Foodie’s Encyclopedia – Indian English Explained

Foodie’s Encyclopedia – Indian English Explained

Travelers visit India are often surprised by the local jargon used by Indians. However, they rarely have difficulty talking to the natives. As most of them speak decent English. That includes the workers and laborers. This broken English slang patronized by taxi drivers, paper boys, waiters…is popularly termed as ‘Butler English’.  Many do manage with this Indian pidgin and get away with their daily business.

Unlike Caribbean and Hawaiian English, Indian English is of different league. Indian English survived all along with thousands of many regional languages. English is greatly accepted as a language of government. And, it is also taught to the general public in the schools and colleges. It is only a common lingua franca between ourselves, fellow Indians. Nevertheless, none of the popularity of English made it to the level of national language! In a country like India, where there are so many classical languages…it would be highly debatable to do so.

Indian Ingleez

Well, Indian English is of course not a strange language, nor does it requires a separate standard or dictionary. Yet, we often find that Oxford or Webster’s dictionary is quite inadequate to deal with certain words and phrases that have changed their meaning / purpose on the Indian soil. As a result of long colonial rule, many words from Sanskrit, Hindi, Tamil and Portuguese are included into English. And, there are words and phrases that are very unique to India, such as ‘prepone’, ‘hillstation’, ‘airdash’ ‘do the needful’ which are not used anywhere else.

Culinary Lingo – Indian Ingleeze, Well Explained

Words & Phrases



Brinjal Eggplant or Aubergine. Its brinjal. (Solanum molengena) an indigenous plant to India. When British arrived, they saw its egg shaped size and called it that way ‘eggplant’. Where as for the rest of the nation calls it in different names…baingan, vengaya, kathirikai etc. I guess, the Hindi word ‘baingan‘ got anglicized to brinjal.
Chai Tea. Unlike English tea, Indian tea drinkers dunk their tea bags into the large volumes of milk and add too much of sugar to it. Just, be prepared for this local delight.
Cutting Chai A half a cup of tea.
Muslin Cheese cloth. If you are a gourmet cook, then you may need to know this term.
Shop Store, most likely a convenient store.
Dhaaba Ab open air, eatery establishment found along the highways, usually patronized by truck drivers. They serve up Pubjabi food, generally.
Drumstick A vegetable that grows in a tree (Moringa olifera), its slender and long, almost like a stick. South Indian sambar gets its flavor from the extensive use of this vegetable.
Pulses/ Dhall, Dal Lentils of many kinds.
Sago / Sabudana Tapioca. Makes some delightful dishes, if used properly.
Sooji / Rawa Semolina. An ingredient that hostel cooks patron to the most, to whip out lumpy grids to scare you away from the dinning room. :(
Dry Grapes /  Kismiss / Sultanas Raisins.
Feni Is an alcoholic beverage brewed from cashew nuts, this liquor is popular in Goa.
Filter Coffee Brewed coffee. We love our coffee with more cream in it. So, if you ever order a coffee and expect it to be a coffee. Sorry Bro’, its gonna be milk with a hint of coffee. Sometimes, if you don’t specify…it would be almost like putting your mouth in a dessert pot.
Garam Warm to steaming hot.
Gujjitarian People from the state of Gujarat, predominately vegetarians with special love affair for all kinds of sweets.
Greens Green leafy vegetables. There are tons of varieties to choose from, other than spinach.
Foreign Liquor / Military Drink However, these are Indian made ‘Foreign liquors’ such as whiskey, brandy, wine, gin, vodka. As Indian traditional drinks are toddy, fenni and tappa kanchi…usually sold in a shady country shops.
Hotel Any restaurant or eatery place, where we can dine. Not necessarily a place to stay.
Kebab Skewered meat.
Biscuit Cookies. No offense…then we also call the American biscuits as ‘buns’.
Porridge Oat meal or anything that could look like a gruel.
Butter fruit Avocado. I have never seen this fruit back home in India. My folks claim that they have eaten it in the name of butter fruit. I guess, the creamy texture must have forced them to say ‘butter fruit’.
Jam Jelly. A nice smooth spread of chappathis, anyone?
Kaccha Raw vegetables or fruits.
Jelly Not the jelly fish…its jello. Hmmm, never been a fan of it. :(
Jug Pitcher. As long as they refill your bear brim full, who cares what they call ‘a jug’ or ‘a pitcher’, right?
Mutton In India, if anyone mentions the term “mutton”, the chances are that you are going to have ‘goat meat’. Whereas, rest of the world calls the adult sheep as mutton. However, this mispronunciation is found throughout India, for which I don’t know the exact historical background.
Variety Rice Cooked rice is treated with various combinations of ingredients, to make them appear colorful, flavorful and rich. You got to try this.
Military Hotel A restaurant that is run for the carnivores. To satisfying the hunger pangs, they serve up all kinds of meat dishes. Just go gaga and devour.
Nescoffee Nes Cafe is a brand name of an instant coffee, but its now synonymous with any instant coffee.
Paneer Freshly prepared cottage cheese, without any rennet. India’s one and only cheese variety. :(
Tandoori A style of cooking, where the food is baked or grilled in an charcoal kiln oven. However, in the restaurants, when you order tandoori chicken…they serve up a dangerously red creation putting the signal lights to shame.
Tender Coconut A tender coconut is a raw coconut, which is not fully grown into a ripe coconut. The shells are weak and its filled with enormous quantity of water (endosperm), which is highly favored drink in a tropical country like India, especially in South India. Very healthy indeed.
Tiffin Carrier / Tiifin Box A packed meal in an unique container (which looks like a box with many compartments or an array of boxes stacked together). Usually taken by students and working class community for their afternoon meals.
Udipi Hotel An eatery establishment run by Brahmins (an ethnic group) who whip up only vegetarian food that is generally devoid of strong spices, onions and garlic.
Use and Throw plates Disposable or biodegradable plates.
Veg A short form for vegetarian meals. Indian vegetarianism is usually lacto- vegetarianism. As occasional egg eaters have termed themselves as eggetarians.
Pressure Cooker & Milk Cooker Quintessential for Indian cooking. In the early hours of the day (morning, I mean)…you can hear the whistle sound almost in every home.
Hot Drinks Subtle way of saying alcoholic beverage.
Enthu Cutlet Mincemeat croquette
Chocobar Chocolate laced vanilla pop-sickle. Usually sold by pushcart ice cream vendors during peak summer. And kids buzz around him like bees attracted to the flowers.
Jain Food Lacto-Vegetarian food, that is completely devoid of any strong smelling spices, alliums (garlic, onions, leaks) and root vegetables (ginger, potato, radish).
Curry Rice Goan / Mangalorean specialty dish. Generally it refers to fish curry.
Chai-Paani / Tea-Thanni / Kaapi-Thanni Literally means tea and water or coffee and water. However, there is a good possibility that they will serve you some snacks to munch along with it.
Cool Drinks Cold beverage or soda.
Solar Cooker A cooking vessel, that is powered by solar energy. Never used it myself…so no idea.
Military Meals Pure Non-vegetarian meals to satisfy the cravings of the carnivores. You could literally find anything that crawls, walks, flies in their menu.
Manjurian A south Indian version of Chinese delicacy. This deep fried dish, comes out in attractive red, making one instantly hungry for it. Yummmilious preparation.
Omlette / Omlate / Omlatu / Aamblate Whatever you hear, its an egg preparation. As a rule, we don’t eat it for breakfast, instead along with lunch and dinner…like a side dish.
Sugar If a middle-aged person mentions this word often in his/her conversation. Take a note, its certainly is not an ingredient in their cooking! Yep, he/she is talking about the diabetes. The phrase, “I have sugar” means, the person is suffering from type 2 diabetes.
NV A short form for ‘Non Vegetarian meals’. Its a way of saying that you prefer meaty dishes without offending anyone around you. Well, also be prepared to face people revolting over your choice/likings for NV meals.
Hot Savory snacks. Pardon our slang, but we like to say the opposite of sweet as ‘hot’, hehe.
Bun-butter- jam / Biscoot Small baker’s specialty snacks.
Salaad Sorry, folks…we are not that good in making salads. :( All you will see in your platter is some sliced vegetables without any dressing. If you are lucky, a pinch of salt, pepper and lemon juice will be provided.
Tumbler Drinking glass made out of stainless steel. Well, if something that could tumble is called tumbler…at least it makes sense in my opinion than saying ‘glass’ irrespective to the kind of material used.
Mixture / Mitcher Mitcher – A colloquial way of saying the word ‘mixture’. Its a savory snack, which is very hard to describe. Its an assortment of many different items, all tossed together. You snack, you watch TV, you drink tea…the evening passes blissfully. :)
Take Away Food Don’t worry, nobody is going to take your food away!!! Its actually ‘take out meals’.
Extra Chutney & Extra Sambar Don’t look puzzled, if you see this in a menu. It indicates that they could actually provide you with some additional servings(of course, they would charge you). When the food is extremely delish, you might want 2-3 helpings like such.
Leg Piece / Leg pees Chicken drumsticks is called leg piece, joint, thighs etc. If you got this piece in your meal, consider yourself lucky, but am sure it will create animosity among your co-diners…to grab your plate, Grrrr.
Outside Food Food that is not prepared by you or your family in your current location, but bought from other eatery establishment.
Samsa A South Indian version of samosa. The filling is entirely different, usually onions.
Degree Kaapi /  Filter Coffee The potent first exact of the coffee brew. This strong decoction is of superior quality. However, we adulterate it with too much of milk and sugar. Sorry, we like it that way.
Spare Parts If you have already browsed my website for bizzare food, you probably knew this. Yes, its various parts/organs of goat, like head, stomach, intestines, blood, legs, kidneys etc.
Multi-Cuisine Restaurant Is a genius invention of our restauranteurs to cater the needs of many people. In one word, like Indian masala movies. You get to taste all types of flavors in one place, but absolutely nothing will linger on!
Bakery Bread Its warm, fresh, right from the oven. But not a branded one for sure. You can find this spongy-fluffy breads from your neighborhood Mom’s and Pop’s bakery shop.
Egg Puffs The stuff that I miss here. :( Its an evening snack, where they put spicy egg curry in a puff-pasty sheets and bake it…yummm, finger-licking good.
Dabbawala A man who brings you boxed lunch (home made) from your home. Well, there got to be someone for you at the home, present, willing to cook and pack the lunch. And this man will show up prompt at your work place to deliver the box.
Horlicks Malted health beverage mix. But, kids may swear that they love to eat it as such, instead of making a drink.
Chicken 65 Batter dipped, double fried chicken…comes in strange orange red hue, sometimes, you even have to blink twice to get rid of the color from your mind.
Paneer Pizza, Chettinad Pizza, Chicken Tikka Pizza You will be prone to see such terms in the local pizzeria or even in popular chain restaurants. Its our own invention to throw some of our favorite toppings to please the crowd.
Grub If you practically grew up in a boarding school, you call the snack as grub.
Curd rice / Kurd rice,
Yogurts based rice dish, that’s usually mushy enough to gorge down in one go. The quintessential daily food of many South Indian vegetarians. It is eaten so frequently that sometimes, it has also come to mean the ethnic background of the person. Imagine you are having curd rice, when someone bumps into you and asks, “what you are having?”. Then, its kind of easy to utter ‘Kurd Raizu’ with mouthful of food. :)
Lady’s Finger No, not what you think. Its a name of the vegetable. If you are from America, southern part…you probably knew this vegetable as okra.
Finger Bowl After a heavy meal, when we can’t even think of lifting our finger…the kind waiter brings us a bowl of luke warm water with a slice of lemon wedge in it. Please, don’t indulge…this is presented to rinse our filthy fingers and lips. :)
Drinks Hmmm, generally means a casual drink of any alcoholic beverage. So, be prepared.
Wine Shop Not necessarily just wine. You could find all sorts of alcoholic beverage here.
Gravy Item A dish with enough thick liquid for you to dunk Indian flat breads or to mix with steamed rice.
Dry Item A dish without much dressing, something that is easy to pick up with a fork or toothpick, apart from rice and bread…I mean.
Gastric Trouble Heart-burn or acid reflux or any digestive ailment is simply mentioned as gastric trouble.
Store Room Generally the kitchen panty or in a weird condition it could the barn.
Chocolate Hmm, don’t expect the chocolate bar here, most of the time…its either a toffee or hard candy.
Chili Powder Quintessential for Indian cooking. Its a fine blend of sun-dried red chilies, super hot…so excise caution while using it.
With or Without Stop that stunned look. If you hear this word from a waiter or a host, they are asking you…”how do you like to have your beverage?”,  ‘with sugar’ or ‘without sugar’?
Served Hot In a dining hall, it describes the temperature of the food.
Sides / Side Dish Side orders…dishes that will be served along with the entree.
Combo A meal combination, an assortment of dishes to give a full course, all in one platter. How does that sound to you. Yes, yes like the one, you get in McDonald’s and KFC.
Hot-Hot Hot-hot…as in temperature. It means, ‘steaming hot’, and you got to be careful.
Chilly Chicken / Silly Sicken Well, there is nothing silly or sick about this dish! A very popular mispronunciation among my fellow natives, hehe.
Boost As the advertisement of boost is usually done a very popular cricket stars. It has become tykes favorite health drink for all these years.
One by Two When you say, one by two…while ordering a soup or any beverage. There is a good possibility that they will have to pour enough in each bowls/glass. In this way, you make a good deal. :)
Medium Spicy Indian food is usually very hot and spicy for any foreigner. By saying this to your host / chef…you win the awkward situation of wiping down the tears and can most certainly escape from turning red. Good luck.
Salt-uppu I heard this million times in Tamil Nadu…even though it sounds stupid when translated as ‘salt-salt’, people keep saying that for powdered salt. I mean the table salt…yes, the one against the rock salt.
Meals A typical Indian platter with an assortment of dishes, all served up in one single huge giant size platter. Better come with a hearty appetite. Enjoy.
Dining Hall Yes, you guessed it…the dining room, only difference is, its bit bigger to accommodate more members.
Pukka Sometimes, I seem to wonder whether its an Indian term or an English term. Pukka, means complete or fine or total or without any alteration.
Eversilver Stainless steel. Since it sparkles so nice (better than brass and copper, alright) people tend to call it ever-silver. :)
Plantain Leaf / Banana Leaf Just like the eco friendly plates today. We have been using this banana leaf as a platter for centuries in India. The food tastes awesome, when served on this leaf.
Sugar Complaint There is nothing to whine about sugar. But, you see…people who have diabetes, constantly throw this phrase in their conversation. Don’t look annoyed…its just another term for diabetes.
Chilled ‘Hot Water’ A perfect oxymoron term. People boil the water and then leave it in the refrigerator to cool. This enables them to be safe and also enjoy the plain water.
Food Taken Had a meal or I ate. If they posed this as a question: taken food?….they are asking you: ‘have you eaten?’.
Grinder / Wet-grinder A kitchen appliance that grinds the rice, grains and other pulses to a wet-paste (or batter). Which is very useful in every Indian household, especially in the South. Thus, we can churn large volumes of batter and store it in the refrigerators and whip up countless number of idlies and dosas, year round. :)
Packet / Parcel A pack that comes from the grocery store or any other retail shop.
Meat Its always synonymous with goat meat, with partial exception in the state of Kerala.
Turmeric Often pronounced as ‘tarmarik’…a wonder spice that paints all our Indian walls, kitchens, sinks, utensils, plates and even palms to yellow. Universally used in almost every recipe that we cook.
Mixie A heavy duty kitchen appliance in our kitchens for grinding spice, blend n puree stuff and also serves as a food processor. It is called blender in other this parts of the world. But, you see… mixie is bit elaborate, its heavy duty one that comes with 3 jars for various style of blending the spices. And we happen to use this gadget a lot.
Oven Well, its not the conventional oven…but a microwave oven that has gained popularity in the recent years. Women folk seek this gadget to heat the left over meals, so that they won’t be disturbed while watching a sitcom.
Chaat Popular street food. Usually the stalls are found in front of the schools and colleges.
American Choupseuy If you are an American, then you got to try this dish in India. Its our own indigenous invention…but , interestingly everyone believes that’s its an American dish.
Order for A way of saying that ‘I am ready to order food’, in a restaurant.
Eggetarian People who are vegetarians by religion (generally its always by religion, very rarely its by choice). So, when they are so deprived…some rebels (they would like to call themselves that way), claim that they broke all their conventions and indulge eggs. So, eggetarian it is. :)
Bowl / bols Refers to a deep dish. Often mispronounced as ‘bolz’.
Haff-Boil / Opp-Boil Anything that sounds like this from a waiter in a local eatery, then it should be “Half boiled eggs”. And, you Sir/Mam…you are too stubborn to call it ‘half boil’, anyway.
Svuwingham Chewing gum. When you are chewing something, seriously….then, its okay to mispronounce, hehe. :)
Hot and Cold food It has nothing to do with the temperature. Under Ayurvedic classification of food. There goes a deep root of categorizing each and very food item into ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, specifying their salient features in short.
Family Restaurant These restaurants do not have a bar.  And, has too many booths and lots of privacy for the family. Its expected that if there is no bar, obviously a group of partying freaks won’t show up.
Polythene Bag A plastic bag.
Cone Ice Cream Ice cream that is served on a cone. Most likely edible wafer cone.
Capsicum Bell Peppers in America, sweet peppers in U.K. And chili peppers is many places. Its Capsicum in Australia and India. :)
Curd Don’t go to the level of curdling the milk or anything, if the recipe calls for this ingredient. Its plain yogurts.
Flour Mill / Flore Mill Flore Mill, Flower Mill…it could be said in various phonetics. People in my home country (once upon a time) used to prefer freshly ground flour for their consumption. They take the grains and spices to this mill, to have it ground to perfection. Miss that tradition.
Jaggery Sometimes, I even wonder whether it is English or what? Well, its unrefined palm sugar. That usually comes in various shades of brown. We use this in many traditional sweet preparations, it has got a deep-earthy flavor.
Lollipop Sweet tooth? Forget the hard candy…its chicken lollipop in India. Yes, you guessed it right, the drumsticks.
Cup Ice Cream Ice cream that comes in a plastic or paper cups, of course with a disposable spoon to feed yourself.
Jujubee Jelly beans ( candies). It also comes to mean ‘little person’, meaning ‘belittling’ someone by calling him/ her ‘jujubee’. The word got popularized by South Indian Legend Actor, Rajini, when he mentioned it in his movies.
Mess Mom’s and Pop’s eatery establishments or some cheap dinning. Definitely home style cooking, usually run by the family members. If the food is extraordinary, people flock around from distance places for a true country style experience.
Treat An occasion to celebrate something…like clearing an exam, got a new job, promotion, etc. But, the person who is celebrating needs to host the party. That’s why I never share my happiness, hehe. :)
Not to be sold in loose Not to be sold in retail.
Sweet Dish, Sweet meat. A British English loan word for desserts. Today, it exists only in the English text books.
100 % pure vegetarian A/C
Its a sign board that you will come across in the streets, often in front of the restaurants. They just claim that they only serve vegetarian meals in an air conditioned rooms.
Cooling Ever been around in hot sun? Indian summer will kill ya, and if decide to make a pit stop at a convenient store for some chilled soda. You need to specify that you prefer it to be cold….by emphasizing “chill, cooling, please” or you will end up having a warm soda (usually bit higher than the room temperature, around 42 ° )
Broiler, White Leghorn Popular varieties of hybrid chicken.
Gems Candies, much like M & M’s. But it comes in multi colors, quite attractive and I love it. :)
Hand wash We Indians, eat with our hands. So, you are expected to wash your hands before every meal. There is a small wash counter, a.k.a basin near the dinning area for this very purpose. If you ever fail to do it…everyone around you notices, but won’t tell you and will definitely make ill-remark behind you. Watch out.
Butter Chicken If you don’t know ‘butter chicken’ yet, then you got to be kidding me. Our big brothers from Punjab…migrated to various parts of the world a century ago and popularized their culinary marvel. Well, its the most popular dish, something sweet-tangy-hot-saucy-rich and creamy. Go figure. Make sure that you have enough number of rotis by your side to wipe off the sauce from the bowl.
Bombay Duck / Bombil Picturing your favorite duck dish? Oooops, its a fish. Despite the weird name it has nothing to do with the duck, its a lizard fish. If you ever go to the coastal regions of Western India, try this Bombil fry. The odor of the fish is extremely powerful.
Handi Its a cooking vessel…deep, narrow mouthed, small, round bottomed, with or without handles. There are quite a number of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi recipes that may require this special ware. Well, it resembles American beanpots. Ever heard of Handi Biriyani? Yum. :)
Rasgulla / Rosogollo A popular Bengali sweet, prepared with split milk. The art of pronunciation ‘rosogollo’ needs a special tutoring session from a native speaker.
Hilsa / Ilish A tropical fish that is most consumed by Asians (Bengalis and Oriyas can’t live without it in their diet). Its not a surprise to be a national fish of Bangladesh. And, a word from the wise…never-ever, cook or eat fish in front of a Bengali when he/she is fasting. Ask me what happened?
Raw Men folks try to claim their masculinity by drinking their liquor without mixing it with soda, water or ice. That’s called ‘raw’, which is equal to their power/ valor/ triumph…etc.
Snack break Recess or a 10-15 break in the mid morning hours (usually in schools and colleges) for a quick nibble.
Menu Card Menu.
Meals Ready A sign board that is displaced in front of the restaurants, indicates that the food will be served instantly once you order.
Mineral Water /Bisleri Its actually pure bottled water. Somehow we started saying ‘mineral water’. And Bisleri is the popular brand name of the bottled water. Now it has come to mean for any bottled pure water.
Toddy Anglicized loan word from the South Indian word ‘tari‘. Meaning alcoholic beverage made from Palmyra palm.
Fresh Lime Soda Both limes and lemons are called invariably lemon and lime! This is a fresh lemonade soda. To your surprise…we add either salt or sugar to taste or even both at the same time. Please, try this weird combination without making a face.
Masala A mix of many whole spices. A mix of fresh spices. Or just spice blends.
Tiffin A light meal or a hearty breakfast.
Hot Drinks Nothing to do with the temperature. Means alcoholic beverage.
Egg Token A proud possession of a small ticket booklet, in a boarding school and college dorms. If you ever lived in a hostel, that too…your only option is a vegetarian mess, then you got to have this booklet to supplement your diet. One has to pay in advance for the number of eggs to be consumed in future to get a booklet. Then you will tear off a ticket and exchange it for an omlette during meal time. But, kids steal, do fraud and all sort of enmity goes around when you own it. Its always safe to go along with the crowd, sometimes. :(
Meals Token In many eatery establishments, they expect you to pay in advance. Generally for a standard meals (platter meals). Then, they hand over a token / ticket to you. Which you will exchange it with the waiter for meals. A simple set-up to prevent frauds.
Continental Comes to refer any alien food items, other than Indian and Chinese. So, it could be either American, French or Italian food…but its continental to us. :)
Finger chips The French call it fries, British has their chips, and Americans love their French or freedom fries…Well, we’ve got our finger chips. :)
Paan / Paan beeda /  Zarda beeda / 120 / Sweet beeda Chewing betel leaves is an ubiquitous sight in many parts of India. Just like wine tasters make their own choice, many paan lovers know their varieties and are quite particular about it. And there is a popular belief that chewing these leaves reddens the lips like a lipstick. However, the leaf itself doesn’t have the property, but the slaked lime mixture (calcium hydroxide) used in these paans would turn the mouth and lips to deep red…as though you have been beaten up.

Rasna Its a mango or orange flavored drink. People generally use it to treat their unwanted guests. If you ever experienced house-sitters, you are prone to buy this teeny sachet of rasna for a penny, then…voluminize it with swimming pool of tap water, and serve it at room temperature, generously. Watch the rest of the show.
Cheetos You don’t know what is cheetos? Its a new found evening snack for the plump aunties, who are too lazy to make homemade goodies. At one go, you can gorge down 1000 calories.


© 2010 Malar Gandhi,  All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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