Indian food words decoded: A glossary
Updated: May 18
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.
Atta: Whole wheat flour
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
Chapati- India whole wheat flour flatbread
Daal: Indian lentils
Ghee: Clarified butter
Halwa: Indian dessert mostly made with semolina or whole wheat
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
Methi: Fenugreek leaves
Mirch: Chillies. Can be fresh chillies or chilli powder
Paneer: Indian cheese made from milk.
Parantha: Indian stuffed flatbread mostly made with whole wheat flour and vegetables
Paani : Water
Sabji: Cooked vegetables
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!