The Butter Chicken Effect

As a lawsuit unfolds over the dish’s origins, it’s time to ask: has its popularity done more harm than good for Indian cuisine?

Chicken makhani, or butter chicken (Courtesy of Amit Panwar)

Mallika Basu


February 23, 2024


11 min

Monish Gujral is sure of one thing, that people have to thank his grandfather, Kundal Lal Gujral, for creating some of the world’s most famous poultry dishes: tandoori chicken and butter chicken. The first happened while Kundal Lal was working at a restaurant in Peshawar in the 1920s. “The owner of the restaurant fell ill and wanted a light grilled dish and tandoori chicken was born,” Monish Gujral shared. With no fridge in sight, Kundal Lal also came up with a novel solution to the problem of leftovers. Instead of throwing away day-old tandoori chicken, he dunked it in a luscious, buttery sauce. 

That dish allegedly became the butter chicken we know today. After Partition in 1947, Kundan Lal Gujral flew to Delhi and started a restaurant, Moti Mahal, in Delhi’s Daryaganj, with Kundan Lal Jaggi and Thakur Dass Mogu. Years later, in 2019, Jaggi’s grandson launched the restaurant Daryaganj, also in Delhi. Today, the Gujral and Jaggi families are locked in a dispute over who invented butter chicken, one that has reached the Delhi High Court.

As headlines about the controversy take over the internet, some truths remain indisputable. Butter chicken has legions of fans and helped develop the curry house industry. However, its success may have come at a considerable cost.

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