It is said that to change someone’s off mood to a lively one; a delicious meal is what is required. If we are to go by this saying, Kundan Lal Gujral should be awarded for spreading smiles and happiness all over the world. He has been one of the most inventive cooks we have ever seen. But what special did he do? No, he didn’t give us any scientific invention but Butter Chicken. Yes, you read that right, Butter Chicken. Not only butter chicken, but he also created other delicacies like Tandoori Chicken and Dal Makhni. All this was only possible with hard work and determination which Kundan had in his armoury.
“Your true success in life begins only when you commit to becoming excellent at what you do.” — Brian Tracy
Born in Chakwal in an Undivided India in the early 1900s, Kundan got some blows early on in his life. His father died when he was just 10 years old. With his father gone, it was his responsibility to look after his family for which he started looking for earning avenues. He then started working at an eatery of Mokha Singh in Moti Mahal, Peshawar. His brilliance began when he dug a tandoor in the middle of that eatery and became the first person to do so. That was when people in Punjab got to taste the Tandoori Chicken. This act of his garnered accolades, and he became a hit at social gatherings, wedding ceremonies, etc.
“It is always the simple that produces the marvelous.” —Amelia Barr
There are many historical dates and years which have had an impact on billions of Indians, but none can match the partition of India. It didn’t spare Kunda either. When the partition happened, Kundan fled to Delhi along with his family. They got a place to live in Daryaganj and from here began his 2nd innings.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” —Joseph Campbell
Kundan’s life was going through a drastic downturn. His future wasn’t clear, either. He had a well-settled road in front of him in Peshawar, but in Delhi, he had to begin again. This new beginning was a bit difficult, but for Kundan who had a talent that could win him recognition everywhere, it was just about taking a small step ahead. He found a new partner in Thakur Das Mago and together they started Moti Mahal in Delhi’s Daryaganj.
The butter delight
While there are many dishes, Butter Chicken stands apart from all and the credit goes to Gujral. One day while working at his restaurant, Gujral had his mind stuck at one question, how to conserve the bits and pieces of tandoori chicken which were drying outside and remained unsold. This led to an experiment of putting butter sauce to the tandoori chicken to rehydrate it. This accidentally innovative idea became a hit and made India move towards being a food hub. The 1970s saw Thakur Das Mago leave the partnership. Gujral was again at crossroads but not for long. His son Nand Lal Gujral made an entry to help the restaurant grow with some fresh ideas. Moti Mahal came to south Delhi, and its various chains were opened across the city. It was the only restaurant, until the late 1990s, which offered Butter Chicken, Tandoori Chicken, and Dal Makhni.
“Believe in yourself. You are braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you imagine.” ― Roy T. Bennett
The duo’s Moti Mahal which started as a traditional food eatery soon became a hotspot for foodies. They innovated with their dishes and created many delicious cuisines in their restaurants like Butter Chicken and Dal Makhni. Kundan was always greeted with compliments like “you have magic in your hands,” and this surely stands true if history is to go by.
Moti Mahal was just not like the regular food outlets for it saw many popular leaders of India enjoying their meals. Be it our first Prime Minister, or the only women Prime Minister till date; both have had their share of enjoyment out there. Former President of India, Mr Zakir Hussain has also showered praises on the brilliant tastes out there. World leaders like Benazir Bhutto, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, have all been there.
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” —Mahatma Gandhi
Kundan Lal Gujral’s story is one which should not be read by the immense popularity he enjoyed but the way in which he reached that level. From being no one in the beginning to being a known personality, he did it all with his perseverance, determination and hard work. Kundan’s Moti Mahal is still going stronger and is now even more popular than ever. His legacy lives on and is being handled by his grandsons.