Calgarians have fallen in love with many international dishes over the years, but few, if any, have a more devoted following than murgh makhani, better known as butter chicken. Rich, tangy gravy, vibrant colour, an aroma that beckons from blocks away … If you’ve ever found yourself standing over the sink slurping those last few droplets of butter chicken sauce out of a takeaway container, you’re not alone.
So where did it come from, this heavenly dish?
The story of murgh makhani has its deepest roots in Partition, the traumatic division of British India into the independent dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947. Millions of refugees criss-crossed the subcontinent, bringing their regional cuisines with them — which is how Moti Mahal, a Punjabi restaurant from the city of Peshawar (in modern-day Pakistan) came to be rebooted in Delhi. It was here that murgh makhani was created — when a diner asked for gravy to accompany his tandoori chicken, the chef hastily cobbled together a sauce of tomato, butter and cream. Butter chicken was born, and the world has never looked back. Small wonder there’s a “Moti Mahal” in dozens of major cities around the world — including right here in Calgary — the name is a fitting homage to the original restaurant that changed the way millions of people experience Indian cuisine.
Tomato. Butter. Cream. Is your mouth watering yet? Here are four of our favourite local spots for butter chicken, ranging from bright and tomato-y to rich and velvety.
This tiny South Indian eatery serves its butter chicken flecked with cilantro and drizzled with heavy cream. Asked what makes his so outstanding, chef Ashok Elayaperumal is coy, chalking it up to 20 years of practice, but he can’t fool us — it’s the cashews blended into the sauce.
175A 52 St. S.E., 403-455-5957, madrascafe.ca
Smack in the middle of the tomato-cream spectrum, Mirchi’s butter chicken is velvety, complex, and oh-so-fiery. It’s also one of the cheaper offerings, setting you back only $12.99.
825 12 Ave. S.W., 403-245-3663, mirchirestaurant.ca
This long-time Calgary fixture does its namesake proud. Big, juicy chunks of tandoori chicken carry a hint of charcoal flavour, nicely complemented by a tomato-forward sauce with plenty of depth.
1805 14 St. S.W., 403-228-9990, motimahal.ca
A perennial favourite, Namskar serves one of the brightest, most acidic versions of this dish, with plenty of sweet tomato flavour.
202 16 Ave. N.E., 403-230-4447, namskar.ca