30 Under 30 2024

Bone of contention: Utterly butterly useless fight

The bitter dispute between Moti Mahal and Daryaganj over being the 'inventors' of murg makhani aka butter chicken and dal makhani is nothing but laying claim to a common and shared legacy

Rajiv Singh
Published: Feb 7, 2024 03:09:28 PM IST
Updated: Feb 7, 2024 03:32:21 PM IST

Bone of contention: Utterly butterly useless fightMoti Mahal and Daryaganj, the rival restaurant brands are fighting to ascertain who can flaunt the tag of being the ‘inventors’ of butter chicken and dal makhani. Image: Shutterstock

All fights have three things in common. First comes contesting claims by the warring factions. Second is the damage, which is inevitable. And the third is the clear outcome: One jubilant winner and a sore loser. However, there are honourable exceptions, especially when the rivals don’t happen to be spring chickens, and the fight is not for the name or land but for pride. That’s exactly the case with Moti Mahal and Daryaganj, where the rival restaurant brands are fighting to ascertain who can flaunt the tag of being the ‘inventors’ of butter chicken and dal makhani.

What, though, makes the squabble interesting is a barrage of uncanny similarities between both the brands. The biggest is the first name of their respective founders or ancestors. While Moti Mahal was founded by Kundan Lal Gujral, along with two partners, in 1947, Daryaganj is a tribute to Kundan Lal Jaggi, whose grandson Raghav co-founded Daryaganj along with restaurateur Amit Bagga in 2019. The second similarity lies in the roots of Gujral and Jaggi. The descendants and the present owners of both the brands claim that both were original inhabitants of Peshawar.

The third common element is that both worked at a restaurant in Peshawar, which was owned by Mokha Singh. The fourth commonality lies in the fact that Gujral and Jaggi came to India as Partition refugees and started Moti Mahal at Daryaganj in 1947. “In the early 90s, Jaggi ended his ties with Moti Mahal, and, in 2019, we started Daryaganj as a tribute to him,” says Bagga, who, since inception, has been using the tagline ‘by the inventors of butter chicken and dal makhani’ with Daryaganj.

Bone of contention: Utterly butterly useless fightMoti Mahal—which is now run by the founder’s grandson Monish Gujral

Moti Mahal—which is now run by the founder’s grandson Monish Gujral—has now filed a trademark violation suit against Daryaganj. Gujral, for his part, claims that his grandfather was the inventor of butter chicken and dal makhani. Stating that the matter is sub-judice, both Gujral and Bagga declined to comment on the dispute.

Some four kilometre from the Delhi High Court, where the dispute between Gujral and Jaggi factions has landed, is Kake Da Hotel. Founded by Amolak Ram Chopra, Kake Da Hotel traces its roots to Lahore where the first restaurant was opened in 1931. Post-Partition, Chopra reportedly relocated to Delhi and opened the signature outlet in Delhi. “Our butter chicken is totally different from others,” contends Captain Arun Chopra. “We cook our butter chicken the way it is cooked in Punjab. We pakao (well cooked) it,” underlines the son of the founder of Kake Da Hotel, which introduced the concept of saag meat for the first time in the country. “We could have also claimed to be inventors of saag meat. But we don’t do so,” says Chopra, adding that it’s never about the inventor or the first one to make anything.

Bone of contention: Utterly butterly useless fight Daryaganj is a tribute to Kundan Lal Jaggi, whose grandson Raghav co-founded Daryaganj along with restaurateur Amit Bagga in 2019.

Chopra’s take resonates with Sanjay Gupta, who happens to be a regular visitor at Kake Da Hotel. “I live in Gurgaon and come to Delhi once a week to savour butter chicken and saag meat,” underlines the loyal customer who is bemused with the fight over butter chicken and dal makhani. “Who cares who made it first? And who tasted the first version,” asks Gupta, adding that every brand and every restaurant has its differentiated style. “It’s not about the first but the best in the town,” he smiles, as he grips a small portion of naan (an oven-baked flat bread) with his fingers and dunks it into the gravy of butter chicken. “It’s delicious,” he says.

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Meanwhile, Chopra chips in with his take on what makes his butter chicken unique. “It about the ingredients, the style of cooking, and one word which uplifts the taste of the dish: pakao (cook) with love. “Your brand is all about the quality of the product that you serve,” he reckons, adding that one must highlight and share the tradition of Punjabi food and culture. “In the good old days in Punjab, nobody used to charge for daal. It came free with roti,” says Chopra, who takes us down the nostalgia lane. “Food has to be made and served with love,” he adds.

Bone of contention: Utterly butterly useless fightAn Indian food chain, The Zaika King, in Sector 46 in Noida

A few kilometres away is Pandara Road where one finds Gulati, another legacy Indian restaurant brand which traces its beginning to 1959 and is widely known for murg makhani and daal makhani along with other dishes. Reshma Agarwal, a second-year undergrad student from Delhi University, is busy relishing daal makhani and paneer achari. “I don’t know who invented daal makhani. But what I do know is that nobody can make daal makhani better than Gulati,” she smiles. “Can I get some more butter gravy, please,” she requests the waiter. In 2001, she points out, the then British foreign secretary dubbed chicken tikka masala as the national dish of the UK. “So, who invented it? Was it done by India or Britain or Pakistan,” she laughs, adding that McDonald’s, KFC and Wendy’s serve burgers. “But can they claim to be the inventor of the burger,” she asks. The controversy around butter chicken and daal makhani, she adds, must melt like butter. “Let it fade quickly like a winter sun,” she smiles. 

As one drives across Connaught Place and old Delhi, which are dotted with legacy, iconic and contemporary restaurants as well as roadside dhabas (eateries), two items which universally and boldly find mention on the menu card are murg makhani and daal makhani. Rajan Sethi, a restaurateur, underlines the need to preserve culinary heritage. “The real winner is not found in the bickering factions but in the households perpetuating authentic recipes,” he reckons. Attempting to assert ownership over such cherished, nostalgic dishes is a disservice to the communal, familial, and traditional spirit they embody, adds the founder of Ikk Panjab. “At Ikk Panjab, we pay homage to grandmothers who were not just culinary artists but bearers of heartfelt traditions,” he says. The true victory, Sethi stresses, lies in families upholding this legacy, cooking together, and savouring flavours.

Bone of contention: Utterly butterly useless fightTarun Kapoor, owner of balle Balle at his restaurant in Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Industry veterans echo the sentiments of Sethi. “Butter chicken and dal makhani belong to India. The fight over its origin is totally unnecessary,” says Sanjeev Kapoor, the celebrity chef and entrepreneur. Butter chicken and daal makhani, he underlines, are not a plot of land or the Taj Mahal which can be claimed by an individual or more than one person. If one didn’t protect or had some kind of IP rights or trademark at the time of the creation, then it doesn’t make any sense to do so after 70 years or a century. “Shaam Savera is a signature dish created and is served across 5,000 restaurants,” he says. “But I can’t say that I own the rights and nobody else can sell,” he adds.

Food and beverage experts, too, can’t reckon the big fuss about the issue. ‘It’s much ado about nothing. I don't think consumers care about who invented a particular dish,” says KS Narayanan, an F&B expert. In India, he points out, there are a million ways in which each dish is churned out by chefs, and these vary depending on the local environment in which they operate. “Indian cuisine is not dependent on formal processes or clearly established techniques as is the case with say French cuisine,” he says.

Bone of contention: Utterly butterly useless fightMoti Mahal—which is now run by the founder’s grandson Monish Gujral—has now filed a trademark violation suit against Daryaganj. Gujral, for his part, claims that his grandfather was the inventor of butter chicken and dal makhani.

Meanwhile, some 25 km from Moti Mahal’s first outlet in Daryaganj, there is Balle Balle in Sector 29 in Noida. Tarun Kapoor, the owner of the food brand, has another claim to make. “Nobody can serve better butter chicken than us in Delhi NCR,” he says. “We didn’t invent. But we are the best,” he contends.

Now the question to ask is: Who can verify this claim or who wants to fight for bone?

(Forbes India is all set to serve you the untold story of Daryaganj and Moti Mahal restaurants. Stay glued to this space)

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