Who invented butter chicken? New Delhi court asked to decide

Owners of two popular restaurants claim the dish was invented by their forefathers

A plate of butter chicken. The popular Indian dish is at the centre of a dispute between the owners of two New Delhi restaurants. Reuters
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The worldwide popularity of butter chicken is undisputed, but the origins of the Indian dish are now the subject of a legal challenge in the Delhi High Court.

The owners of two popular restaurant chains based in the Indian capital, Moti Mahal Delux and Daryaganj, each claim the dish of roasted chicken cooked in a gravy of tomato, cream and butter was invented by their forefathers.

Moti Mahal Delux, which has more than 150 franchises in India and abroad, says butter chicken was invented by Kundan Lal Gujral after he set up a small business called Moti Mahal in Delhi's old quarter with two friends, Kundan Lal Jaggi and Thakur Dass, in 1947.

Our purpose was to revive the legacy of old Indian cuisine which we felt was not being presented properly
Amit Bagga, co-owner, Daryaganj restaurant in New Delhi

The three men worked together at a restaurant in Peshawar, now in Pakistan, but fled to Delhi that year after religious violence caused by India’s partition when the country gained independence from British colonial rule.

Moti Mahal Delux was set up by Mr Gujral's family after the partners dissolved the original business in 1992, while Daryaganj was launched in 2019 by Raghav Jaggi, grandson of Kundan Lal Jaggi, and his friend Amit Bagga.

Darayaganj adopted the tagline “by the inventors of butter chicken and dal makhani” – black lentils cooked in a similar gravy to butter chicken – prompting a grandson of Kundan Lal Gujral, Ashim Gujral, to file a lawsuit challenging the claim in the Delhi High Court on January 16.

“The only question is that Daryaganj is using the tagline, whereas butter chicken and dal makhani were invented by my grandfather,” Mr Gujral, managing director of Moti Mahal Delux, told The National.

Kundan Lal Jaggi “was an associate partner, but my grandfather invented the dishes”, he said.

“Daryganj is a newer brand, whereas everyone knows Moti Mahal Delux has always been into butter chicken and dal makhani,” he said.

Mr Gujral also asked the court to order Daryaganj to stop using its tagline until a verdict is reached, and to remove images of the old Moti Mahal restaurant from its website.

The owners of Daryaganj dismissed Mr Gujral's case as “baseless”, since Kundan Lal Gujral and Kundan Lal Jaggi were founders of the original restaurant that introduced butter chicken and dal makhani.

“It is a well-known fact that Moti Mahal invented butter chicken and dal makhani. Mr Jaggi was the cook and Mr Gujral was the face of the restaurant and used to handle operations,” Mr Bagga told The National.

“The two together started the restaurant, and we have the partnership deed."

Mr Bagga also dismissed Mr Gujral's objection to Daryaganj's tagline and its use of photos of the original restaurant.

“We have a registered trademark that was applied in 2018 and nobody opposed it. Our purpose was to revive the legacy of Mr Jaggi and old Indian cuisine which we felt was not being presented properly,” he said.

The high court has given Daryaganj 30 days to file its response and listed the case for a hearing on May 29.

Updated: January 30, 2024, 10:48 AM