Indian Food & Cooking Terms

By Gayot Editors

Ordering a meal at unfamiliar restaurants can be a challenging task, especially when the terms are foreign. That’s why we’ve created this guide to Indian food terms, so that you won’t make the mistake of ordering über-spicy vindaloo when you really wanted saag aloo. Whether you’re having a tikka masala to go or dinner at an authentic Indian restaurant, our glossary of Indian food vocabulary will provide you with the necessary culinary lingo.


Aloo: potato
Aloo papri chat: crisp poori stuffed with chickpeas and potatoes and served with a sour sauce with spicy yoghurt


Bhajia (or Bhaji): deep-fried snacks of vegetables in a spicy batter; usually onions and potatoes served with spicy flavored chutney
Bharta: a dish cooked and puréed
Bhatura: round, lightly leavened and deep fried bread
Bhel poori: crisp poori piled with puffed rice, potatoes, onions, sev (vermicelli) and with fresh coriander; usually served with tamarind sauce and chutneys; not to be confused with poori (bread)
Bhindi: okra, ladyfingers
Bhuna gosht: dry, spicy lamb dish
Biranj: rice
Biryani: Moghul dish of seafood, meat or chicken marinated in lemon juice, yoghurt, onions, garlic and ginger and stewed with saffron rice

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Channa: chickpeas
Chapati: unleavened, thin, round bread made from whole-meal flour and in central India often used instead of rice


Dal (Dahl): lentils


Garam masala: best known of the ground, aromatic Indian spice mixtures, containing no turmeric
Ghee: clarified butter, regarded in India as the purest food because it comes from the sacred cow, giving a rich, buttery taste
Gosht: lamb


Kachori: pastry stuffed with spiced mung beans, served with tamarind chutney
Kofta: balls or dumplings of ground or mashed meat or vegetables, grilled or fried and often stuffed with spices or diced nuts
Korma: powder or aromatic spice, with white pepper instead of chili powder and used in mild curries cooked with yoghurt
Kulfi: milk ice cream flavored with mango, pistachios or almonds


Masala (masaladar): with spices
Masala dosai: ground rice or semolina and lentil pancake filled with potatoes and onion, served with spicy coconut chutney
Mughlai: method of cooking using cream, yoghurt, almonds and pistachios
Meetha: dessert
Murgh: chicken


Naan: soft textured bead made from white flour leavened with natural yeast and baked by moistening one side and attaching it to the inside of a tandoor oven; may have poppy or sesame seeds or onion added


Palak paneer: cubes of cottage cheese simmered in a fresh spinach gravy, redolent of fenugreek and mild spices
Paper dosai: very thin pancakes with potato and onion, served with coconut chutney
Parathas: crisp, layered, buttery breads served plain or stuffed
Pilau (pillau, pulao): rice stir-fried in ghee then cooked in stock and served with fish, vegetables or meat
Pinhaan: amuse bouche
Poori: whole-wheat bread, like a chapati, fried, usually in ghee, and puffed into a ball; served with vegetarian foods, particularly dal (lentil), potato and bean dishes (cooked pooris can be stuffed with hot curried fillings as a quick snack)
Poppadum: flat, dried wafers of lentil, rice or potato flour, deep fried and served as a snack; can be highly spiced
Potato poori: crisp poori piled with potatoes and onions, sweet and sour sauce, yoghurt and sev (vermicelli)


Raita: yoghurt relish



Samosas: crisp, deep-fried triangular pastry stuffed with spiced vegetables like onions, or meat, served with chutney or yoghurt
Seekh kebab: skewered and grilled meat
Sev poori: crisp poori piled with potato and onions and sweet and sour sauce and with sev (vermicelli)


Tamarind: tree producing flat, beanlike pods which have become essential in Indian cooking; often made into a chutney as a dip for deep-fried snacks and the juice is used extensively in Southern Indian food
Tandoor: barrel-shaped mud or clay oven used for roasting meats and baking bread (moistened and placed against the sides of the oven)
Thali: complete meal on a tray with each curry, relish and dessert in separate bowls or katori, plus bread or rice
Tikka: small pieces of chicken or lamb served as an appetizer


Vindaloo: very hot dish seasoned with ground-roasted spices and chilies with vinegar and/or tamarind; a specialty of central and western coastal India with a strong flavor