Whose Butter Chicken Is It Anyway?: Unravelling The Origin Of The Iconic Dish

Dive into the history and origins of butter chicken.
Dive into the history and origins of butter chicken.The New York Times

In recent news, a culinary war has ensued between two parties both claiming the title of inventor of Butter Chicken, an iconic Indian dish known for its rich and creamy texture and tantalizing blend of spices, and cherished by food enthusiasts worldwide. Lawyers are running amok with paperwork in busy courtrooms, filled with heated debates to decide whose name ought to go down in the culinary history books — Delhi’s Moti Mahal or Daryaganj. Today, we will delve into the pages of history and explore the origin story, or rather origin stories, of this famous dish leading up to the courtroom battle going on at present.

Dive into the history and origins of butter chicken.
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The story begins in the tumultuous years surrounding the partition of British India in 1947. Amidst the chaos, two men named Kundan fled from Peshawar, now in Pakistan, to Delhi. These men, both named Kundan, would later become central figures in the culinary history of India.

According to one narrative, Kundan Lal Gujral, a restaurateur from Peshawar, is credited with inventing butter chicken. Gujral, who founded the renowned Moti Mahal restaurant, is said to have devised the dish in the 1930s as a creative solution to utilize leftover tandoori chicken. His recipe combined tender tandoori chicken pieces with a luscious tomato gravy enriched with butter and cream, creating a dish that would capture the hearts and palates of generations to come.

Kundan Lal Gujral
Kundan Lal GujralMoti Mahal

However, another version of events emerges from the rival Daryaganj restaurant. They claim that their relative, Kundan Lal Jaggi, collaborated with Gujral upon his relocation to Delhi in 1947. It is alleged that it was during this partnership that butter chicken was born, with Jaggi playing a significant role in its creation. This narrative challenges the sole attribution of butter chicken's invention to Gujral, asserting a shared legacy between the two men.

Kundan Lal Jaggi
Kundan Lal JaggiDaryaganj

As the dispute escalated, both parties sought legal recourse, with Moti Mahal filing a lawsuit against Daryaganj. Moti Mahal's descendants argue vehemently for their grandfather's exclusive credit as the mastermind behind butter chicken. They assert that the dish was conceived in the crucible of their family's culinary tradition in Peshawar, long before they migrated to Delhi. For them, butter chicken is not just a dish but a cherished part of their heritage, deserving of protection from misappropriation.

Conversely, Daryaganj stands firm in its claim, citing its familial ties to Kundan Lal Jaggi and his purported involvement in the dish's inception. They maintain that their trademark of the title "home of the original butter chicken" is a testament to their rightful place in culinary history. The legal battle not only revolves around the ownership of a recipe but also the preservation of familial legacies and the reputations of longstanding establishments.

Moti Mahal's Butter Chicken
Moti Mahal's Butter ChickenThe New York Times
The butter chicken at Daryagan
The butter chicken at DaryaganThe New York Times

As the case unfolds in the Delhi High Court, the intricacies of butter chicken's origin story are scrutinized under the lens of legal inquiry. Witnesses are called, documents are presented, and testimonies are heard, all in pursuit of a definitive verdict that will settle the dispute once and for all. Yet, amidst the legal proceedings, the essence of butter chicken remains unchanged—a dish that transcends borders, cultures, and controversies, uniting people in their shared love for exquisite cuisine.

Whether credited to Gujral, Jaggi, or perhaps a collaborative effort between the two, I am certain about one thing — butter chicken tastes heavenly.