Six young nay older boys, with wisps of hair and cracked voices cycling as the evening rushed towards a clear moonless night. There was absolute silence, reaching a kind of garage, where there were a few petromax burning large, a dozen tables laid out with odd chairs and stools. Silently parking the cycles, came closer to read a board. Decision reached and then everyone counted the ₹ and paise from their pocket in the ring leaders hand. ₹ 5.25 per head. Mind you, way back in 1977 this was a princly sum.

The major autocratic decision reached was ‘That since 3 of them were first timers, boneless chicken was advisable, because it would taste like paneer and they were grouped with other 3. No refund was possible. If you do not like it then eat the chapati with gravy.

Butter Chicken a wonderous non vegetarian item; which is probably the first port of love for all those Veggie Gujju, Maru children wanting to be adventurous. And it was like a rite of passage for those in Gujarat in those times.

There were just 2 kinds of places which served Non Veg: The star of better known hotels, stand alone brands like Volga, Kwality AND the Chilliya (a community from Bharuch which was involved in managing all the resturants across highways and in the older parts of cities in Gujarat). They normally would be near the railway station, and it was sacrilege to even have a glass of water there, given the caste restrictions.

There began the initiation into Non Vegetarian – Butter Chicken for ₹ 3.50 plus 5 phulka, 1 papad and tip = ₹ 5.25. If you had Masala chicken or anything with bone then it was ₹ 1 less.

The journey began: Dropping off grand parents at Bulsar, different chilliya at different time till one was decided upon. Visit to Bombay alone means one day devoted to some of the favourite places like Alfa, Moti Mahal. Soon kebabs, dry chicken tikka etc entered the game with the ₹ 85-90 Turpentine 🙂

College let to more experiments, but Butter Chicken remained eternal favourites; trips to Goa, Mt. Abu led to different experiments, but then that is a story for another time. Seeing off friends who had British and Canadian visa meant a visit to Bombay. The Chicken Center at Kemps Corner became home; as also some of the Chilliya places surrounding Bombay Central.

During this time friends celebrating Eid introduced Biryani, Shami Kebab et all BUT it all came down to Butter Chicken. One had to try it at every new place, so much so that I actually started mentally grading restaurants, chefs based on it.

First Job in Bombay gave one enough time and some money to experiment; but Chilliyas ruled because of the cost and convenience. Second Job in a Star Hotel which had decent to very good cooks. And here tried different ways and different gravies but all called it “Butter Chicken”.

Then Life happened – travelling the country, parts of world realised that there is no such thing as authentic; everybody calls their butter chicken as authentic, but the receipe is from the family; or the chef invented one; or something the customer likes and keeps demanding it. I have had some of the best tasting butter chicken in Orissa and Gauhati, and the worst in CP delhi because the cook was on leave and masalchi screwed it up.

Some findings that I have seen being used to define and differentiate:

Punjabi or Chilliya

PUNJABI: CHICKEN – strips, long thready ones, small ones with gravy – brown, red, tomato, khatti, cream used, with some butter poured at the end. Definitely sweetish.

CHILLIYA: CHICKEN – pieces or at times chicken tikka cut into small pieces, always brown gravy, with oil more than the gravy and 50gms of amul butter. Mostly not sweet.

We had a cook in the hotel in Baroda who experimented with me: Chicken diced, threaded in various sizes and shape. Gravy in red or brown. Cream and Butter. Just Cream or Just Butter.

I had shortlisted the following as my favourites:

Grated chicken with brown gravy, fresh tomatoes, a spoon ful of cream when it was bubbling away. A dollop of butter before serving best had with naan, roomali.

Chicken tikka, done soft and juicy in the tandoor, small pieces; gravy a reddish brown, dollop of butter, before serving, best had with pav, tava chapati.

Towards this, I short listed many places in Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Bombay, Gauhati, Singapore, Malaysia, Delhi, London, Dubai so forth.

Being a tad nostalgic during this lockdown, asked people about their favourite Butter chicken Places in Bombay. The answers were more or less as expected with the known culprits with some unique names also. Here goes…..

  • Goila Butter Chicken – 13 times
  • Pritam Da Dhaba -10 times
  • Khane Khaas – 9 times
  • Sheetal Bukhara – 8 times
  • Mini Punjab – 8 times
  • Moti Mahal – 6 times
  • Urban Tadka – 5 times
  • Copper Chimney – 5 times
  • Gaylords – 5 times
  • Papa da Pancho – 4 times
  • Khyber – 4 times
  • Butter Chicken Factory – 4 times
  • Pals – 3 times
  • Pratap Da Dhaba – 3 times
  • Go Biryan – 3 times
  • Tamak – 3 times
  • Punjabi Kitchen – 2 times
  • Shere Punjab – 2 times
  • Pali Bhavan – 2 times
  • Others – Punjab Grill; Grand Central; Sheesha; TanaTan; Hardeep Punjab; Almond Flower; Kareems; Great Punjab; Masala Kitchen; Bombay Vintage; Konkan Chilly.
  • CHILLIYA – Persian Darbar – 4; Food Inn – 4; Baghdadi -2; Rajasthan khar – 8; Moti Mahal Andheri – 2; Alfa, Bastaan, Safar. Shalimar, Delhi Darbar, Noorani

Places I have eaten in the last 3 years:

  • Goila butter chicken – His own version of butter chicken – there is a story behind this which I will share some day. Mostly it is what he sent, brought over for a party so pardon me for being biased. Ordering at Bandra had not let us be a happy camper.
  • Pritam da dhaba & Gaylords has been quite constant and their butter chicken has been quite consistent, but have always been a visit and dine in.
  • Urban Tadka, Copper Chimney, Pratap da Dhaba are the ordering in places; with sometimes dine in. Urban Tadka is the first preference here.
  • Khyber and Shere Punjab were old favourites when working in town.
  • The others are fine, somebody orders, will eat.
  • Amongst the Chilliya – Rajasthan, Food Inn, Shalimar are favourites more so they probably know me and make it the way I like it.
  • Earlier there used to Sasural in lokhandwala which was superb, Now there is Flags which serves a good butter chicken. Safar, Shalimar around the home are also tried and tested.
  • ENOUGH of BOMBAY 🙂 Pandhara Road, Kwality, CP, Chor Bizzare in Delhi have good Butter chicken; In Calcutta Golden Spoon, Shehnaaz, Dhaba at Ballygunge were favourites…….

So Which is your most Favourite one and would go once the Lockdown is lifted.

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Written by AD
ex waiter, angadia, travel agent, dotcomer, dukaandaar, marketeer, people watcher. appreciates single malt, food, friends