The History of Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori chicken is delicious and everyone knows it’s a dish popular all over the world. But where did it originate? We find out.

tandoori chicken was first introduced by Kundan in Peshawar

Tandoori chicken tastes wonderful and anyone who has tried it can relate to that. It can be easily found whether you live in the UK or in any part of South Asia.

The spicy marinade which coats the chicken gives it a distinct flavour, but the yoghurt balances it out to prevent it from being overly spicy.

It also gives off a smoky flavour which is due to the chicken being traditionally cooked in a tandoor. This makes this dish unique to other Desi chicken recipes.

If we look back at the origin of tandoori chicken there is so much that we don’t know. There is a lot more to it than just the taste.

Tandoori chicken is one of the most commercially available meat dishes throughout South Asia.

While there are a number of other well-loved dishes such as keema and tikka, this is one which is very popular among South Asian people.

Tandoori chicken is not just delicious but is a sign of cultural integration, historically speaking.

How much is there to know about tandoori chicken? DESIblitz explores the rich history of tandoori chicken along with its worldwide popularity.

Origin of the Tandoor

The History of Tandoori Chicken - tandoor

It is said that the origins of the tandoor date back to 2,500-2,600 BCE. The earliest evidence was found in Harappa and Mohenjodaro, two key sites part of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. How does such an ancient method survive to this day?

The answer is very simple: the concept and creation of the tandoor.

In ancient times, the tandoor was a cylindrical clay pot made in all kinds of shapes and sizes. The remarkable quality of the pot was that it was able to keep the heat trapped inside.

The heat is generated by a charcoal or wood fire which burns within the tandoor itself. This exposes the food to radiant heat and gives the food a smoky flavour.

They can also become extremely hot as temperatures can reach 480°C.

This unique ability of tandoor is pretty much the same as that of an oven. It is even safe to say that an oven and tandoor work pretty much the same way.

To this day, tandoors are used extensively throughout India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other parts of Asia.

The tandoor is not limited to chicken. They are also commonly used for cooking naan and Khameeri roti.

People in rural areas prefer to use a tandoor because the supply of gas is difficult to come across. It also allows multiple food items to be prepared all at once.

The Origin of Tandoori Chicken

The History of Tandoori Chicken - Kundan Lal Gujral

The origin of tandoori chicken has been a topic of debate for many historians. Innovations in tandoori chicken cooking are said to be have been developed by Kundan Lal Gujral.

Many believe that tandoori chicken was first introduced by Kundan in Peshawar before partition in 1947.

Kundan was the first to dig a tandoor right in the middle of his eatery in Gora Bazaar, Peshawar.

Here the culinary art of making tandoori chicken was devised, which became very successful.

The demand for tandoori chicken at social gatherings and events grew quickly, requiring the use of an improvised tandoor.

But in 1947, partition drove Kundan away from Peshawar, forcing him to flee to Delhi in India.

Roaming the streets with no money or resources he ended up in an abandoned Thara in Daryaganj. This is where he decided to rekindle his art of tandoori chicken cuisine, and Moti Mahal, the internationally recognised restaurant was born.

While Gujral is credited with inventing the tandoori chicken dish, it is debated that the origin dates back even further to the Mughal era.

They utilised the tandoor to prepare meat, including chicken. However, as the tandoor was not the most obvious choice for cooking meat, it was difficult for them to achieve tender and juicy pieces of tandoori chicken, especially with tandoor temperatures of 480°C.

Kundan Lal Gujral’s recipe was the first to perfect this way of cooking with chicken and changed the way of cooking chicken in India.

It may be argued as to who actually invented the dish, but either way, tandoori chicken is consumed worldwide and is loved by everyone.

Recipes of Tandoori Chicken

The History of Tandoori Chicken - recipes

The principle of preparing tandoori chicken has remained the same: tandoor and chicken. However, the taste can be significantly altered by changing the amount of each spice used.

Recipes can sound confusing if you’re a beginner but the recipe formula is very easy to understand. The taste in tandoori chicken depends on what you use to marinate the chicken.

The amount of lime juice, yoghurt, ginger, turmeric, chillies, black pepper etc. depend on the taste you like. For tandoori chicken, yoghurt and lime juice are the key ingredients in achieving the tender taste.

Another important factor is timing, both for preparing and cooking. Two hours is considered the minimum when leaving the chicken to marinate but it can vary depending on the recipe.

If marinating takes place for several hours, the spicy taste will permeate the chicken meat more. The same goes for all kinds of food. It’s just the spices flavour settling in the meat.

If the chicken is cooked for too long, the chicken will become dry, if it is cooked for too little then the chicken will be raw.

The other key component in tandoori chicken is the tandoor itself. However, owning a tandoor is not always easy.

Tandoors are often used for commercial purposes such as restaurants. More specifically they are used in open areas because the temperature can be very hot so it may not be the best option for indoors.

If you have an open area like a garden, getting a tandoor and operating it would be convenient.

An oven will do the same job, principally speaking, but will not bring out the same tandoori taste. To get a more authentic tandoori chicken, buy a pizza stone.

Place it on the bottom rack in a cold oven and then preheat it. Follow the same methods to prepare the chicken and then place it on the top rack.

The pizza stone concentrates the heat better, giving it a similar effect to a tandoor.

Tandoori Chicken in Punjab, India

The History of Tandoori Chicken - Charming Chicken

There are so many places where tandoori chicken is made. It is still praised and loved by people from all around the world.

It would be subjective to narrow down a few spots and restaurants. However, there are dedicated and special areas where tandoori chicken is specially prepared.

Starting in India, the state of Punjab has all kinds of variety when it comes to food. Whether it’s something sweet or spicy, you’ll find it anywhere in Punjab.

Amritsar has some of the best spots if you want to try tandoori chicken.

There are both underrated and well-known places to try tandoori chicken on Circular Road and Albert Road.

Places like Charming Chicken, Beera Chicken House, Surjit Food Plaza, Bubby Fish and Chicken Corner and Makhan Chicken and Fish Corner are popular eateries for tandoori chicken.

There are also a variety of places to try tandoori chicken in Jalandhar. The city is famous for its food and historical monuments and tandoori chicken is no exception.

Gurdaspur also serves a variety of tandoori chicken. But there are not as many places as there are in Amritsar or Jalandhar.

There are hundreds of positive reviews for so many restaurants online. Reviews count but actually trying the tandoori chicken in person is a whole new experience.

The taste, hospitality, and the charm of the whole city add a whole new dimension when it comes to eating authentic tandoori chicken.

In addition, don’t forget to visit New Delhi. There are hundreds of spots in New Delhi where tandoori chicken can be easily found.

Whether it is Punjabi Bagh, Shalimar Bagh, or any direction, you’re bound to find tandoori chicken restaurants. But that’s not the complete picture. There are so many other places in Pakistan.

Tandoori Chicken in Pakistan

The History of Tandoori Chicken - r Grill 31

Starting with the birthplace of tandoori chicken Peshawar has the perfect spot. Food Street in Hayatabad serves all kinds of food, including tandoori chicken where it is a speciality.

Places like Grill 31, Madina Tikka Shop,  Khyber BBQ and Khan Baba Fish Centre and BBQ, are prime examples of places to taste tandoori chicken.

Rawalpindi hosts so many places when it comes to tandoori chicken. Delicious food with a beautiful spot makes the experience tenfold better.

Because it’s food and Pakistan, Lahore cannot be left out. Wherever you go in the city you are bound to find the dish.

The original recipe is typically made in The Walled City of Lahore.

Moving on to Karachi, the city is full of surprises. Enjoying a perfect tandoori chicken by the sea-side is an experience unparalleled to any other.

Last but not least, Quetta is a hub for meat lovers. There are numerous spots in Quetta, both in the city and the military camp where tandoori chicken is available.

Uniting Food & Culture

The History of Tandoori Chicken - Tandoori Chicken in Punjab, India

Like all food, tandoori chicken represents a lot. No matter what is going on in the world, food unites everyone.

Food can help bring people together regardless of your nationality or citizenship.

Tandoori chicken is one of the finest examples there is. It is not only popular in India and Pakistan. It can be easily found in Afghanistan and Iran, as well as parts of Nepal and Bangladesh.

And tandoori chicken is just one food item. Samosas, saag, Dahi-Bhalay and pakoras are just a few others which are found in South Asia.

Even before the settlement of British rule, people of all ethnicities coexisted, and food was always welcomed and appreciated.

Perhaps something is hardwired in human species that help them unite for food.

In parts of the UK, tandoori chicken is praised and loved by many.

Its mouth-watering taste is simply irresistible and made at most restaurants and grill outlets in places like Southall, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester, Derby, Bradford, Newcastle and Glasgow.

It is also full of protein and nourishment. There is no need for oil to cook the chicken. Marinate and allow the chicken to be heated – it’s simple as that.

Typically, there are 273 calories present in a portion of tandoori chicken. There are about seven grams of fat present, depending on the weight of the chicken.

Most of the fat drips onto the charcoal or wood when it cooks.

That’s not the complete picture as far as tandoori chicken goes. It is typically served with naan and rice. Together with a perfect place and food, the whole experience becomes a memory.

No matter what part of South Asia you are from, food can easily unite everyone. A memory from the Mughal era, tandoori chicken is more than just delicious food. It is a bond that has helped unite a major portion of South Asia.

With such a long history, tandoori chicken manages to remain an extremely popular part of Desi cuisine.

The delicious taste is down to an ancient way of cooking and it is still popular to this day as it is the only way to achieve such a unique flavour.

Whether it’s the South, North, East or West, tandoori chicken can be found. Because it is everywhere, it shows that people have after all one thing in common: the urge for a good meal.

Z. F. Hassan is an independent writer. He enjoys reading and writing on history, philosophy, art, and technology. His motto is “Live your life or someone else will live it”.