Delhi High Court will decide who invented butter chicken and dal makhni

Both brands which have often sparred in the media on the origins of the dishes, were founded in Darya Ganj

January 21, 2024 06:53 am | Updated 07:50 am IST

The plea was filed by the owners of Delhi’s Moti Mahal restaurant accusing Daryaganj restaurant of misleading people by claiming to be the inventors.

The plea was filed by the owners of Delhi’s Moti Mahal restaurant accusing Daryaganj restaurant of misleading people by claiming to be the inventors. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Who invented butter chicken and dal makhni? The Delhi High Court is set to get the answer to this question as it has accepted the plea filed by the owners of Delhi’s Moti Mahal restaurant accusing Daryaganj restaurant of misleading people by claiming to be the inventors. The applicant, Rupa Gujral, said the two recipes belonged to her family. Both brands which have often sparred in the media on the origins of the dishes, were founded in Darya Ganj, a neighbourhood rich in Mughal and colonial history.

According to the applicant, the late Kundan Lal Gujral, her father-in-law, began to make this dish in 1920 in Peshawar, now in Pakistan. Mr. Gujral moved to Delhi and opened the first restaurant called Daryaganj, in the locality of the same name.

Tandoori specialities

“In and around 1948, Mr. Gujral also opened a hotel by the name Moti Mahal Hotel in Darya Ganj. By then, this restaurant’s tandoori specialities — which Mr. Gujral had learnt in Pakistan — had become a must on Prime Minister Nehru’s banquets, dinners, and meals for political meets,” the 2,700-page suit filed in the Delhi High Court claimed.

It was in 1975 that Mr. Gujral decided to expand his business to several other parts of Delhi. The applicant claimed that it was her father-in-law who had invented the makhani sauce, which prevented the dehydration of food.

“....back in early days the unsold leftovers of chicken could not be stored in refrigeration, Mr. Gujral began worrying about his cooked chicken drying out, and thus he invented a sauce with which he could rehydrate them. His invention was ‘the makhani butter sauce’ in which the chicken was simmered in a luscious gravy with tomatoes, butter, cream, and some spices to help them retain moisture. This is how Butter Chicken was created which later traversed the globe,” the suit said, adding that he then applied the same recipe to black lentils, which gave birth to dal makhani.

Refuting claims

Refuting the claims of the Gujral family, the owners of Daryaganj say it was the late Kundan Lal Jaggi who came up with the idea of the two recipes. Appearing for the respondents, Senior Advocate Amit Sibal maintained that allegations against his client are “baseless and lacking a cause of action”.

He also claimed that the first Moti Mahal restaurant was jointly established in Peshawar by Kundan Lal Gujral and Kundan Lal Jaggi. “....hence the defendants are equally entitled to use this photograph (one of Nehru with Kundan Lal Gujral),” the counsel of Daryaganj submitted in court. Several photographs have been presented in court, which the Gujral family claims the Jaggi family cannot use.

The matter was heard by the Single Bench of Justice Sanjeev Narula on January 16. The court issued summons to Daryaganj restaurant owners and asked them to file their written response in a month. The court also issued notice on Moti Mahal’s application for interim injunction; the case will be heard next on May 29.

Battles around food

This is not the first time legal battles have been fought around food. In 2018, Justice Jayant Nath, in his order ruled that the Tunday Kababi name belongs exclusively to Mohammad Usman, the grandson of Haji Murad Ali ‘Tunday’ in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The court heard the case between M.U. Eating Point, owned by Mr. Usman and a competing food chain, Lucknow Wale Tunday Kababi, owned by Mohammad Muslim, who claimed to be the maternal grandson of the Mr. Ali.

In 2018, in a trademark suit, Kake-Da-Hotel in Delhi’s Connaught Place had moved the court against Nashik-based Kaka-Ka Hotel, demanding the latter refrain from using the Kaka-ka or Kake-da. The court directed the Nashik outlet not to use either.

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