m here with a goal. A vegetarian one. Being a relatively recent convert, still distinguishing between my courgette koftas and jackfruit tacos, I’m on the hunt for the city’s rich array of vegetarian and vegan offerings. Starting at Shababs, the emphasis on affordable, genuine baltis with over 30 vegetarian options is perfect.

A balti generally means a curry cooked and served in a thin steel bowl over intense heat. It keeps the curry warm, preserving the taste. While rooted in Northern India and Pakistan, the British version — prepared with vegetable oil instead of ghee — finds its origins in Birmingham’s extensive Pakistani/Kashmiri community in the 1970s. “Some of these balti bowls are over 25 years old,” Shababs’ friendly owner Zaf Hussain informs me, followed by an unforgettable tarka dal.

You can’t miss the Andean potato stew at Chakhana, a renowned restaurant.

After a lengthy canal stroll working up hunger, I head to Land, located in Great Western Arcade. Surrounded by bakers, barbers, and bottle shops, this entirely plant-based eatery entered the Michelin guide in 2023. Fitting for Birmingham, the birthplace of the Vegan Society and home to one of Britain’s first vegetarian restaurants, once hosting Mahatma Gandhi.

Land’s tasting menu is a storm of skill and invigorating tastes: chickpea-flour pancakes crowned with harissa and hot sprouts; roasted squash matched with mustard seeds and curried lentils; an apple dessert complimented by malt mousse and black garlic caramel.

In a city hosting over 2,000 eateries and take-outs, my culinary adventure only grazes the surface. It concludes with a trip to The Rainbow pub in Digbeth, the vegan gastronomy of Ba-Ha offering a playful twist on pub classics. “Most don’t realize we’re plant-based until they read the menu,” states general manager Jimmy Shaban. “They’re always convinced.”

The Rainbow, once frequented by the notorious Peaky Blinders, neighbors The Custard Factory, a trendy nightlife venue. Once known for Bird’s Custard, Typhoo Tea, and Cadbury, Birmingham’s food reputation has evolved. Strolling back downtown, I cross Black Sabbath Bridge, pondering if Ozzy Osbourne, who infamously bit off a bat’s head, would dare challenge a roasted cauliflower floret.

More Plant-Based Pleasures in Birmingham

Jyoti’s Vegetarian: In Hall Green, this budget-friendly Indian takeaway boasts excellent masalas and barfis (milk sweets).

Warehouse Café: This casual city center venue offers a fully vegan ‘pay as you feel’ menu of soups, sandwiches, cakes, and even vegan alcoholic beverages.

Chakana: Helmed by Robert Ortiz, ex-Michelin-starred Lima London, it provides South American gourmet dining with a vegetarian tasting menu.

Simpsons: Holding a Michelin star since 1999, it serves a plant-based tasting menu for both lunch and dinner.

Featured in the UK & Ireland supplement, included with the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about vegetarian dining in Birmingham

What is the main focus of this article about Birmingham?

The article focuses on exploring the vegetarian and vegan dining options in Birmingham, showcasing a range of restaurants from affordable balti houses to Michelin-starred eateries.

Who are some of the chefs or restaurants featured in the guide?

Some highlighted spots include Shababs, Chakhana, Land, The Rainbow pub, Jyoti’s Vegetarian, Warehouse Café, and Simpsons. These establishments offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan choices.

Is the article only about vegetarian food, or does it include vegan options as well?

The article includes both vegetarian and vegan dining options, emphasizing Birmingham’s rich culinary scene that caters to different plant-based preferences.

When was this article published, and by whom?

The article was published in the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK), providing an in-depth guide to plant-based dining in Birmingham.

What are some unique or historical aspects of Birmingham’s vegetarian scene mentioned in the article?

The article mentions Birmingham as the birthplace of the Vegan Society in 1944 and the opening of The Pitman Vegetarian Hotel, one of Britain’s first vegetarian restaurants. It also highlights the city’s connection to specific dishes and culinary techniques, such as the British version of balti.

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