Pearl of the Capital

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By Deepshikha Punj
Published: 14th Apr 2013 09:38:06 AM

Monish and Rupa Gujral trace the journey of Delhi’s best-known restaurant from Peshawar to world over.
The culinary journey began in 1920, when Kundan Lal Gujral opened the doors of Moti Mahal in Peshawar. Twenty-seven years later, Partition forced him to down shutters of the popular eatery, only to reopen it across the border in Delhi. And since 1947, the legendary brand has only grown and the Capital has never tired of its trademark Punjabi-Pathani flavours.

Now with Kundan Lal’s grandson Monish Gujral at the helm of affairs, Moti Mahal has become an international chain. Its signature recipes and smoky flavours have become synonymous with North Indian cuisine and Delhi.

“Earlier Delhi offered only a handful of cuisines like Indian and Chinese, with the latter cooked to suit Indian tastes. Moti Mahal had customers asking only for its signature dishes. But now with people more informed and well travelled, they look for more options in food,” says Gujral. Taking over the reins from his father, Gujral turned the business around and was responsible for introducing Chinese and Mexican cuisine on the menu. “We now have Jackson Diner, China Trail, Tandoori Trail and Kebab Trail in the Moti Mahal franchises. In 2009, we also started the concept of ready-to-eat with ‘heat and eat’ items. The initial idea was to cater to youngsters,” he says.

Gujral’s mother, Rupa, adds, “Change is inevitable and we must accept it with open arms. Delhi is changing so fast. Gone are the days when people were content and there was no competition. It was a beautiful city and people had values. Today the world is very different, there is too much exposure.”

Rupa migrated to India after Partition, completing her graduation in 1961 from Lady Sri Ram College for Women. Talking about the transformation of the city, she says that although the culture and heritage buildings of the city have stayed intact, a lot needs to be done to change the mindset of its citizens. “I love Delhi and I strongly feel that Delhiites must unite to convert the city into a peaceful and greener place,” she says.

Completing her sentence, Gujral says, “We as citizens need to be more responsible. Delhi is getting overpopulated and this is leading to an increase in the number of slums. Adding to our woes is the fact that each year the city is hit with viral diseases, with open manholes and puddles everywhere. Why does anybody have to suffer?” he asks.

Both, however, agree that Delhi can only change with a change in attitude of the government and people. “We are extremely fond of the city and it is the best place to live in, so we must try to maintain its rich heritage and unite to live in peace,” says Gujral.

First chef from India to be invited to Le cordon Bleu to demonstrate in Paris. Monish is credited with the trailblazing turn-around of Moti Mahal, from being a small but iconic presence in Delhi, to becoming a multi-national corporation that is well on its way to defining how the world eats Indian food. A traditionalist, Monish has remained true to the signature dishes that made Moti Mahal a legend, while reinventing the dining experience into one that is exciting and avant garde to suit modern sensibilities.

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