Hindi Language Blog

Deconstructing Indian Food Words Posted by on Aug 18, 2021 in Culture, Food, Hindi Language, Pronunciation


Have you ever gone to and Indian restaurant and are stumped looking at the menu? Many of the words are difficult कठिन to pronounce let alone comprehend what they represent?

Besides not wanting to look foolish मूर्ख in front of friends or the waitstaff, you may genuinely want to know what you are eating, right? Right. So we have taken the most common सामान्य items on any Indian restaurant menu and will explain the items.

  1. When you sit down at an Indian restaurant you are usually served a glass of water पानी first, and some papads next in a basket. These are fried crispy paper like wafers made of lentils and spices दाल और मसाले. Papads are also served to guests as appetizers in Indian homes.
  2. You will notice there is a condiment tray also on the table. It will usually consist of a date खजूर and tamarind इमली sweet chutney, a cilantro इमली and green chilly chutney and sometimes a pickled raw onion प्याज chutney. These serve as accompaniments to your meal.
  3. The most common item on any menu that serves Indian food is chickenमुर्गा  tikka masala. This barbecued gravy dish is a favorite from the Northern provinces of India. Tandoors which are clay ovens that are found outdoors are used to grill the marinated chicken bits or tikkas to perfection. The marinade consists of aromatic spices (including coriander, cumin जीरा, garlic लहसुन powder, paprika, garam masala, ginger अदरक, mint पुदीना, and chili powder) and yogurt. The chicken is usually marinated overnight.
  4. Chicken Tikka is usually eaten best with tandoori naan. Another product of north India especially Punjab. This unleavened pita like bread is cooked while stuck on the inner sides of the tandoor. Nowadays one gets tasty garlic naan, rosemary and garlic naan etc.
  5. For veggies to accompany the chicken, a favorite is Palak paneer. Palak is leafy green spinach पालक cooked in spices and heavy cream. Paneer is a homemade cottage cheese पनीर that is thrown into the dish to add a nice cheesy and creamy flavor.
  6. Most Indians like to eat tandoori food with a simple salad सलाद called catchumber made of raw onions, cucumber, tomatoes, green chillies, cilantro, lime नींबू and salt नमक.
  7. To take the heat off, a nice mango yogurt smoothie called mango lassi is imperative. Natives love having lassi without the mango or even savory instead of sweetened. There is something to be said about yogurt accompanying every Indian meal. They know their probiotics!
  8. For dessert there are a variety of Indian sweets मिठाई which are heavily laden with cream, ghee (clarified butter) and sugar. Gulab jamuns are a kind of fried dough गूंथा हुआ आटा dipped in sugary syrup. Kheer is a rice pudding with nuts and raisins.
  9. Another accompaniment to quench thirst is a cup of hot sweet cardamom chai.
  10. Finally as you head out the door you can spoon a handful of sweetened fennel to help you digest that rich meal.
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About the Author: Nicole Herbert Dean

Language, Region and Culture Consultant to the Department of Defense and United States Military.