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Butter Chicken

Updated: Mar 27

Poor Butter Chicken is embroiled  in a courtroom drama. The issue before the court is who  really invented the butter chicken? Five years back, a new chain of restaurants called Daryaganj  started in Delhi with the tagline, ‘Original creators of Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani‘.

Moti Mahal, the restaurant chain objected to this claim and filed a lawsuit  in Delhi High court in January 2024 claiming to be the original inventors of both the dishes. The high court has admitted the case and asked Daryaganj to file its reply in a month’s time. The next hearing is scheduled for 29th May 2024.

Both the parties agree that the recipe for both butter chicken and dal makhani was created at Moti Mahal. But the issue of contention is, by whom, when and where. Let us first have a look at the story of Moti Mahal. In the pre-partition days about hundred years ago, there was a small eating joint in Peshawar by the name of , ‘ Mukhey da dhaba’ owned by one elderly gentleman, Mukha Singh. This is where a young, energetic Kundan Lal Gujral worked.

According to his grandson, Monish Gujral, it was here that he helped invent the Tandoori Chicken that we all love today. Slowly, Mukha Singh’s health deteriorated and he decided to sell the dhaba . Gujral had good business sense and made an

offer to the owner ,who agreed and eventually sold the shop to Gujral . Gujral gave a new name to Dhaba , Moti Mahal . Gujral  now diverted all his attention towards improving the quality of Tandoori chicken. Monish says his grandfather observed that the Tandoori Chicken hanging on the seeks above the tandoor all day tends  to dry out if unsold. He then came up with the genius idea of creating a basic gravy with tomatoes, butter, cream and some spices to immerse the Tandoori Chicken pieces in, helping them regain moisture and become palatable again. And thus, was born the Butter Chicken.

But Daryaganj side has a different tale to tell. If you remember, Daryaganj  appeared on Shark Tank show last year in season 2 . I watched the programme where Raghav Jaggi appeared as founder of Daryaganj  along with his two team members. He had a different story to narrate . He said , his grandfather Kundan Lal Jaggi shifted to Delhi from Peshawar

in 1947 . He started Moti Mahal  in Daryaganj in partnership with two others.

One night, as Jaggi was closing the restaurant, a few guests dropped in demanding food . Jaggi was in a fix, he had some pieces of Tandoori chicken as left overs. His partner suggested that he should make a gravy of tomatoes and butter with condiments and put tandoori chicken pieces in it. The dish was a smashing hit and became popular all over the world. Dal makhani was also created with same gravy. Raghav said his grandfather died in 2018 and his tribute to Kundan Lal Jaggi’s culinary skills, he opened Daryaganj chain in Delhi.

But Gujral family is not buying this argument saying a classic recipe like butter chicken and dal makhani cannot be created overnight.

Now, Delhi High court has to decide who created these lip smacking dishes. The first hearing took place on January 16 .

Moti Mahal's narrative credits its predecessor, the late Kundal Lal Gujral, with the creation of these dishes post partition.

On the other hand, Daryaganj restaurant, council refuted these claims, labelling the lawsuit as "baseless."

Bar and Bench of the court reported that Daryaganj restaurant argued that there had been no false representation and that the original Moti Mahal restaurant was a joint venture between the predecessors of both parties - Gujral of Moti Mahal and Jaggi of Daryaganj - in Peshawar, Pakistan. Refuting the claims of the Gujral family, the owners of Daryaganj say it was the late Kundan Lal Jaggi who came up with the idea of the two recipes. Appearing for the respondents, their council maintained that allegations against his client are “baseless and lacking a cause of action”.

He also claimed that the first Moti Mahal restaurant was jointly established in Peshawar by Kundan Lal Gujral and Kundan Lal Jaggi. “....hence the defendants are equally entitled to use this photograph (one of Nehru with Kundan Lal Gujral),” the counsel of Daryaganj submitted in court. Several photographs have been presented in court, which the Gujral

family claims the Jaggi family cannot use .

Who invented butter chicken and dal makhani? The Delhi High Court is set to get the answer to this question as it has accepted the plea filed by the owners of Delhi’s Moti Mahal restaurant accusing Daryaganj restaurant of misleading people by claiming to be the inventors. The applicant, said the two recipes belonged to Gujral   family.

Monish Gujral, the grandson of Mr. Gujral, said at his south Delhi restaurant the family was seeking an injunction against Daryaganj  . It is also claiming damages  worth about two crore rupees  for copyright infringement and unfair competition.

“It’s recorded history that my grandfather invented the tandoori chicken, butter chicken and dal makhani,” Monish said  , “For so many years there have been recorded awards and interviews with my grandfather where the Jaggi family was also present. Why did they not take credit or say they also deserved credit?”   

There are many people like me who have tasted butter chicken cooked in original recipe which can never be replicated now. Reason being that in earlier times, tandoori chicken was cooked on coal fired ovens which gave butter chicken smoky flavour . These were banned by government to cut down on pollution. Restaurants now use steel ovens run on gas and that smoky flavour is missing.

Daryaganj offers two kinds of butter chicken — the “Original  Butter Chicken, Secret Recipe of 1947” and “Today’s Butter Chicken.” The gravy of the original has a coarser texture, evoking a time before modern kitchen appliances, while the newer dish has a silkier, richer gravy. For most of customers, what is important is taste ,quality and aroma of the dish. He is not much bothered about who is first but who is best. I recently visited Daryaganj restaurant along with my wife and daughter . Ambience was good and food was tasty. We ordered butter chicken , dal makhani and Amritsar’s fried fish. Photographs of dignitaries who dined at Moti Mahal  are displayed on its walls .

The restaurant boasts of tagline, original creators of butter chicken and dal makhani .

  • Daryaganj, at present has been able to convince many customers about its claim. At one time, I was also misled into thinking that perhaps, Moti Mahal has relaunched itself as Daryaganj chain. There must be many more like me who thought likewise. So the truth must come out as to who is real inventor of these iconic dishes , famous all over the globe. And of course, people have the right to know who actually created such mouth-watering  dishes. One thing is certain,  these dishes were created at Moti Mahal . The court will decide if it was Kundan Lal Gujral or Kundan Lal Jaggi , Daryaganj has moved Delhi Highcourt, against certain remarks allegedly made by the proprietors of Moti Mahal in an interview on the origin of butter chicken . Daryaganj has raised concerns regarding alleged statements in the article , first published in the Wall Street journal and than in some other web sites . Daryaganj claimed that the article had negative impact on reputation of the restaurant . Delhi highcourt asked proprietors of Moti Mahal to submit an affidavit , affirming their efforts to distance themselves from such statements .

I first savoured this dish almost seventy years ago at the age of ten. I remember my maternal uncle ,Ram Nath ,a connoisseur of non-vegetarian food , took me to Daryaganj, in old Delhi, to buy me a pair of shoes. It was a made to order shoe shop of one of his business clients. I was made to sit on a stool, measurements of my feet were taken and he promised to deliver shoes in a week. As we left the shop ,it was lunch time. Nath Mamu asked me , Harish, have you ever tasted butter chicken. I shook my head meaning no. Let me take you to a hotel which has created this mouth-watering dish . It is called butter chicken. This foodies heaven was Moti Mahal where presidents and prime ministers had dined. As we sat on a table , my uncle placed order and said ,You know Harish, besides butter chicken, I have also ordered Dal Makhani ,another creation of Moti Mahal . I was like Alice in wonderland . It was my first exposure to a proper  restaurant . Both the dishes were fantastic and out of this world . But I had never tasted anything like butter chicken. Three cheers to Moti Mahal for creating such iconic dishes.


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