[Delhi, India] Dinner at the historic Moti Mahal, Daryaganj

This is probably the last post I’m salvaging from Chowhound. Sad that I don’t really have the time to go through most of the 1,174 posts I’d made from 2007-2015, and see what else I’d have liked to keep.


If nothing else, Old Delhi benefited culinary-wise from the India-Pakistan Great Partition when Kundan Lal Gujral, an enterprising chef from what was to become the Pakistani half of Punjab, moved to Delhi and opened Moti Mahal in 1947. He brought with him his collection of recipes and also cooking skills which he’d honed in Peshawar since 1920.

Who’s Kundan Lal Gujral, you may ask? Well, he’s the man who popularised the tandoori chicken as we know it, and his techniques pretty much defined how the dish was to be prepared and served in almost every North Indian restaurant (and some) around the world today.

He was also the man who invented one of my favorite Indian dishes of all time: the murgh Makhani (or butter chicken), with its rich, creamy, slightly-sweet sauce blanketing smoky, aromatic tandoori chicken pieces, besides the slow-cooked dal Makhani (dark lentil) dish so popular in North Indian restaurants.

I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Moti Mahal this evening - at its original Daryaganj outlet - to pay homage to this Indian dining icon. Also, I’d always wanted satisfy my curiousity: how does butter chicken taste like in its birth-place, and do the versions we have elsewhere around the world actually taste like what the dish should?

It was quite a drive into Old Delhi - once one leaves the elegance and space of New Delhi behind. The old city is a warren of tightly-packed buildings in dense, atmospheric neighbourhoods.

Funnily, our hearts skipped a beat at the sight of Moti Mahal - so, we were here at last! This was where historic personalities we read about in our history books had actually came to eat: Gandhi, Nehru, JFK, Nixon, even Nikita Khrushchev.

Our dinner this evening consisted of:

  • What else, but the murgh makhani (butter chicken). Quite a tasty rendition here. We were asked if we’d like the bone-in or boneless version. Of course, we opted for the bone-in one - the tastiest meat resided closest to the bone. It was a good dish but, disappointingly to us, not quite mind-blowingly smashing or memorable as we’d have liked it to be.

  • Mutton burra - meaty, fatty, and well-seasoned. It was certainly better than the excellent version we had at the historic 100-year-old Karim’s a couple of days earlier.

  • Rogan josh: best dish of the evening - perfectly-spiced and not too salty, unlike at many other eating places in Delhi. The lamb-meat was fall-off-the-bone tender.

  • Kadhai paneer: local paneer cheese squares, blanketed with a fire engine-red sauce which was supposed to be “mildly-spicy”, but which we found to our dismay was tongue-searingly hot!

  • Dhal fry: the version here was rather greasy, and much spicier than I’m comfortable with. Somehow, I prefer the milder, almost watery dhal fry I’d had at most places in India. I think, perhaps, I’d gotten used to the South Indian versions we get from Chennai or Bangalore. After all, Moti Mahal’s cuisine is Punjabi - known for its robust flavours, and which tend to be greasier than other regional Indian cuisines.

  • Garlic naan and laccha parantha: marvellous - we had perfectly-textured bread served piping hot.

  • Dessert: gulab jamun - not a must-have here and, as expected, way too sweet for our taste. But it’s very well-made, all the same.

The restaurant manager noticed us taking photos of our food, and asked if we’d like to visit the kitchens. Of course, we’d love to!

The huge kitchen was run like clockwork, with its team of chefs working almost non-stop to churn out the food as the orders came in rapidly as the evening wore on.

Indian dinner time is almost akin to Iberian ones: it gets busier and noisier past 9pm, and reached its peak around 10.30pm-11pm.

There was also live traditional Qawwali music, which complemented the 1960s/70s feel of the restaurant. We were told that, during the restaurant’s hey-days in the 1970s, top Delhi Qawwali singers would perform regularly at Moti Mahal.

Food-wise, it didn’t rise above any other North Indian restaurants we’d tried in India or back in Singapore. I think we enjoyed being here for its storied past, rather than anything else.

Interestingly, we found out much later that this original Moti Mahal at Daryaganj is not related to all the other Moti Mahal restaurants one sees in Delhi, or around the world, for that matter. The reason being that this original restaurant was bought by current owner, Vinod Chaddha from its founder, Kundan Lal Gujral himself back in 1991, and he’d continued to faithfully serve the same menu items, prepared using the original recipes. The other Moti Mahals, on the other hand, are franchises, either managed directly, or let out by Kundan Lal Gujral’s grandson, Monish Gujral.

Address details
Moti Mahal
3704, Netaji Subhash Marg, Daryaganj, Delhi 110002, India
Tel: +91 11 2327 3661


Thank you again for bringing this over. Hopefully some of your other posts over there will be discovered on the Way Back Machine and links posted here on HO.

I’m not much of a fan of Northern Indian curries and Butter chicken is one of my least favorite. I prefer Southern Indian. I was hoping this would reveal a better Butter Chicken, but, oh well. I probably could have survived the night with that bread, just dipping in the gravies and picking at the meats.

And I’d like to spend an evening in that kitchen, watching.

Thank you again.


I had butter chicken at Moti Mahal London (a franchise of the chain by Monish Gujral) a few years ago - it actually tasted better than the one at this original place!
Even then, Moti Mahal London shuttered some time in early 2016.

The nearest I got was the fairly shortlived London outpost. We walked past the site a few months back when we were last in the capital. Fond memories of two excellent meals - my reviews on eGullet, where I playing with my food in those days.


Truth be told, John - Moti Mahal London was a class above the wonky Daryaganj original: in terms of food, service and ambience. Even the butter chicken in London tasted much, much better than the one in Old Delhi.

The funny thing was: the original Moti Mahal is no longer related to Moti Mahal, the international chain, nowadays! The founder, Kundan Lal Gujral, sold his restaurant to Vinod Chaddha, lock, stock & barrel. Hence, Vinod Chadda was able to carry on the business at the original outlet uninterrupted.

But, Kundan Lal Gujral’s son, Monish Gujral, holds the rights to the “Moti Mahal” brand-name, with the exception of the original restaurant in Daryaganj! And the London Moti Mahal was a franchise under his brand-name.

Back in Daryaganj, Vinod Chadda’s restaurant actually has a sign upfront which declares that it’s the original Moti Mahal, with no branches. At the same time, Moti Mahal, the restaurant chain, has at least a dozen Moti Mahals all over Delhi alone!


We have a Moti Mahal in Toronto, but it’s a cheap place in Little India.

The Moti Mahal in Calgary is fancy, as Indian restaurants in Canada go.

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I guess “Moti Mahal” has become a popular name for any Indian restaurateur wanting to start his own business anywhere in the world!

I was just combing over my old posts on Chowhound covering eating places in India - one of the most memorable food items I encountered there was no larger than a thumbnail - the teeniest puttu (steamed rice cake stuffed with jaggery) ever, served as an amuse bouche:

It was from Southern Spice restaurant at the Taj Coromandel, Chennai, India.

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I ate at the original Moti Mahal a couple of times in the mid-1970s. The open-air courtyard was less crowded then, and more gracious than in the photos above. I liked the food a lot, but I was just a youth. What did I know? Since then I’ve eaten at MMs in several locations in several cities and they’ve generally been solid.

The restaurant has led to a myth-making book: Moti Mahal’s Tandoori Trail (by Monish Gujral, Roli Books, 2004). One of the myths in the book is that Kundan Lal Gujral invented tandoori chicken, a myth repeated in Culinary Biographies: A Dictionary of the World’s Great Historic Chefs, Cookbook Authors and Collectors, Farmers, Gourmets, Home Economists, Nutritionists, Restaurateurs, Philosophers, Physicians, Scientists, Writers, and Others Who Influenced the Way We Eat Today (talk about mouthful of a title).

I was skeptical of that claim and looked into it some years ago. The entry under “Tandoor” in Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food discusses the history of the oven and the origin of its name. The linguistic origin appears to go back to Babylonian times, and the clay oven itself seems at least as old as a thousand years. It was probably a bread oven originally, but meats also seem to have always been cooked in it.

In the new translation by Charles Perry of Kitab al-Tabikh (published by Prospect Books under the title A Baghdad Cookery Book), a 13th century Arab cookbook, there’s a whole chapter largely on chicken cooked in a tandoor. These tandoori chickens were stuffed with various things, colored with saffron, and cooked over flat dough that absorbed the drippings. We see not only tandoori chicken in its infancy here, but also Yorkshire pudding.

Gujral may still lay claim to the particular spicing used for his version of tandoori chicken, but not for being “the first to come up with the idea that a whole chicken could also be cooked inside the tandoor.” However here’s an innovation that he can, apparently, legitimately claim (this is from the MM book, and remember the era this is from):


I really envy you - you’d experienced Moti Mahal during its hey-days. I’d also read about old-timer Delhi-ites who reminisced about how amazing Moti Mahal’s food standards were at the beginning, how upmarket and deluxe the whole place was, and how it all started sliding even by the 70s!

I agree with you. I think “invented” was probably used very loosely there, but it certainly made for good publicity!

I read somewhere that Moti Mahal was the first restaurant in Delhi to have a tandoor oven within its premises. Maybe that was what made it so special back in 1947 when it started off.

When I was on a business trip to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan a few years back, I noticed the similarities between their culinary culture and North-east India’s “frontier cuisine”: tandoor was known as “tandir” there, samosa = samsa, naan = non, pilau/pilaf = plov, etc.

In fact, the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, and their Central Asian brethren were likely part of the Mongol hordes which invaded early China, and introduced noodles to the Chinese, as far back as the Tang Dynasty (6th-century AD). In Kazakhstan & Uzbekistan, their “lagman” noodles were identical to our “la mian” in Chinese cuisine.


The samsa in Central Asia also was the prototype to the samosa in India.

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The culinary pathways that you both talk about above are fascinating. Certainly, many of the dishes that people traditionally associate with Indo-Pakistani food are relatively new to the subcontinent and are borrowings and adaptations. That’s the beauty of cuisine. Taking something new to you and making something even newer out of it.

Look what Italy did once it laid its tongue on the tomato.

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