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Romancing Old Delhi’s Butter Chicken

Unapologetically iconic, Butter Chicken emerged serendipitously to become a global sensation, its tangy, smoky essence capturing hearts worldwide. This culinary marvel marries tandoori-roasted chicken with a luscious tomato sauce bathed in copious butter, perfect for savouring with a crusty naan bread. Its allure lies in the delicate harmony of sweet tanginess and velvety texture making it a beloved comfort food in India and beyond.


Originating in Delhi, the culinary capital of India, Butter Chicken traces its roots to the 1950s, a stroke of genius, it’s said, credited to restaurateur KL Gujral who owned Moti Mahal Deluxe restaurant in Old Delhi’s Daryaganj area, with his partners. Facing the challenge of preserving unsold tandoori chicken, Gujral concocted a simple yet brilliant sauce comprising tomatoes, butter, cream, and spices, thus birthing the iconic dish.


From humble beginnings to haute cuisine, Butter Chicken has evolved into a culinary phenomenon, reinventing itself to suit the palates of its global patrons. This evolution manifests in diverse iterations, from Butter Chicken tacos to pies, to ready-to-eat meal boxes in supermarkets, to pizzas, burgers, and more, all this reflecting its adaptability!


As a purist, I cherish the dish in its original form, with dried fenugreek leaves and garlic-infused tomatoes defining the sauce. I had the pleasure of showcasing this culinary gem on the ‘Great Cookbook Challenge with Jamie Oliver,’ televisionshow in 2022, where I recreated the recipe with the same passion as I experienced when I dined at Moti Mahal restaurants in Delhi, once my hometown.

I would like to touch upon the debate over the comparability of Butter Chicken with Chicken Tikka Masala but I will leave that for another article. In the end, what stands out is that Chicken Tikka Masala is a quintessentially British dish and although Butter Chicken shines brightly on menus across the UK, its Chicken Tikka Masala winning hearts across the UK.


Presently, there is another debate going on in India relating to the origins of Butter Chicken. While the claim of its inventionby either Gujral or his partner Jaggi is currently under judicial consideration in the Delhi High Court, all I can confidently say is that no matter which of the two partners of Moti MahalDeluxe restaurant invented Butter Chicken, little did theyknow that they were creating history!


Join me in celebrating authentic Indian cuisine on Instagram @suki_curries_spices and explore more recipes on my website Pre-order my debut cookbook, "Garnish with Garam Masala," for a culinary journey infused with spice and tradition.


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