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Indian food words decoded: A glossary

Updated: May 18, 2023

You love the cuisine. You also love the culture. So why not embrace the names of the dishes and food in the original native language. They say food has no language but I always think there is something very beautiful about being able to understand the native words that describe dishes, spices and food in a cuisine. I know we may all not be able to pronounce these indigenous words or remember every name but at least we can acknowledge we are ready to understand a few?

So here I am with a few commonly used Indian words in Indian cooking. I am taking common Hindi language words that are used in the northern part of India as I grew up in the north with Hindi language being the main language.

Aloo: Potato

Atta: Whole wheat flour

Anda: Egg

Biryani: Cooking and layering a rice dish with meats or vegetables using specific spices

Bhuna: To fry or roast well

Chai: Indian tea, loose tea leaves or ready to drink tea made with water, milk, tea leaves and spices

Chawal: Rice

Cheeni: Sugar

Chapati- India whole wheat flour flatbread

Daal: Indian lentils

Gobi: Cauliflower

Ghee: Clarified butter

Haldi: Turmeric

Halwa: Indian dessert mostly made with semolina or whole wheat

Jhinga: Prawns

Jeera: Cumin seeds or powder

Kabab: Spiced ground meat generally cooked in clay ovens on skewers

Kari: Curry leaves

Karai: A wide mouth wok, sometimes made of iron cast

Kali Mirch: Black pepper powder

Kasuri methi: Dried fenugreek leaves

Masala: Spices. Can be whole spices or powdered spices.

Masala chai: Indian tea made with water that is boiled with a few whole spices

Matar: Garden peas

Makhan(i): Butter / with butter

Machi: Fish

Methi: Fenugreek leaves

Mirch: Chillies. Can be fresh chillies or chilli powder

Murg: Chicken

Namak: Salt

Paneer: Indian cheese made from milk.

Palak: Spinach

Parantha: Indian stuffed flatbread mostly made with whole wheat flour and vegetables

Paani : Water

Pyaaz: Onions

Saag: Spinach

Sabji: Cooked vegetables

Sirka: Vinegar

Tawa: Flat pan used to make Indian flatbreads

Tandoor: Clay ovens used for cooking meats and flatbreads

Tarka: Tempering of whole spices in hot oil or ghee or butter

Tikka: Small pieces of meat or chicken which are cooked in an oven mostly clay ovens

Thaali: A plate with small bowls that contain food like daals and meats and vegetables

I will continue my attempt to update this glossary list occasionally. Feel free to ask me for the meaning of a word that you don’t understand in the comment section below!

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