Food Vocabulary – Indian & American English

Food Vocabulary – Indian & American English

Coming To Amreeka…

Unlike the political refugees, religiously exiled, those who escaped from the deadly epidemic or bloodthirsty dictators, jumped the fences…we, the most Indian immigrants story are the same…came to America as a student, seeking job opportunity in various sectors, spouse visas, business travelers and the tourists. Thanks to all those minted degrees. We speak better English and get away with our accent most of the time. Indian children always win the spell-bee competition! In my opinion, our written English is flawless when compared to average American writing skills! The long colonial rule has made us to adapt to English as our official language. In fact, English is our common lingua franca between ourselves as we all speak diverse mother tongues.

However, we neither speak British English (as most people think) nor American English! We have our own accent ‘Indian English’. Therefore, if you are not familiar with the correct words, there may be some confusion while communicating with the natives. Sometimes, the spelling of the word could be the same but the pronunciation differs. If the person you are talking with has a hard time understanding you, you will hear phrases like ‘pardon me’, ‘come again’, ‘I didn’t get you’, ‘I am sorry’, ‘excuse me’, ‘you don’t speak English, do you?’.

First and foremost ‘we’ are referred as ‘East Indians’ or ‘Asian Indians’ and in a derogatory manner ‘dotted Indians’ (as Indian ladies happen to wear bindi on their foreheads). When they say East Indians…it doesn’t mean that you have come from Eastern part of India. They absolutely have no clue, how big is India, anyway! The Indian subcontinent lies on the eastern side of the globe/world…when Britain is taken as Center! So… ‘East Indian it is’! Generally ‘Indians’ is the word for native Americans, here. Well…we all know that Columbus was in search of India but arrived at America and he was greatly convinced that he met Indians. And so goes the story…


Image – Courtesy Wikipedia
Collage – Malar Gandhi

 Culinary Vocabulary – Indian English to American English

Indian English

American English

Humble Explanation

Brinjal Eggplant Unless you go to an ethnic store, its ‘eggplants’.
Curd Yogurts No one understands what curd means…the good part is they have a varieties of yogurts, with lots of flavors, with and without fat, etc. You should look for ‘plain yogurt’ for Indian cooking.
Wash up Do the dishes Cleaning the dishes is ‘doing the dishes’, here.
Wash your hands Wash up Refresh yourself is a sublime term to go wash your face and hands.
Small pastries Finger food The portion we serve up on our plate meals is also sometimes, mentioned as finger food! They actually serve more of just 2-3 items (carb, protein, veggies).
French beans Snow peas Even though its obvious, when you spot them in the store, they aren’t that tasty anyway. :(
Cafe (Kayf) Cafe (Kafay) Pronunciation difference, Americans pronounce the French terms like a real French-man. :)
Coriander leaves Cilantro I have seen in Food network (TV channel) people say coriander powder. But when it comes to leaves…its cilantro!!!
Lady’s Finger Okra Oh man, you don’t want to say it loud!
Capsicum Bell Peppers Hey, we are actually using a Botanical name.
Pulses Lentils They don’t know how many varieties we have. Better, don’t bother.
Legumes Beans Yes, beans is the term for most of the legumes.
Chick peas Garbanzos I think they are talking in Spanish. :) :)
Sooji or Rawa Semolina, cream of wheat The Ethiopian ‘cous cous’ is much like our semolina. Sometimes, I mention it as ‘Indian cous cous’ to my American friends. :)
Sago or Sabudana Tapioca They haven’t seen anything like our sago. So, no specific term for this.
Non-Veg Meat and Seafood Okay, as soon as you leave India, forget this term. Being a ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ is a lifestyle choice here. Its a meat nation in my opinion.
Sweets Candy Yes, invariably all our Indian sweets are simply referred as candies. :(
Desserts or Sweets Desserts (disserts)
Pronounce it much like ‘disserts’ not ‘desert’. If not, be ready for a quick English class!
Biscuits Cookies Maybe you are told this number of times by your friends and relatives who already live here. Let me just refresh your memory. :)
Starters Appetizers Hmmm, appetizers makes sense after all.
Jelly Jell-o If you are saying ‘Jelly’ its a kind of fish found in the sea. Its jell-o.
Ice fruit Popsicle Popsicle is nice to say after all. :)
Bill (at restaurants) Check (at restaurants) Indeed its very important to understand this term. Useful most of the time. If you say ‘bill’ you will confuse the clerk! Bill is for currency here.
Beans Greens beans We won’t have to mention ‘string-less beans’ or ‘string beans’ anymore…most of time its just one variety that hits the market.
Board beans Lima beans Its nice to know this term, you may want to cook it!
Forks and Knives Silverware Its silverware, regardless of the material used to make it (brass,  stainless steal, plastic)!!!
Steal plates Metal plates You will hardly notice any. Its only used in prison by the inmates.
Ceramic wares China Yes, its simply ‘China’ not even ‘China dish or China cup’! As they are the prime exporters.
Take-away Take-out Take out meal is usually associated with Chinese food.
Corn flour Corn starch They have too many items processed from corn, like corn meal, batter, self-rising flour etc.
Maida All purpose flour They use it in most of their dishes.
Atta (Wheat flour) Wheat flour Probably you knew this already, bleached is extra fine, fortified is vitamins enriched and whole wheat flour is coarse flour with husk in it.
Icing sugar Confectioner’s sugar Powdered sugar is always confectioner’s sugar. You wouldn’t miss it on the aisle, anyway.
Sherbeth Sorbet (Sorbe)
Pronounced much like ‘Sorbe’ with ‘t’ silence.
Dry grapes Raisins Sun-dried raisins. No more kismis and sultanas. :(
Spring onions Green onions Spring onions have even bigger bulb than green onions. And do not confuse yourself with leeks (yet another variety of onion leaves found, here).
Ground nuts Peanuts Probably no one will understand you, if you say ‘ground nuts’. Yes, they are peanuts here.
Milk Cream Cream, creamer is the term for milk.
Tetra pack milk Half and Half Reduced milk is called half and half. You may want to know this, if you are a coffee aficionado like me. :)
Ice tea Sweet tea Its so hard to get rid of my habits, I always pause for a minute before I say ‘Sweet tea, please’.
With or without milk? Black or White? (in context to coffee) Don’t look annoyed, if they ask you this question in the restaurants or in office…they are asking you, how do you want your coffee. 
Salt biscuits, tea time biscuits Crackers If it is not too sugary, it crackers.
Chocolates or Toffees Hard candies Did you know, ‘candy’ is the word came from an Indian word ‘Kandu‘ (sugar-lump). India is the first country to invent sugar from cane-sugar. :)
Chocolate Chocolate bars Chocolate is always associated with chocolate bars. As small toffees are called candies here.
Beet root Beets They simply don’t use the word ‘roots’ for many vegetables.
Tissue paper Napkin, Kitchen Towels, Paper towels Don’t use the term ‘Tissue paper’ in the kitchen or in the restaurants. Its the term they use for toiler papers, tissue rolls. So, its napkins or kitchen towels here.
Beef Steak, sirloin, brisket, ribs, hamburger When it comes to beef, they don’t refer to the meat itself but to a cut of it. Thus you can have a pork steak or a salmon steak, as well as one cut from beef. Pull yourself together, they have a huge collection of beef here. :)
Pork Ham, bacon, chops, lions, sausages etc The meat itself is called pork but if you want to explore various cuts…look at the butcher’s chart list in the market or get a nice cook book. :)
Goat meat (Mutton) Lamb (sheep meat is mutton) I know, they both are entirely different. Goat meat is something frowned upon. Its like saying ‘dog meat’. Guess, black Americans were the ones who ate goat back in olden days and its often associated with slavery. So, no one eats them here. You can shop them only in a middle-east or any other ethnic market.
Ground meat Minced meat Usually minced meat is of goat’s meat in India, here its turkey!!!…Get a grip. :)
Hard drinks Whiskey Be specific. :)
Vodka Vodka (vaad – ca) Pronounced as ‘vaad-ca’.
Lemon juice Lemonade Lemonade comes in pet-jars.
Tin Beer Six pack It comes in a fancy six-pack, so it is cut short saying just ‘six pack’. Do not confuse it with body builder’s six packs, okay. :)
Raw Plantain Green Plantain Its again another Mexican vegetable.
Chow Chow / Bangalore Brinjal Chayote Its a Mexican vegetable here. And ‘Chow’ means “to eat’, specially they say ‘chow’ for dog foods!!!
Milk Powder Skim Milk Its obvious, this is the right term to use.
Country Chicken Hen, Cage-free Chicken They have absolutely no idea, what a free-range chicken is. Hell with industrial farming!
Prawn Shrimps Of course there are varieties of prawns, but its just ‘shrimps’ here. Fresh, frozen, Shelled, cooked etc. And cooked is something not a dish of ‘ready to eat’, its shelled, boiled and then packed-frozen shrimps.
Groundnut oil Peanut oil They will have a hard time understanding you, if you say ‘groundnut oil’!
Green chilies Chili Peppers As I told you before. We gave suffix to most of the chili varieties by color and texture.
Jug Pitcher Pitcher is the correct term for a Jug.
Tumbler Glass Invariably everything is called glass, even though its made of ceramic or plastic. Tumbler could be a right term, the one which tumbles…anyway.
Coffee cup or Tea cup Drinking mug Mug will do, they will get it!
Grill Broil Many would understand, what you mean. No worries.
Deep fried Fried Fried always signifies ‘deep-fried’. In Southern  parts of America, most of the dishes are deep-fried.
Kadai or Karahi Wok Yes, wok is the correct term for our round-bottomed cookware.
Tablespoon Serving ladles They say ladles for table spoon, as tablespoon is used for the measuring purpose in the kitchen.
Mess Dorm Cafeteria I know, you figured it out already. We all do, don’t we. :)
Rug or Tea cloth Dish Towel Dish cloth is the term for kitchen towels.
Tin (food) Can Canned food is the term for most of the tinned products.
Carry bag Shopping bag Well, you don’t have to actually carry them for shopping, but just in case if you wanna know…its ‘shopping bag’. :)
Vegetable shop Grocery shop Everything is in the grocery stores, because its always some super-store…not like in India, where you step out just for ‘chilies’ and ‘curry leaves’!
Dust bin or garbage Trash Just trash will do.
Wash counter Basin Although you will never notice a wash counter separately near the dining room or in the restaurants, you can excuse yourself to the restrooms (a.k.a. toilets in India).
Soup Clear soup, cream soup, pottage, gumbo It depends what type of soup you prefer.
Omlette Omelet The spelling differs. Its generally easy to follow, though!
Naan Naan bread Yes, they keep saying that, no matter how many times we correct them! Okay, its their country!
Indian tea Chai tea They are actually saying it ‘tea-tea’, its funny to watch. :)
Chappathi, Roti, Flat Breads Flat breads is the term used for most of our roti varieties.
Shallow fried Pan fried Sometimes, it is also braised. Unless you are talking to a gourmand, its plain ‘pan fried’.
Tawa Griddle Griddle cakes, Pancakes are the terms used for the food, that was toasted on a tawa.
Vessels (Cooking Utensils) Crockery, Crock-pot Vessel is something that is sent to space. :)
Bun Biscuit On a breakfast or dinner menu, you may want to order it. If you think its Indian-biscuit. Then you will miss a perfect dish!
Chewing gum Gum If you are wondering what would they call ‘gum’, it is called ‘glue’ here. :)
Tap Faucet Tap is for tapping a telephone conversation. So, faucet it is.
Black pepper Peppercorns Other than our black peppers, many varieties of chilies came to India after the discovery of America. So, we just added a suffix to them saying ‘green, red, dry’.
Maize Corn We are talking in British English.
Leafy vegetables Greens Palak is spinach, I guess you already knew that. Otherwise none of our greens show up here in their market.
Vitamin Vitamin (Vaitamin)
But pronounced as ‘Vaitamin’.
Semi-cook Raw, Medium, Rare …are the words used for meat. It means, how you want your meat to be done.
White rice Rice Rice is bit rarity here, they hardly serve up the quantity that we do in India. So, no specifications required.
Plain water Water No ice, please.
Drinks with ice On the rocks We don’t have to complicate things saying ‘with’ and without’ here.
Disposable plates Paper plates Just paper-plates will do. If we say ‘disposable’ they will think something Eco-friendly or biodegradable etc. Although that’s the idea, hehe. :)
Use and throw – forks and knives Plastic forks I once confused the waitress, here. :)
Canteen Cafeteria I suppose…as soon as you arrived, you will figure it out. No dictionary required for this!
Brim full, loaded, stomach full (eating context) Stuffed I have eaten more is ‘Stuffed’ here. While we used to say ‘stomach full’ or ‘brim full’.
Preparing a meal/ Prepared a dish Fixing a dish, fixed dinner Although they will understand you. :) Fixed or fixing a meal is more likely used.
Brown bread Whole wheat bread They have a huge varieties of bread, so be specific.
Cool drinks or Soft drinks Soda Its just soda. No worries they will give you ‘well-chilled’. :)
Finger chips French fries For a brief period it was also called ‘freedom fries’, when France & America had a cold war!
Filter coffee Brewed coffee That’s the only coffee they make, instant coffee is hardly in use. Remember coffee is always just coffee decoction, without cream (milk). :(
Hotel Restaurant Hotel / Motel is for just staying and restaurant is for eating. :)
Spice powder Curry Any spice blend from India is invariably referred as ‘curry’.
Mixie Blender They will never get a clue, if you keep saying ‘mixie’! Mixer is the term they often use for wine-mixing! So, blender it is.
Grinder Food processor (maybe) There is no such thing as our ‘Indian wet-grinder’ here. I use blender for making batter. They have cake mixers and food processors for various purpose, if you are interested.
Soda Club soda Alright, this ‘soda’ is called club soda.
Tomato sauce Ketchup Tomato sauce is less sweet, comes in a can for cooking.
Sugar-free Artificial sweetener They will be wondering ‘what is sugar-free’ means and might trick you saying there are many items without sugar!!!
Kneading Rolling
Rolling pin is used to flatten the dough.
Chopper Food processor / chopping board Chopper means helicopter.
Frying with little oil Stir-fried or saute (sautay) Saute is a French word, again you will have to pronounce it ‘sautay’.
Thinly sliced, matchsticks cutting Julienne The thin cuts of vegetables like chilies, ginger and carrots ‘julienne’. Again another French culinary term.
Chicken wings Buffalo wings Of course buffaloes don’t have wings, this chicken wings dish was first created in Buffalo (name of place) near New York.
Sweet potatoes Yams, Louisiana yams And don’t ask me, what would they call the ‘yams’ then! They don’t have any yams in their country.
Fast food Fast food Chain, Fast food joints Chain of stores…you may spot the same name like McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell in every village, town, city you go in America.
Chicken leg piece Drumsticks Chicken drumsticks, as it looks like one.
Drumsticks (vegetable) No word for this vegetable, its not found in America. Drumsticks is usually chicken leg piece or actual drum sticks (music instrument).
Main course Entree Pronounced in French.
Doggie bag (in restaurants) Take out box Don’t expect them to pack you with your left overs, they usually give you the box, unless you are dining in an upscale restaurant.
Family room or private room (restaurants) Booth You will scare the hell out of the waitress here, if you mention ‘I want a family room’ ! So, please refrain from saying it!
Coca cola Coke Coke, Diet coke will do.
Pot (cooking vessel) Pot (?) Pot, pot head means drug and the drug abuser, respectively.
Fish fillets Fillets (filay) Pronunciation difference. Be easy on your tongue.
Butter Butter (butta) You don’t have to stress ‘r’ and ‘t’ anymore!
Curry, Gravy etc Curry ‘Curry’ is the term used for most of our Indian dishes, invariably of it nature, texture and cooking methods. Can’t help it folks, get over it!
Turmeric (tarmaric) Turmeric (tur-meric) Just pronounce it in their way, even though it is native to India!
Hot Warm Something that is hot (in temperature) is warm.
Spicy and Lot of chilies. Hot Chili’s heat is always ‘Hot’. Don’t confuse it with temperature.



4 Responses so far.

  1. M.P.Gandhi says:

    This is very useful to such persons as like me to render life out side of India.. Thank. Gandhi

  2. Krithi says:

    Really Really Awesome composition! Loved reading it..
    Want to add a few.. Silverware is also called Flatware sometimes… “update me” is said “catch me up”. To take bath is commonly referred as “to shower”.
    If you want your coffee more stronger ask for “an extra shot”.

  3. Pepper Bowl says:

    Even I did little struggle initially, with the pronunciations like multi(multai), semi..flour(flover)…the list goes on and on..I’ waiting for another post with pronunciation differences too..

  4. Loved it. After a very long time I have read each and every word of an article. I could relate to this article so much. A must read!

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