Image of a tandoor in India with a chef preparing tandoori chicken

The Story Behind Tandoori Chicken: A Dish That Defined Indian Cuisine

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Tandoori chicken is a dish that is loved all around the world for its delicious taste and unique flavor. It is considered one of the most iconic dishes in Indian cuisine, and it is widely enjoyed by people of all cultures. But what is the story behind tandoori chicken? How did it come to be such an important part of Indian cuisine, and what makes it so special? In this article, we will explore the fascinating history of tandoori chicken and learn about the ingredients and cooking methods that make it so unique.

The Origin Story

The Origins of Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori chicken has its roots in Punjab, a region that spans both India and Pakistan. The dish was invented by Kundan Lal Gujral, a Punjabi chef who owned a restaurant in Peshawar, now in Pakistan. In the early 20th century, Gujral was forced to flee to India during the partition of India and Pakistan. He settled in Delhi and opened a new restaurant called Moti Mahal, where he introduced tandoori chicken to the world.

The Spread of the Dish

Tandoori chicken quickly became popular in Delhi, and its popularity soon spread throughout India and beyond. It is now a staple dish in Indian restaurants all around the world, and it is enjoyed by millions of people.

The Ingredients

Spices Used

The key to the unique flavor of tandoori chicken is the blend of spices used in the marinade. The most common spices used include cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and chili powder. These spices give the chicken its distinct flavor and aroma.

Herbs Used

In addition to the spices, tandoori chicken is also marinated with a blend of herbs, which can include ginger, garlic, mint, and cilantro. These herbs add a fresh and aromatic quality to the dish.

The Cooking Method

The Tandoor Oven

The traditional way to cook tandoori chicken is in a tandoor oven, a cylindrical clay oven that is heated to high temperatures with wood or charcoal. The chicken is skewered and placed in the oven, where it is cooked until it is charred on the outside and juicy on the inside.

Marinating the Chicken

Before the chicken is cooked, it is marinated for several hours in a mixture of spices, yogurt, and herbs. This marinade not only adds flavor to the chicken but also helps to tenderize it and keep it moist during cooking.

Variations of the Dish

Regional Variations

There are many regional variations of tandoori chicken, each with its own unique blend of spices and herbs. For example, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, tandoori chicken is often spiced with curry leaves and black pepper. In the northern state of Punjab, the marinade may include a blend of yogurt, ginger, garlic, and mustard oil.

Popular Variations

In addition to regional variations, there are also many popular variations of tandoori chicken. For example, butter chicken is a popular variation that is made by simmering tandoori chicken in a rich tomato and butter sauce. Chicken tikka masala is another popular variation that is made by cooking tandoori chicken in a creamy tomato-based sauce.


Tandoori chicken is a dish that has become synonymous with Indian cuisine. Its origins can be traced back to Punjab, where it was invented by Kundan Lal Gujral, a Punjabi chef. The dish quickly became popular in Delhi and spread throughout India and beyond. The unique blend of spices and herbs used in the marinade, combined with the traditional cooking method in a tandoor oven, gives tandoori chicken its distinctive flavor and texture.

Tandoori chicken has had a significant impact on Indian cuisine, both in India and around the world. It has become a beloved dish that is enjoyed by people of all cultures and has helped to introduce the flavors and spices of Indian cuisine to a global audience. Tandoori chicken has also inspired many variations and adaptations, from butter chicken to chicken tikka masala, which have become popular dishes in their own right.

In conclusion, the story of tandoori chicken is a testament to the rich and diverse history of Indian cuisine. From its humble origins in Punjab to its worldwide popularity today, tandoori chicken has become a dish that defines Indian cuisine and has had a lasting impact on the culinary world. Whether enjoyed in a traditional tandoor oven or cooked in a modern kitchen, tandoori chicken is a delicious and iconic dish that will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

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