Glossary of Indian Restaurant Terms


achar pickle - all sort of vegetables can be found in South Asian pickles. The most common pickles found in restaurants are lime and mango which can vary from mild to hot. Other vegetables commonly found in pickles are aubergines, garlic and chillies.

adrak fresh ginger

aloo potato

aloo tikki Shallow-fried patties made with mashed potato flavoured with fresh green chillies and other spices.

bhaji, onion Deep fried balls of onion and batter. The batter is made from gram flour which is derived from chana dal. The name can be a little confusing because restaurants tend to 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 spicy sauce. A more correct spelling would be onion bhajia or bhajiya. Bhajias are deep-fried snacks and can be made with a variety of vegetables.

bhindi okra; ladies fingers

brinjal aubergine; eggplant

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

chapatti 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.

chaat (chat) Chats are traditionally cold snacks or salads but restaurants sometimes offer a potato chat and a chicken chat that are served warm. Chats are commonly spiced with chat masala which you might recognise as the salty/spicy/tangy flavouring in Bombay Mix.

curd yoghurt (yogurt)

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

dhania coriander - dhania can refer either to the seeds or to the fresh leaves (equivalent word in American English cilantro).

ghee clarified butter

gobhi cauliflower

gosht meat, typically lamb or mutton

imli tamarind

jeera cumin seed

karahi (korai) A concave cooking pan similar to a wok but with two semi-circular handles. Used for stir-frying dishes over a high heat. In restaurants, the term can refer to a dish that has been cooked in a karahi.

keema minced meat, usually lamb

lehsun garlic

makhani butter; the name is often found on the restaurant menu describing murgh makhani - butter chicken

methi fenugreek - the dried leaves have a pungent aroma (your kitchen will smell just like an Indian restaurant if you use them in your cooking). Fresh fenugreek leaves are milder and are used in the same way as spinach. Fenugreek seeds give commercially made curry powder its distinctive smell.

mirch chilli

murgh chicken

muttar green peas

naan A teardrop shaped leavened bread cooked in a tandoor. Naan 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. Naan literally means bread so it is not correct to call it "naan bread" as you would actually be saying "bread bread".

naga (naga morich) An extremely hot Bangladeshi chilli from the Chinense family of capsicums. Naga chillies are used as an ingredient in curries and also made into a hot pickle.

pakora Vegetable pieces that are coated in a spicy gram dal batter and deep fried.

palak spinach

paneer A young cheese made by boiling whole cows' 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 can be cut into cubes. Paneer has a mild taste and, because it has not been matured, does not melt when heated.

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

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

poppadom Deep fried crispy wafer made with lentil flour. Poppadoms are often served warm as an appetiser accompanied by a selection of chutneys.

saag Saag often refers to spinach on the Indian restaurant menu although, strictly speaking, saag can mean any soft green leaves such as fresh fenugreek leaves, mustard greens and spinach.

sabzi A spiced vegetable dish, either dry or made as a curry.

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

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. Therefore, it is sometimes listen on the menu as "chicken sizzler".

shatkora (satkara) A type of wild lemon, Citrus macroptera, from the Sylhet region of Bangladesh. Also the name of a dish served in Bangladeshi restaurants that is made using the fruit.

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 250°C. Naans 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 Chicken quarters which have been marinated in yoghurt and spices and then cooked in a tandoor. The characteristic red colour of tandoori chicken is often achieved in restaurants by the use of artificial food colouring.

tava A type of South Asian metal griddle pan. Restaurants might offer a tava paratha (paratha cooked on a tava) or a dry dish called taka tak where the name refers to the sound of metal implements hitting the tava as the dish is quickly stir-fried.

tikka Tikka are small chunks of food (commonly chicken, lamb, fish or paneer on the restaurant menu) which have been marinated in yoghurt and spices, 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 ubiquitous chicken tikka masala. The typical red colour often comes from artificial food colouring.

The Cooking Colonel of Madras by David Smith