Butter Chicken versus better chicken

Shivaji Dasgupta
New Update
Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani

Kolkata: The owners of Moti Mahal have accused Daryaganj restaurant of insincerely claiming the invention of butter chicken and dal makhani. Delhi High Court will decide on this matter, clearly beyond the jurisdiction of Whatsapp courts and whodunit influencers. 

Iconic dishes, across the globe, have their fair share of contested parentage. The Rasgulla wars between Odisha and Bengal were hardly sweet while Lebanon and Israel have been fighting over the origin of humus. Croissants has been claimed by both Austria and France while the Chicken Tikka Masala is arguably a British extraction.

The kati roll is clearly an offspring of Nizam’s restaurant, Calcutta, while the fish roll was the exposition of Bijoligrill Caterers, same city. Tunday Kababi In Lucknow revels in its ownership of the toothless fantasies while many mithai shops flaunt their retinue of timeless offspring. In a woke universe of born-again authenticity, the family tree seems to be at the top of the menu, with roots subject to special scrutiny.

But like so many recipes, this too has a twist. For a wide bouquet of reasons modern customers simply don’t care about reputation, unless served daily with meaningful precision. Brand loyalties are diminishing across categories and the desire for experimentation is taking over with fierce velocity. Dining, whether fine or coarse, is at the crux of this change. 

For starters, we are living firmly in the age of experiences, where evaluation is increasingly based on personal verdicts and peer suggestions. In truth, due to a well-formed habit for information search ( confirmed by a BCG study) and variety-seeking behaviour, the reliance on expert opinions is fast reducing. Add to this a general disinterest in history at large, the flip side of enormous confidence in the here and the now. Perhaps, because so many of us are first-generation affluent, not privy to generational affections expressed as active nostalgia.

As per industry data, there were 2,51,504 registered restaurants in India, circa 2024. Swiggy reportedly has more than 2 lakh eateries on the roster while the Zomato figure exceeds 3 lakhs. Indian QSRs are expected to grow at a CAGR in excess of 20 per cent till 2025 and the food service market is tipped to touch nearly USD 80 billion by 2028. Needless to say, much of this onward journey is being shaped by skilful adapters of global and local traditions, not just the nominated pioneers. By blending originality with authenticity, building refreshing value equations.

A prolific past must have sensorial relevance to the racy present - valid organically for historical monuments but not necessarily for food and beverages. Indri, rated the number one single malt from India, and its many accomplished peers confirm that even venerable Scotland is no longer the uncontested spiritual source, GI tags notwithstanding. Chinese food, as we adore it, has clearly moved forward from Mandarin and Szechuan roots to make peace with Indian taste buds, in terms of spices and flavours.

Often, places serving the so-called real thing, unfiltered by modern preferences, find limited custom from a slender cohort of devotees. Those still thriving are constantly striving to innovate, whether age-old QSR honchos like KFC and Mcdonalds or homegrown heroes like Paradise Biryani from Hyderabad (valued at over USD 50 million). To succeed, Balaram Mullick of Calcutta has redefined the mithai buying experience while Karachi Bakery, Hyderabad has embraced new age challenges with much elan.

In every instance of successful continuity, the focus has clearly been on obsessive customer centricity, acknowledging the pioneering stature as a potentially differentiated marketing tool and not an entitlement that will guarantee custom. In the best cases, a tool that can perform multiple roles, on concurrent tracks. A source of inspired crystal ball gazing with lengthy credentials, the acumen to handle diverse demand scenarios, an assembly line of expert creators and quite undeniably, a heritage value that is genuine and not a fake or more alarmingly, a deep fake. Equally significantly, many such continuities have been empowered by professional management or next-gen commitment, with a proven capacity to extract the essence of lineage. 

Sunil Gavaskar famously said that whatever be retrospective tallies, every batter begins each innings on zero. This commitment to taking fresh guard must extend to businesses, as every year presents unforeseen challenges and untarnished opportunities, including googlies like Covid. Butter chicken and dal makhani, the crown jewels of the piece, have enjoyed multiple interpretations across the universe, from rustic rigour to suave sensitivity. A brief glance at the customer as well as expert ratings, spontaneous and greased, will suggest many candidates for the winning row, new and old. First movership easily rests as a historical detail, not a balance sheet stimulant. 

A simple but soulful tip to the warring restaurants is to focus on making better chicken. Indeed, the only route to analogue hearts and digital wallets in Daryaganj and every other location in choosy India.