Glossary of Indian Restaurant Terms

achar pickle - all sort of vegetables can be found in S. Asian pickles. The most common pickle found in restaurants is lime pickle which can vary from mild to hot. Other common vegetables found in pickles are aubergines, garlic, chillies and mangoes. My favourite is the Rajah brand mild lime pickle shown in the picture.

  Rajah lime pickle

aloo potato


bhaji, onion Deep fried balls of onion and batter. The batter is made from gram flour which is derived from chana dhal. The name can be a little confusing because restaurants use the term "bhaji" both for the deep fried onion sort and for various dishes e.g. bhindi bhaji, brinjal bhaji, which are vegetables cooked in a little curry sauce.

  onion bhaji
picture ©Ansuruz Zaman

bhindi okra, ladies fingers


brinjal aubergine (equivalent word in American English eggplant)


chana dhal Also known as gram dhal or Bengal gram. It is a yellow dhal which looks like split peas but is much tastier and does not break up when cooked. Chana dhal is related to chick peas and can be ground into a flour to make the batter for pakoras and onion bhajis.

  chana dhal

chapati A flat, unleavened bread made with finely milled wholemeal flour. Eaten hot. Traditionally, pieces of chapati are curled up with the right hand and used like a spoon to scoop up meat and sauce from a curry.


chat Chats are traditionally cold snacks or salads but chat literally means "lick". Indian restaurants often offer a potato chat and a chicken chat and will serve them warm. Chats are spiced with chat masala which you might recognise as the flavouring in Bombay Mix.   chicken chat
picture ©Ansuruz Zaman

Chef's special The Chef's special dishes (of course!). Try one instead of your regular tikka masala or madras. In many contemporary restaurants the Chef's specials will include some authentic regional dishes. Well worth trying.


curd yoghurt    

dhal Dhal refers to any of the pulse family - dried peas, beans and lentils. There are hundreds of types of dhal but the most common in restaurants are "masoor dhal" (split red lentils) and "chana dhal". The word dhal is also used to describe the name of the finished dish. e.g. tarka dhal where cooked dhal is garnished with fried garlic and spiced oil.

  a selection of dhals
dhania Coriander. Dhania can refer either to the seeds or to the fresh leaves (equivalent word in American English cilantro) so dhania chicken could be either chicken cooked with coriander leaves or chicken cooked in a sauce rich in ground coriander seed.


gobhi cauliflower


gosht meat, typically lamb or mutton


jeera Cumin seed. The J in Jeera is pronounced like the S in pleaSure


karahi A concave cooking pan similar to a wok but with 2 handles. Used for stir-frying dishes over a high heat. The term can also refer to a smaller serving dish of the same shape.

  karahi in action

keema minced meat, usually lamb


methi Fenugreek. Restaurants typically use the leaves rather than the seeds. The dried leaves have a pungent aroma. In a dish such as methi aloo the fenugreek leaves should be fresh rather than dried. In their fresh form the leaves are milder and used like spinach. Pronounced "met-hee".

  methi aloo

mirch chilli


murgh chicken


muttar peas


naan A teardrop shaped leavened bread cooked in a tandoor. Naan bread is cooked by slapping it onto the wall of the tandoor where it sticks while baking. Naan has a unique flavour because it is cooked in the tandoor alongside meaty kebabs. The kebabs give off juices which burst into little droplets when they hit the charcoal imparting a smoky flavour to the naan. There are numerous types of naan including stuffed ones. For example, a kulcha is a naan stuffed with onions and a Peshwari naan is a naan stuffed with sultanas, coconut and ground almonds. Naan is pronounced "nah-rn".

  naan fresh out of the tandoor
picture by permission of and
© Beech Ovens

palak spinach


paneer Home-made cheese made by boiling whole milk and then curdling it with an acid such as lemon juice. The whey is then strained off and the curds are pressed to extract moisture. The end result is a block of fresh cheese which is cut into cubes. Paneer has a mild taste and does not melt when heated.


paratha A flat, unleavened bread enriched with butter. Similar to a chapati but thicker and layered to give a flaky texture. Can be stuffed with a spicy filling of mashed vegetables or minced meat.


pilau rice Fried rice flavoured with spices. Pilau rice is often coloured with food colouring for added effect.

  pilau rice

popadom Deep fried crispy wafers made with lentil flour. Popadoms are often served warm as an appetiser accompanied by a selection of chutneys.


prawn and puri / puree A puri is a deep fried unleavened bread. For some reason best known to themselves many restaurants insist on writing puri as "puree" on the menu. This often confuses newcomers to Indian restaurants who think they are ordering a purée of prawns (equivalent word in American English shrimps). But no, the prawns arrive at the table whole served in a thick bhuna-like sauce.

  prawn and puri
picture ©Ansuruz Zaman

saag Saag usually refers to spinach on the Indian restaurant menu although, strictly speaking, it means soft green leaves like fresh fenugreek leaves, mustard greens or, of course, spinach.


samosa Deep fried triangular pastries filled with either spiced vegetables or minced lamb.

picture ©Ansuruz Zaman

seekh kebab A long sausage shaped kebab made with spiced minced lamb. Can be cooked in the tandoor or on a char-grill


shashlik Chunks of marinated chicken or lamb threaded onto a skewer with pieces of onion, pepper and tomato and cooked either in the tandoor or over a char-grill. Shashlik is often served on extremely hot cast iron dishes which cause the juices to sizzle while the dish is being brought to the table. It is sometimes therefore known as "chicken sizzler".

  chicken shashlik
picture ©Ansuruz Zaman

tandoor Barrel shaped clay oven. Traditionally fired with charcoal although gas fired tandoors are sometimes used in restaurants. The enclosed nature of the oven, the thick walls and the fierce heat source mean that wall temperatures can reach up to 250ºC. Naan breads are stuck onto the inner walls of the oven and cook in seconds. Tandoori chicken and kebabs are threaded onto skewers and let down into the oven for rapid cooking in the high heat. Chicken quarters can take as little as 10 minutes to cook.
  tandoori chicken coming out of the tandoor
picture by permission of and
© Beech Ovens

tandoori chicken Chicken quarters which have been marinated in yoghurt and spices and then cooked in the tandoor. The characteristic red colour of tandoori chicken is usually achieved in restaurants by the use of artificial food colouring.

tikka Tikka means "little pieces". Tikkas are small chunks of chicken or lamb which have been marinated in yoghurt and spices and then threaded onto skewers and cooked in a tandoor or over a char-grill. Chicken tikka can be served dry or added to a rich creamy sauce to make the famous chicken tikka masala. As with tandoori chicken, the red colour of tikka and the same colour in tikka masala comes from artificial food colouring.   chicken tikka
picture ©Ansuruz Zaman