How many ways can you love your butter chicken? One truly innovative spin to this internationally favourite local dish is to marry it to another equally famous Indian dish and serve it up in a whole new avatar—in this case, the Butter Chicken Dosa! The man behind this and many other dishes that bridge the North-South divide is Monish Gujral, of the Moti Mahal brand, who is taking his brand Dosa Trail to Columbo, Sri Lanka, this month. In its new avatar, Dosa Trail will serve both Punjabi favourites and South Indian staples with a north Indian spin. On the menu will be (pauses to smack lips) Bhuna mutton dosa, Chicken Lababdar dosa and Paneer masala burji dosa.
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Will dosa eaters flock to a brand that is known for its north Indian and Mughlai dishes? Especially one that is synonymous with Butter Chicken? Monish’s grandfather, Kundan Lal Gujral, is widely recognized as the father of tandoori cuisine and the founder of Moti Mahal. Kundal Lal is credited with the invention of this hugely popular dish and he served it at the first outlet came in Delhi’s Daryaganj in 1947. (There is some controversy about the origin of butter chicken that has been raked up by a newer restaurant called Daryaganj, launched by the descendant of KL Gujral’s partner at Moti Mahal).
World leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Zakir Hussain, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi visited Moti Mahal to sample the Punjabi-Pathani food innovations and tandoori delicacies it served up. And it with the same experimental zeal and entrepreneurial genes, Monish is now tickling palates by serving up some unexpected north-south fusions under the Dosa Trail sub-brand drawing inspiration from Chettinad and south Indian coastal cuisines.
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While Dosa Trail initially started out some years ago as a regular South Indian eatery, Monish began to draw upon his Mughlai and tandoori experience to create an interesting menu that teased both North Indian as well as South Indian palates, into experimenting with creations such as chicken tikka masala dosa, chicken pakoda appams, keema appams, keema coated idli and mutton boti masala dosa. Today he says these are favourites at all the 10 Dosa Trail restaurants in India, which is now venturing into Columbo, Sri Lanka and soon into Maldives.
Says the experienced restauranteur, the secret to serving up a good dosa or idli is the consistency of the batter and the freshness as well the much loved meaty recipes of the filling. Monish says he has always looked at franchising and experimenting to scale up the business. He began to give traditional favourites an unexpected spin by pairing together totally diverse yet popular flavours and soon took the brand, Moti Mahal, from its small but iconic presence in Delhi, to becoming a multi-outlet status.
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A traditionalist, Monish continues his allegiance to the signature dishes that gave Moti Mahal its legendary status, while reinventing the dining experience into one that is exciting and avant-garde to suit modern sensibilities.
As for what is Monish’s preferred north-south fusion item, it is Rava Paneer Butter Paneer Burji Dosa and Egg Appams, it’s a must-have for him once a week.