Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

SOME WEEKS ago, I wrote about sushi. It was so pop­u­lar, I said, that it had be­come the new but­ter chicken. To which some read­ers re­sponded: why, what’s wrong with the old but­ter chicken? And sure enough, just as that col­umn ap­peared, I was in­vited by Saransh Goila for a food tast­ing. You prob­a­bly know Saransh. He’s one of the best and the bright­est of a new gen­er­a­tion of TV chefs. But his lat­est am­bi­tion has noth­ing to do with TV. He in­tends to open a chain of restau­rants called Goila But­ter Chicken all over In­dia. The first, in And­heri, should be open­ing around now.

The cen­tre­piece of Saransh’s menu is, as you may have guessed, but­ter chicken. He serves it in many guises – in a biryani, in a bun, etc – it’s fair to say that if you don’t like but­ter chicken, you prob­a­bly won’t go to his res­tau­rant.

Be­cause I like Saransh and did not want to dis­ap­point him, I went to the tast­ing with some trep­i­da­tion. I needn’t have wor­ried. His but­ter chicken gravy was out­stand­ing. I asked him where he’d got the recipe from. He said that it was his own adap­ta­tion. He had grown up on the orig­i­nal, he ex­plained, and men­tioned restau­rants in Ra­jen­dra Na­gar and west Delhi that I’ve not had the plea­sure of vis­it­ing.

A week later, I went to the Delhi Pav­il­ion, the cof­fee shop at ITC’s Sher­a­ton New Delhi ho­tel. (I should amend that. We’re not sup­posed to call them cof­fee shops. They are “all-day din­ing places”.) Though the res­tau­rant serves the

From Pe­shawar to Delhi. From Delhi to the rest of the world. The But­ter Chicken’s jour­ney has only just be­gun

In the 1920s, a man called Kun­dan­lal Gu­jral, along with his part­ner, Mukha Singh, ran a dhaba at the back cor­ner of Gora Bazar in Pe­shawar. They pop­u­larised tan­doori chicken in their lit­tle cor­ner of the world but faced a prob­lem: what to do with the chick­ens that went un­sold?

Gu­jral had the idea of mak­ing a curry, in which the dried-out chick­ens could be soft­ened and served. He in­vented the but­ter chicken sauce us­ing toma­toes, but­ter and cream. The orig­i­nal recipe called for hardly any spices, just a lit­tle cumin, a spoon­ful of mirch, and salt. The bril­liance lay in the skill­ful com­bi­na­tion of toma­toes and dairy fat. (Gu­jral was to re­peat the same com­bi­na­tion to cre­ate the Dal Makhni that is still served by ev­ery north In­dian res­tau­rant.)

Post-Par­ti­tion, Gu­jral came to Delhi, set up Moti Ma­hal and turned tan­doori chicken into the most fa­mous In­dian dish in the world. His but­ter chicken went on to be­come the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar curry.

I asked Mon­ish Gu­jral, Kun­dan­lal’s grand­son, what he made of the but­ter chicken boom. I told him that when I tweeted a photo of chef Vipul’s but­ter chicken, I got a tor­rent of replies. Ev­ery­one had his or her own but­ter chicken place and in­sisted that it was the best. Some peo­ple even claimed that it was a Hy­der­abadi dish and you could not get ‘real’ but­ter chicken out­side of Hy­der­abad.

Gu­jral is philo­soph­i­cal about the flight of the but­ter chicken. He ac­cepts that most mod­ern ver­sions use in­gre­di­ents that go far be­yond Kun­dan­lal’s orig­i­nal. Saransh’s ver­sion, for in­stance, uses ka­suri me­thi. Most other restau­rants use cashewnut paste to thicken the gravy. (I think ev­ery­one who goes to ca­ter­ing col­lege in In­dia spends one whole se­mes­ter learn­ing how to put kaju paste in every­thing.) Vipul sweet­ens the Delhi Pav­il­ion but­ter chicken with a dash of honey. Less fancy places sim­ply use sugar.

Even within Moti Ma­hal, there is no one con­sis­tent recipe. Af­ter Kun­dan­lal died, the orig­i­nal Moti Ma­hal in Darya­ganj passed out of his fam­ily’s con­trol. An­other chain ran many restau­rants un­der the name of Moti Ma­hal Deluxe with­out the in­volve­ment of Kun­dan­lal’s fam­ily. Mon­ish has re­claimed his an­ces­tral legacy and now op­er­ates or fran­chises over a hun­dred Moti Ma­hals all over the world.

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