What ChatGPT thinks about Omar’s

On Monday, I wrote about Omar’s Balti House in Bradford. But before publishing it, I also asked ChatGPT the following:

Write a 300 word blog post about Omar’s Balti House in Bradford, West Yorkshire

So, here’s what it came up with:

Nestled in the heart of Bradford, West Yorkshire, Omar’s Balti House stands as a culinary gem, offering a delightful journey through the rich tapestry of flavors that define Balti cuisine. This renowned restaurant has earned its stripes as a go-to destination for locals and visitors alike, seeking an authentic taste of Pakistani and Kashmiri culinary traditions.

As you step into Omar’s Balti House, the warm ambiance immediately envelops you, setting the stage for a memorable dining experience. The restaurant’s commitment to authenticity is evident not only in its decor but, more importantly, in the carefully crafted menu. From aromatic biryanis to sizzling kebabs, each dish showcases the expertise of the chefs in delivering a true taste of the region.

One standout feature of Omar’s Balti House is its namesake dish—the Balti. Served in a distinctive, wok-like bowl, the Balti is a symphony of flavors, combining tender meats or vegetables with a medley of spices. The result is a harmonious blend that captures the essence of Pakistani and Kashmiri cuisine. Whether you’re a spice enthusiast or prefer milder flavors, Omar’s caters to all taste preferences, ensuring a culinary journey that suits every palate.

The commitment to quality extends beyond the kitchen, with Omar’s Balti House sourcing the finest local ingredients to create dishes that are not only delicious but also reflective of the restaurant’s dedication to supporting the community. The menu evolves with the seasons, ensuring that patrons can savor the freshest produce while enjoying a diverse range of dishes.

In addition to its culinary prowess, Omar’s Balti House prides itself on providing exceptional service. The attentive staff adds a personal touch to the dining experience, making guests feel not only welcome but also part of the extended Omar’s family.

For those seeking a taste of authenticity in Bradford, West Yorkshire, Omar’s Balti House emerges as a must-visit destination. With its rich tapestry of flavors, warm ambiance, and commitment to quality, this restaurant stands as a testament to the vibrant culinary heritage of Pakistan and Kashmir.

I have an interest in AI, and especially large language models like ChatGPT and their impact on my industry, higher education. We are seeing students using AI tools to write assessments, and even their personal statements for their university applications. And I think the above text is a good example of how AI is at the uncanny valley stage – it looks okay on first glance, but a more detailed critique highlights its flaws.

Firstly, I wouldn’t describe this as a ‘blog post’, even though this is what I asked ChatGPT to write. It reads more like a puff piece that you would read in some marketing to promote a town or city as a place to live or invest in.

It talks quite a bit about the balti dishes that the food is served on, although that could be because I mentioned ‘balti’ in the writing prompt. A major issue with AI is that they’re not always able to explain why they’ve done something. But it doesn’t mention the enormous naan breads anywhere – which, arguably, is what Omar’s is best known for.

And there are some things it has plain made up. The menu does not ‘evolve with the seasons’. Indeed, the menu doesn’t really evolve at all; whilst it has been reprinted a few times and the prices have gone up over the years, many of the dishes that are on there were ones that were available 20+ years ago. Also, I’m not sure about the ‘local ingredients’ either.

This all feeds into my concerns about the thousands of web pages currently filling up our search engines with AI-written content. How much of it has actually been proof-read, and is accurate?

In education, AI generated content is an issue for two reasons. One, it’s cheating, in the same way that plagiarism and essay mills are – it’s just that you’re using something written by a computer rather than another person. But there’s a quality issue too. I specialise in doctoral level admissions, and much of what current AI language models generate just isn’t at that level. You tend to get vague lists of things with few references (and sometimes these are made up), and if you ask it for a longer essay then it’ll probably start repeating itself. I’m sure if I’d asked for, say, 600 words on Omar’s balti house, it would have run out of unique things to say and just repeat the same statements in another way.

Most universities are now very much aware of both the opportunities and the threats that such AI models present; Turnitin, used by many universities, can now indicate whether an assignment has been written using AI as well as detecting plagiarism. There are simpler tools available online, such as AI Detector, where you can copy and paste a short piece of text. Indeed, when I put ChatGPT’s text above in there, it said that there was a ‘relatively high’ chance that it was written by AI.

I’m sure these language models will improve over time, and will overcome their current shortcomings. At which point, we may struggle to work out what has been written by a human and what was hallucinated by a computer. We’re certainly not there yet, and I don’t know how long it’ll take to get there, or whether it’ll be like driverless cars which seem to be perpetually ten years away. I hope this blog post serves as an explanation of why I won’t be farming out my blog post writing to AI any time soon.

Omar’s Balti House in Bradford

A photo the outside of Omar's Balti House in Bradford

I’m sure I must have written about Omar’s Balti House on Great Horton Road in Bradford at least once before, although I don’t think I’ve ever written a whole blog post about it. We went there last week with a group of friends, which is an excuse to write about it.

Bradford is not short of curry houses and has repeatedly won the title of ‘Curry Capital of Britain’ over the years. And whilst Omar’s may not have the renown of other curry houses like Mumtaz, or the likes of Aagrah and Akbars which have become chains, it’s one that is held with affection amongst people who have lived in Bradford. Indeed, I’d argue that it’s a rite of passage for students who study in Bradford. I first visited early on in my first year at university, and have been back many, many times since.

Omar’s is known for serving its meals in the same metal balti dishes that they’re cooked in, and for it’s enormous naan breads. No really, they’re claimed to be the largest in Yorkshire and typically measure almost a metre across. Indeed, eating one of these naans on your own, with a balti dish, is a food challenge – and the record is currently 35 minutes having been last set in 2019. Before that, the record had stood for over a decade.

Massive naans aside, the food at Omar’s is good, and despite being a small restaurant they do cater for large groups. They also serve some western food, which is good when you have an eight-year-old who hates even the mildest spicy food.

Ultra Processed Food

Cover images of the books about ultra-processed food mentioned in the article

Something that I’ve become more concerned about in our household is our consumption of so-called ‘ultra-processed food’. My wife has had a few health issues over the past 18 months, including an elevated risk of developing type two diabetes which has seen her cut her sugar intake. But this coincided with the publishing of several books related to ultra-processed food, and has seen us made some changes to reduce our exposure to them.

The books

Before I go into much detail, here are the books I’m talking about:

  1. Ultra-Processed People by Dr Chris van Tulleken
  2. The Way We Eat Now by Dr Bee Wilson
  3. Ravenous by Henry Dimbleby

Note: these are sponsored links, but feel free to purchase these books from your local independent tax-paying bookshop, or borrow them from a library.

If you only read one of these, read Chris van Tulleken’s Ultra-Processed People. Chris is probably better known as ‘Dr Chris’ from the CBBC show Operation Ouch, which he presents with his twin brother Dr Xand (and later Dr Ronx). He’s a triple-threat: a GP who is also a research scientist and a TV presenter, and it shows. He’s able to digest some academic research into an easily readable format, which isn’t surprising when you consider that this is what he does for his patients and his TV audience. But it also means that there’s academic rigour behind this book.

Dr Xand pops up quite a bit in this book; Chris and Xand are identical twins but have different physiques. Chris puts this down to Xand’s time in the USA, where he was exposed to higher amounts of so-called ‘ultra-processed food’, and so he’s ended up higher on the BMI scale than his brother (although Chris acknowledges that BMI is discredited). When they both contracted Covid-19 in 2020, Xand was more seriously ill than Chris.

Over the course of the book, we discover that there’s increasing evidence that ultra-processed food is linked to obesity, and how the food industry tries to downplay it.

How do we define ultra-processed food?

Chris acknowledges that it can be hard to define what ultra-processed food is. The best model that we have is the Nova classification, developed by Prof Carlos Augusto Monteiro at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. Essentially, this splits food into 4 groups:

  • Nova 1 – wholefoods, like fruit, vegetables, nuts etc that can be eaten with little to no processing
  • Nova 2 – culinaries, like vinegar, oils, butter and salt that require some processing
  • Nova 3 – processed food. This is basically anything that’s been cooked, so home-made bread would fall under here. Foods from the Nova 1 and 2 categories are combined to create the foods in the Nova 3 category.
  • Nova 4 – ultra-processed food, which is made from formulations of food additives that may not include any ingredients from the Nova 1 category.

Probably the easiest way to work out if something fits into the Nova 4 category is by looking at the list of ingredients. If there are one or more ingredients listed that you can’t expect to find at a typical large supermarket, then it’s probably ultra-processed food. Things like emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners, preservatives and ingredients identified only using those dreaded E numbers that my mum used to be wary of back in the 1980s.

And there’s a lot of food that fall into the Nova 4 category. Almost all breakfast cereals, and any bread that is made in a factory, are examples.

Why are ultra-processed foods so common?

Fundamentally it’s to do with cost and distribution. For example, a tin of tomatoes that contains some additional ultra-processed ingredients may be cheaper than a tin just containing tomatoes (and perhaps a small amount of acidity regulator). It’s a bit like how drug dealers cut drugs with, for example, flour, to make more money when selling their drugs on.

Distribution is also a factor. A loaf of bread that is baked in a factory may take a couple of days to reach supermarket shelves, where it also needs to be ‘fresh’ for a few days. So the manufacturers will add various preservatives and ingredients to ensure that bread remains soft.

You can bake your own bread using only yeast, flour, salt, olive oil and water. But Tesco will sell you a loaf of Hovis white bread that also contains ‘Soya Flour, Preservative: E282, Emulsifiers: E477e, E471, E481, Rapeseed Oil, and Flour Treatment Agent: Ascorbic Acid’. These are to keep the bread soft and extend its shelf life, as a homemade loaf may start going stale after 2-3 days. This means that a shop-bought loaf may go mouldy before it goes stale.

Other common examples

Breakfast cereals brand themselves as a healthy start to the day, but often contain worryingly-high amounts of sugar. And there’s evidence that their over-use of ultra-processed ingredients interferes with the body’s ability to regulate appetite, leading to over-eating.

Ice cream is also often ultra-processed, if you buy it in a supermarket. The extra additives ensure that it can survive being stored at varying temperatures whilst in transit. It’s notable that most UK ice cream is manufactured by just two companies – Froneri (Nestlé, Cadbury’s, Kelly’s, Häagen-Dasz and Mövenpick brands) and Unilever (Walls and Ben & Jerry’s). There are many small ice cream producers, but the challenge of transporting ice cream and keeping it at the right temperature means that they have limited reach.

I’m also worried about a lot of newer ‘plant-based’ foods that are designed to have the same taste and texture as meat and dairy products. You can eat a very healthy plant-based diet, but I would argue that some ultra-processed plant-based foods would be less healthy that the meat and dairy products that they’re mimicking.

What we’re doing to cut our intake of ultra-processed food

We now bake our own bread in a bread machine. Not only do you avoid ultra-processed ingredients, but freshly-baked bread tastes so much nicer than a loaf bought in a shop. It takes a little more planning, but most of the ingredients don’t need to be kept fresh.

We also buy more premium products where we can. Rather than refined vegetable oils, we buy cold-pressed oil for frying, and I’ve mentioned chopped tomatoes above. Of course, these products cost more, and it’s something that both Chris and Henry mention in their books. It should come as no surprise that there’s a link between obesity and poverty, if people on low incomes cannot afford good food.

And we’ve had to give up Pringles. Chris devotes practically a whole chapter to them, and how they trick the brain into wanting more.

You can download the Open Food Facts app to help decipher food labels. It includes a barcode scanner, and will warn you if what you’ve scanned is ultra-processed food. The good news is that there are still plenty of convenience foods which are not ultra-processed – there’s some suggestions in this Guardian article.

Whilst I haven’t yet given up on artificially-sweetened soft drinks, we reckon that we’ve cut our sugar intake and our exposure to artificial additives. In many cases, we don’t know the long-term health effects of these additives, although we do know that some people struggle to lose weight despite eating a supposedly ‘healthy’ diet and exercising regularly.