One of the great things about the American restaurant scene is that it attracts and incorporates so many foodie cultures from around the world. Depending on your local mix, you could go out and have Ethiopian food one evening, Columbian the next, Korean for lunch, and Indian for dinner. But getting acquainted with a foreign-sounding menu may be a more difficult task.
No matter! We have an easy glossary for all you foodie adventurers that want to learn about what they’re eating and why — or maybe just don’t want to sound dumb in front of the waiter. Rest assured, however, servers in restaurants of all styles are used to questions and are generally happy to oblige. But if you’re on the shy or curious side, this list is for you:
The Indian word for potatoes, most often found in aloo gobi (spiced potatoes and cauliflower), aloo palak (curried potatoes and spinach), and aloo tikki (Indian version of a potato pancake).
[bih ree ah nee]
Mixed rice dish, often combining spices and some type of meat with rice, and partially fried. It is generally the central part of a meal, not a side dish.
The Hindi word for chickpea, most often found in chana masala (chickpeas with onion, chopped tomatoes, garlic, chilis, ginger, dried mango powder, and garam masala).
Dried split lentils served in a stew-like consistency with spices alongside roti or rice.
[gah ram mah sah luh]
An Indian spice mix consisting of cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
Clarified butter used to prepare many different Indian dishes. Ghee is prepared by simmering butter on heat until the milk fats separate from the butter’s watery residue, leading to a nutty taste and aromatic flavor.
A Persian word meaning “meat,” most often used to refer to lamb or goat in a dish, such as saag gosht (lamb with spinach) or gosht vindaloo (hot, spicy lamb).
[goo lahb jah muhn]
Milk solids that are heated until separated from its water content, then rolled out into a doughnut dough and deep-friend as small balls. This dessert item is served warm, soaked in a syrup that incorporates green cardamom and rose water.
Minced or ground meat served most often as a meatball mixed with onion and other spices.
Meat or vegetables served in a curry sauce consisting of yogurt, cream, garlic, ginger, coriander, garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and chili powder.
A round North Indian flatbread made from wheat flour, made either in a tandoori oven or skillet.
Often described as “traditional Indian ice cream,” kulfi is a frozen dairy dessert available in flavors such as cream, rose, mango, cardamom, saffron, and pistachio.
A savory or sweet drink blended from yogurt, water, spices, and sometimes fruit. Salted lassi can contain roasted cumin, while sweet lassi are flavored with mango, strawberry, rose water, or another sugar.
[muh kah nee]
The Hindu word meaning “with butter,” most often associated with the popular rich, creamy dish made from butter and a combination of curry spices. Served in the sauce is often murgh (chicken), paneer (cheese), or dal (lentils).
[mah sah luh]
Masala refers broadly to any spice mix used in Indian cuisine.
A vegetarian tomato sauce that includes peas as its main ingredient, often paired with paneer.
[muh lih guh taw nee]
An English soup that originated in India during the era of its British colonization, mulligatawny is a curry soup, made most often with chicken, vegetables, apple, and rice. Its name literally means “pepper water.”
The Hindi word for chicken, most often seen in murgh makhani (butter chicken), murgh tikka masala (chicken in a tomato-coconut cream sauce), or murgh korma (curry chicken).
[nahn] or [nan]
A pita-like flatbread, leavened and baked in a tandoori oven. It is often triangular in shape and brushed with butter, with crispy spots where bubbles form in the hot clay oven.
[puh koar uh]
An Indian-style fritter of potato, onion, cauliflower, spinach, or paneer, dipped in chickpea batter, deep fried, and served as an appetizer.
A non-melting fresh cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice until the cheese curds are separated from the whey. It is then compressed until solid and cubed for inclusion in dishes like mattar paneer (cheese with peas), makhani paneer (cheese in butter sauce), or saag paneer (cheese with spinach).
[pa puh duhm]
A thin, crisp wafer made from lentil or chickpea flour, fried or cooked with dry heat. Papadum are typically served at the beginning of a meal, with chutney or a combination of chopped onion, tomato, and herbs.
[puh rah duh]
An Indian and Pakistani unleavened flatbread consisting of layers of cooked dough held together by a brush of ghee or hot oil.
A one-dish rice pilaf cooked in broth with mild spices and vegetables.
A condiment often used to cool the palate, raita is a yogurt-based sauce, most often paired with cucumber, coriander, mint, or carrot.
[row guhn joh-sh]
An aromatic lamb or goat dish cooked in oil at very high temperatures, rogan josh is often bright red from the high chili content.
A round, unleavened flatbread made from wholemeal flour, also known as chapati.
Any leaf-based Indian dish, although most often spinach, as in saag paneer (cheese with spinach) and saag gosht (lamb with spinach).
[suh mow suh]
A pyramid shaped dumpling, filled with a combination of spiced potatoes, onion, peas, lentils, or ground meat, and deep-fried until crisp and brown. This is a popular appetizer, often served with tamarind or mint chutney as an accompaniment.
[tan door ree]
Any dish prepared specifically in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay or metal oven with heat generated by charcoal or wood fire. Of all the dishes cooked in a tandoor, tandoori chicken is the most common, marinated first in a spiced yogurt sauce that gives it a trademark bright red color when cooked.
A marinade made from aromatic spices (including coriander, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, garam masala, ginger, mint, and chili powder) and yogurt, often used on chunks of boneless meat before cooked in the tandoor oven.
[vin duh loo]
A classic curry dish known for being especially spicy and hot, made from vinegar, sugar, ginger, spices, and chili peppers. This one is not for first-timers unless you have an iron palate!
Confused about your local Mexican food restaurant menu too? We have an easy glossary for that, as well!