History Says Tandoori Chicken Origin Is Linked To Indian Freedom
Image Credit: Smoking hot tandoori chicken, Shutterstock

The tandoori method of cooking accounts for a sizable portion of Indian cuisine. Indian flatbreads are cooked in a tandoor, along with a variety of meat, fish, and vegetarian specialities. Tandoori chicken, however, is hard to surpass when it comes to the most popular item on the list. Every year, more and more people join in on the craze. Tandoori chicken is a crowd-pleaser, so it's no surprise that it's one of the most sought-after recipes online. This chicken preparation's flavour, vibrancy, and (of course) nutritional quality make it a fan favourite. But, the origin of tandoori chicken may come as a surprise to many Indian foodies. According to history, its origins are linked to Indian independence. Incredible, right? We hope you'll join us as we delve into tandoori chicken's history.

What's with the strange moniker?

The secret to perfect tandoori chicken is a yoghurt marinade and many spices. The meat is dyed a bright crimson with chilli powder and food colouring. One popular blend of spices is tandoori masala, which combines chilli powder, garlic, ginger, onion, and garam masala. The dish gets its name from the tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven in which it is roasted.

Chicken getting cooked in tandoor

Tandoori chicken's origin and the creator

Kundan Lal Gujral is often credited as the man who first created the tandoori chicken according to some history records. He was a Hindu native to the Indian province of Punjab. Tandoori chicken is said to have been created by Kundan in the 1940s in Peshawar before the country was divided. He dug a tandoor in the middle of his Peshawar restaurant, Gora Bazar. There was a sudden surge in the popularity of tandoori chicken at parties and other gatherings, necessitating the construction of an improvised tandoor to keep up with demand. 

But, in 1947, Kundan was forced to leave Peshawar due to partition. He fled Pakistan shortly after its establishment and landed in India. His mastery over tandoori chicken was his only asset; he couldn't think of anything else and ventured into the restaurant business in Delhi. The meat dish he introduced to his restaurant soon became known as tandoori chicken, and he became famous for it.

In a parallel tale, Kundan Lal Jaggi and Kundan Lal Gujral are credited with introducing New Delhiers to tandoori chicken in the late 1940s at their restaurant, Moti Mahal, located in the Daryagang neighbourhood of the city. They were Punjabi Hindus who migrated from Peshawar and opened the Moti Mahal restaurant. Whereas the parent branch of Moti Mahals was founded by Mokha Singh in the Peshawar region of British India, which is now a part of Pakistan. 

The then-Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a fan of the Tandoori Chicken at Moti Mahal, Daryaganj, so much so that he made it a staple at official dinners. It is said that Nehru made a remarkable move when he gave the proprietors of Moti Mahal a piece of land to help them grow.

Tandoori chicken's ancestor

Tandoori chicken was first made in Punjab before India split into two countries. But it has been around a lot longer than that. The Harappan civilization, which flourished in Bronze Age India, may have prepared recipes analogous to tandoori chicken. The Harappan culture, which lived around 3000 BC, was the first place we know where a dish like the tandoori chicken was created. Archaeological digs at Harappan sites uncovered ancient furnaces that resemble modern tandoors, popular in the Indian state of Punjab. Marinating meat in aromatic spices like black mustard and other powders preceding cooking it in a kandu or oven is described in Sushruta Samhita.

Globalization of Indian Tandoori chicken

Shortly after tandoori chicken became well-known in India, it began making ripples in other parts of the world. Around the 1960s, tandoori chicken first debuted on restaurant menus in the United States. Chicken tandoori was allegedly something Jacqueline Kennedy ate on a journey from Rome to Bombay in 1962. This dish became so ubiquitous that in 1963, the Los Angeles Times published a recipe for tandoori chicken. The same newspaper also carried a similar recipe back in 1964.

Tandoori chicken, its history and its immense popularity only indicate one thing, i.e., a recipe like this can live on for thousands of years. We, hope that tandoori chicken surpasses every challenge thrown at it.