The Origin Of Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken & Dal Makhani

Once upon a time, in the vibrant streets of pre-Partition India, there lived a culinary pioneer named Kundan Lal Gujral. His journey into the world of flavours and tastes began at a humble sweet-shop in Peshawar called Mukhey da Dhaba, owned by the elderly gentleman, Mokha Singh. Little did anyone know that this unassuming place would become the birthplace of culinary legends.

Kundan Lal Gujral worked diligently at Mukhey da Dhaba, mastering the art of Tandoori cuisine. It was here that he honed his skills and, as his grandson Monish Gujral fondly recounts, invented the iconic Tandoori Chicken that we all love today. Yes, you heard it right, this story includes the birth of the famous Tandoori Chicken.

As time passed, Mokha Singh's health declined, and he decided to sell the shop. It was then that Gujral stepped in, acquiring the establishment and renaming it as Moti Mahal. Little did he know that he was about to create history in the world of Indian cuisine.

Tandoori Chicken Leftovers: How Butter Chicken Was Born

Kundan Lal Gujral was not just a culinary genius; he was also an astute businessman. He realised that the Tandoori Chicken, hanging on the seekh above the tandoor all day, would tend to dry out if unsold. This realization sparked a brilliant idea. He decided to create a rich and luscious gravy using tomatoes, butter, cream, and spices. This gravy would embrace the Tandoori Chicken pieces, allowing them to regain moisture and flavour, and thus, Butter Chicken was born.

The tale of Butter Chicken's creation is equally fascinating. One fateful night in 1947, a group of hungry refugees arrived at Moti Mahal's doorstep, seeking their first meal of the day. The kitchen was nearly empty, with only a few portions of the famous Tandoori Chicken remaining. A Bengali gentleman dining at the restaurant suggested to Kundan Lal Gujral that he create a gravy and add the Tandoori Chicken to it. The idea struck a chord with Gujral, and he worked with whatever ingredients he could find. He crafted a gravy with tomatoes, fresh butter, spices, and added pieces of cooked Tandoori Chicken to it. The refugees were delighted and savored every morsel. Kundan Lal Gujral decided to permanently include this dish on the menu and named it "Butter Chicken."

Moti Mahal Moves To Post-Partition India

During the tumultuous aftermath of the partition in 1947, Kundan Lal Gujral lost everything but his determination to succeed and share a cuisine that Delhi had never experienced before. His culinary skills were his greatest assets, and he founded Moti Mahal in Daryaganj, Old Delhi, along with two partners. Little did he know that this venture would become a colossal success, reviving his life and becoming an integral part of India's culinary heritage.

When India underwent the painful partition in 1947, Kundan Lal Gujral, like many, migrated to Delhi. He brought with him not only the legacy of Moti Mahal but also the delectable Tandoori and Butter Chicken recipes. The small outlet in Daryaganj began to flourish and grow, marking the beginning of an epic culinary journey.

Almost seven decades later, Moti Mahal has evolved into a thriving chain of restaurants, managed by Kundan Lal Gujral's grandson, Monish Gujral. The legacy of Tandoori and Butter Chicken lives on, delighting taste buds across the globe.

The beauty of Butter Chicken lies in its delicate balance of tanginess and velvety texture. It's an art to get it just right, and Kundan Lal Gujral was a master at it. Born and raised in a Punjabi-Hindu family in Peshawar, British India, he embarked on a lifelong journey of flavours, mastering the art of Tandoori cuisine at a young age.

The Making Of Dal Makhani

Kundan Lal Gujral was not only the creator of Butter Chicken but also the mastermind behind another iconic dish – Dal Makhani. Inspired by a suggestion from a diner, he slow-cooked black lentils on the tandoor with tomatoes, fresh white butter, and his blend of herbs and spices. The result was a lusciously creamy dal that left diners craving for more. This dish became "Dal Makhani," equivalent to the majestic status of Butter Chicken for vegetarian enthusiasts.

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With his culinary skills and unwavering dedication, Kundan Lal Gujral's fate was sealed as he introduced Moti Mahal's signature inventions to the world. Moti Mahal quickly became a landmark and a milestone on India's culinary map. It welcomed royalty, elevated curry to a fine art, and pioneered the concept of family dining at a time when women were not accustomed to going out.

This iconic establishment even had the honour of setting up a tandoor at the official residence of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Moti Mahal's staff would travel to Nehru's residence to prepare piping hot naans and kababs for him and esteemed state guests from around the world.

In the early 1990s, Kundan Lal Gujral and his partners decided to sell the restaurant, marking the end of an illustrious era. However, Kundan Lal Gujral's legacy lives on. His recipes, carefully preserved by him, have been passed down through generations. Today, his grandson, Monish Gujral, continues to uphold the traditions and flavours of Moti Mahal, sharing the culinary treasures with people worldwide.

Moti Mahal has grown from a small restaurant in Old Delhi to a modern culinary empire with over 150 franchises in India and across the globe. Kundan Lal Gujral's vision and dedication have left an indelible mark on the world of cuisine, ensuring that the legacy of Tandoori and Butter Chicken continues to tantalize taste buds for generations to come.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Kundan Lal Jaggi, a culinary maestro, partnered with Kundan Lal Gujral in their culinary journey, mastering the art of Tandoori cuisine in Peshawar, British India, during the 1930s. Raised in a Punjabi-Hindu family, Jaggi's passion for flavours led him to work at a restaurant owned by Mokha Singh, where he honed his skills.

The tumultuous aftermath of the partition of India in 1947 forced Kundan Lal Jaggi to leave everything behind and seek a new beginning in Delhi. Driven by an unwavering desire to succeed and introduce Delhi to a cuisine it had never experienced before, he embarked on this challenging journey, where patience and focus became his greatest allies.

Kundan Lal Jaggi's expertise lay in his culinary abilities, particularly in the realm of Tandoori cuisine. His journey eventually led him to collaborate with Kundan Lal Gujral at the Moti Mahal restaurant in New Delhi. This partnership would go on to achieve tremendous success, revitalizing his life and leaving an indelible mark on the culinary world.

The iconic recipes created by Kundan Lal Jaggi, including Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken, and Dal Makhani, have transcended time and remain cherished culinary treasures. Before his passing, Kundan Lal Jaggi carefully preserved these recipes, passing down this culinary legacy to his grandson.

From Dishes To Dispute: The Lawsuit Today

However, in a legal dispute that has now reached the Delhi High Court, the question of who invented Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani has come into focus. Moti Mahal restaurant chain has filed a lawsuit against the renowned eatery Daryaganj, alleging that Daryaganj is wrongly taking credit for the creation of these two globally renowned dishes.

The proprietors of Moti Mahal claim that their predecessor, the late Kundan Lal Gujral, is the true inventor of Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani. They argue that Daryaganj is misleading the public by suggesting otherwise, including the use of a manipulated photograph of the Peshawar restaurant on their website.

Moti Mahal's legal action seeks a temporary injunction against Daryaganj, a legal order requiring Daryaganj to cease certain actions until the court resolves the matter. Specifically, Moti Mahal aims to restrain Daryaganj from asserting that their "predecessor" created these dishes and from using the tagline "by the inventors of butter chicken and dal makhani" across various media platforms.

Additionally, Moti Mahal seeks to prevent Daryaganj from claiming any affiliation with Moti Mahal, whose first branch originated in Old Delhi's Daryaganj neighborhood. Moti Mahal asserts its sole ownership of the trademark "MOTI MAHAL" and related marks, which have been in use for restaurants nationally and internationally since 1920.

In response to Moti Mahal's claims, Daryaganj's counsel has labeled the lawsuit as "misconceived, baseless, and lacking a cause of action," opposing Moti Mahal's assertions in their entirety. This legal battle between culinary giants continues, leaving the question of the true inventors of Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani hanging in the balance. This legal dispute between Moti Mahal and Daryaganj, both claiming the origin of butter chicken, has sparked a culinary controversy that stretches beyond the boundaries of a courtroom. While the courtroom battle focuses on trademarks, ownership, and damages, the true essence of butter chicken's history remains a subject of intrigue and debate among food enthusiasts and historians.

As both sides present their arguments, one thing is clear: the birth of butter chicken is entangled in a rich tapestry of culinary evolution and innovation. Whether it emerged from the kitchens of Moti Mahal, as the Gujral family asserts, or took form during the collaborative efforts with Kundan Lal Jaggi at Daryaganj, its journey embodies the spirit of Indian cuisine—dynamic, flavourful, and diverse.

The dish itself, with its tender chicken, velvety tomato-based gravy, and aromatic spices, has transcended geographical borders to become a global favourite. Butter chicken, often paired with buttery naan or fragrant rice, is celebrated for its balance of flavours, making it a culinary ambassador of Indian gastronomy.

As the legal proceedings continue and the tantalizing aroma of butter chicken wafts through the air in kitchens worldwide, the question of its true origin remains a delectable mystery. Food aficionados and curious minds eagerly await the next chapter in this flavourful tale, set to unfold in the courtroom come May. Until then, the legacy of butter chicken endures, delighting palates and sparking conversations about the incredible journey of a beloved dish.