City Food – Butter Chicken, Moti Mahal Restaurant
The made-in-Delhi dish.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
If Delhiites are sometimes called fat, aggressive and lascivious, then butter chicken must share a part of the blame. It originated in the 1950s at the Moti Mahal restaurant in Daryaganj, a neighborhood skirting the Walled City. Famed for their tandoori chicken, the cooks there used to recycle the leftover chicken juices in the marinade trays by adding butter and tomato. Once this sauce was tossed around with tandoor-cooked chicken pieces, and butter chicken was born. The dish appealed to Delhiites and was quickly lapped up by the rest of the country, and the world.
Today, eating butter chicken in Moti Mahal is like reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The play’s dialogues have lent so many popular phrases to the English language that if you read Hamlet for the first time, you feel you have read it before. In the same way having Moti Mahal’s butter chicken for the first time in your life may give rise to the déjà vu feeling—‘Have I tasted it before?’
The dish has spread from Daryaganj’s landmark restaurant to every self-respecting non-vegetarian eatery in Delhi, over to the highway dhabas of north India. Best had with tandoori roti or naan, butter chicken is extremely creamy, with a thick, red tomato gravy. It tastes slightly sweet and the sauce percolates so deeply into the chicken pieces that they become juicy and soft, instantly melting in your mouth. The dish is so extravagantly buttery, that, to a calorie-conscious diner, it may seem as gross as the showiness of nouveau riche Delhiites. A gourmand, however, does not care. The butter chicken’s addictive quality makes it difficult for him to stop before licking all the gravy off the plate.
Where Moti Mahal, 3703, Netaji Subhash Marg, Daryaganj Phone 23273011, 23273661
Cooking butter chicken in Moti Mahal
Stick the bird down into the tandoor
Now, let it roast
Now, cut it into pieces
Now, to the frying pan
Now, soused it in the tomato-based gravy
Now, keep stirring
Now, to the serving dish