In 1947, two men, both named Kundan, fled Peshawar during the bloody partition that carved Pakistan out of British India. They landed in Delhi and soon became partners in a restaurant called Moti Mahal serving food from the Punjab region.
On this much their descendants agree. Where they diverge is on the question of which of the men should go down in culinary history.
The two families both say that it was their own Kundan who invented butter chicken — the creamy, heavenly marriage of tandoori chicken and tomato gravy beloved everywhere north Indian food is served. And one of them has gone to court to try to prove it.
A picture of Kundan Lal Gujral at Moti Mahal.
Before we dig in: Yes, it’s hard to prove that any single person came up with dishes that have become ubiquitous. Also, does it even matter after all these years? Being first doesn’t necessarily mean being best.
But in the case of butter chicken, much is riding on the verdict — money, mostly, but also the legacy of the storied restaurant that the two men began building nearly eight decades ago, a span that covers almost all of India’s modern history as an independent nation.
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