IndusFresh Details

By TPCI | February 17, 2020

The mention of the words ‘tandoori’ and ‘chicken’ in tandem would be like music to the ears of North Indians in particular, in any part of the world. They would even go as far as to say that they were ‘born to love’ this succulent Indian dish, like it’s part of their DNA. The popularity of Tandoori Chicken has gone beyond the Indian diaspora in Middle East and Western countries. It is no mean feat for a dish to transcend borders and gain popularity across cultures, especially considering that it was born less than a century ago.

Science is regarded as the mother of invention, but not all inventors are ‘scientists’ in the way most people perceive. Kundan Lal Gujral was one such inventor, who is credited with the creation of Tandoori Chicken. Gujral came from a poor family and was hired as a help. But being hardworking, he rose up to the rank of Head Chef at a restaurant in Peshawar (in modern day Pakistan). The idea came to him as a sudden flash of inspiration sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s, when he was asked to develop a dish that was lighter than the traditional specialties being served at parties.

He then hit upon the idea of using the tandoor a cylindrical oven commonly used in the region for baking breads. Tandoors themselves are many centuries old in India, and ancient ovens resembling modern day tandoors have been excavated from Harappa sites. Gujral marinated the chicken in yogurt, l1ime and spices and baked it in the tandoor, and the result was extraordinary, to say the least. The dish became instantly popular and is now a signature fare at Moti Mahal restaurant. 

Gujral opened this restaurant Moti Mahal when he returned to New Delhi after partition. Post-Independence, the restaurant garnered immense acclaim with patrons like India’s first PM Jawahar Lal Nehru himself. Today, the Moti Mahal brand has expanded to over 120 restaurants in India and has franchises in Middle East, Africa and New Zealand as well. It is now being managed by Kundan Lal’s descendants. 

Some of the common spices that form part of tandoori chicken are ginger garlic paste, chilli powder, pepper powder, coriander powder, turmeric and kasuri methi. The same tandoori chicken evolved into another sensation that defines Indian cuisine globally – Butter Chicken. Since refrigeration was a problem and the chicken got dry in those days, Gujral invented a rich sauce replete with spices, butter, tomato and cream to place the tandoori chicken. The result went way beyond expectations. 

While this may not necessarily be a good thing, Indian cuisines is often identified by these two exotic dishes in global sensibilities, obscuring a treasure trove of richness that defines the culinary diversity of this land. And as we see today, the tandoor has become the incubation ground for many more popular Indian snacks like chicken tikka, paneer tikka and tandoori pomfret. On their own, or with a dash of local flavour, tandoori dishes now find a place in a number of restaurants across the world.