Indian Food Terms With Definitions

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Indian cuisine is as diverse and rich as its culture. For language learners, understanding the vocabulary related to this cuisine can be both fascinating and useful, helping to discover more about Indian culture. In this article, you'll find some common Indian food words used in cooking, making it easier for you to appreciate and engage with this vibrant culinary tradition. 
Embracing Indian Cuisine: Exploring Food Terms with Definitions

Main Ingredients

Indian cuisine is celebrated for its wide array of main ingredients that create a symphony of flavors. As you explore Indian food words, you'll gain insight into what makes Indian cuisine so diverse and delightful.


Spices are synonymous with Indian cooking, adding depth and complexity to every dish. They are artfully blended to create an array of flavors, from subtle to fiery. As you explore these terms, you'll gain insight into the mastery of seasoning that defines Indian cuisine.

  • Masala: a blend of ground spices; used in many Indian dishes to add flavor and aroma.
  • Turmeric: a bright yellow spice; known for its earthy flavor and medicinal properties.
  • Cardamom: a fragrant spice; often used in sweets and savory dishes alike.
  • Cumin: a common spice; has a distinctively warm, earthy flavor.
  • Coriander: a herb and spice; seeds are used as spice, leaves for garnishing.
  • Fenugreek: an aromatic spice used in seed or leaf form, known for its bitter taste.
  • Mustard Seeds: small round seeds used for tempering.
  • Saffron: a precious spice that imparts a golden color and fragrant aroma.
  • Cloves: a strong, pungent spice used in various savory dishes.
  • Asafoetida (Hing): a pungent resin used in small quantities to enhance flavor.
  • Black Pepper: a common spice used whole or ground, adds heat and flavor.

By understanding the spices used in Indian cooking, you have uncovered a vibrant world of flavor. These spices, whether used individually or in blends, are the essence of Indian food. 

Grains and Pulses

Grains and pulses are staple ingredients in Indian cooking, providing both substance and nutrition. They are used in a wide range of dishes, from daily meals to festive specialties. As you delve into these Indian food words, you'll discover the building blocks of many beloved Indian recipes.

  • Basmati: a type of rice; known for its fragrant aroma and long grains.
  • Chapati: a type of flatbread; made with whole wheat flour and water.
  • Dal: a staple in Indian meals often cooked with spices.
  • Biryani: a mixed rice dish; includes meat and/or vegetables and spices.
  • Millet: a yellow type of grain; used in various traditional dishes.
  • Ragi: a nutritious grain; often used in bread and porridge.
  • Chana Dal: split chickpeas; used in curries and for making flour.
  • Urad Dal: black gram; used in dals and to make batter for dishes like dosa.
  • Quinoa: a grain rich in protein; increasingly used in Indian fusion cooking.
  • Jowar: sorghum grain; used in bread and porridge, popular in certain regions.

You've learned about the various grains and pulses that make up the heart of many Indian meals. This knowledge not only deepens your understanding of Indian cuisine but also introduces you to nutritious and flavorful components that can be integrated into your own cooking. These ingredients connect diverse Indian cultures through food.

Cooking Techniques

Cooking techniques in Indian cuisine are as rich and varied as the flavors themselves. These methods have been refined over centuries and are essential to preparing authentic Indian dishes. As you learn these terms, you will unlock the secrets to the textures and flavors that make Indian food unique.

  • Tandoor: a type of clay oven; used for baking bread and roasting meat.
  • Bhuna: a method of cooking that involves frying spices in hot oil.
  • Dum: slow cooking method; food is cooked in its own juices and steamed.
  • Tempering (Tadka): frying spices in hot oil or ghee to release flavor.
  • Braising: slow-cooking with liquid; often used for meat and vegetables.
  • Roasting: cooking on an open flame or in an oven; used for meat, vegetables, or spices.
  • Grilling: cooking on a grill or griddle; commonly used for kebabs and tikkas.
  • Steaming: cooking with steam; used for dumplings, rice, and certain sweets.
  • Marinating: soaking ingredients in a mixture of spices and liquids; enhances flavor and tenderness.

You have now explored the varied cooking techniques that bring Indian dishes to life. This understanding enables you to appreciate the skill and tradition behind the Indian culinary experience.


Popular Indian Dishes

India's popular dishes reflect its diverse culinary landscape, with flavors and techniques varying across regions. These dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, showcase the country's rich food heritage. As you learn these Indian food terms, you'll be introduced to the flavors that have made Indian cuisine famous worldwide.

Vegetarian Dishes

Vegetarianism is an important aspect of Indian cuisine, with a multitude of dishes that are both nutritious and flavorful. These dishes use a variety of vegetables, grains, and spices. As you explore these Indian food terms, you'll be inspired by the creativity and diversity of vegetarian cooking in India.

  • Paneer: a type of cheese; used in various vegetarian dishes.
  • Dosa: a fermented crepe; made from rice and black gram.
  • Sambar: a lentil-based vegetable stew; often served with rice or dosa.
  • Chole: chickpea curry; often served with rice or bread.
  • Bhindi Masala: okra cooked with spices; a popular side dish.
  • Aloo Gobi: a dish made with potatoes and cauliflower; cooked with various spices.
  • Palak Paneer: a dish of paneer cheese in a spinach gravy; flavored with spices.
  • Rajma: red kidney bean curry; usually served with rice.
  • Saag Aloo: a dish made with potatoes and mustard greens or spinach; cooked with spices.
  • Gajar Ka Halwa: carrot pudding; a sweet dessert.
  • Puri: deep-fried bread; often paired with curries.
  • Kachori: stuffed pastry; filled with spiced lentils or other fillings.
  • Vegetable Pulao: rice cooked with vegetables and spices; often served with yogurt.
  • Uttapam: thick pancake; made with fermented rice and lentils.
  • Matar Paneer: peas and paneer cheese; cooked in a tomato-based sauce.

You have now explored the rich landscape of Indian vegetarian dishes. This knowledge enables you to appreciate the depth and variety that vegetarian cooking offers in Indian cuisine. 

Non-Vegetarian Dishes

Non-vegetarian dishes in Indian cuisine are as varied as the country's geography. As you delve into these Indian food terms, you'll discover a wide range of tastes and textures.

  • Chicken tikka: grilled chicken chunks; marinated in spices and yogurt.
  • Rogan josh: a dish of braised meat; cooked with a gravy rich in garlic, ginger, and aromatic spices.
  • Butter Chicken: chicken cooked in a creamy tomato sauce; a rich and flavorful dish.
  • Keema: minced meat; often cooked with peas and spices.
  • Fish Curry: fish cooked in a spicy and tangy gravy; popular in coastal areas.
  • Lamb Vindaloo: a spicy curry of Portuguese origin; made with vinegar, garlic, and other spices.
  • Chicken Korma: chicken cooked in a creamy, nutty gravy; a rich and flavorful dish.
  • Mutton Biryani: a spiced rice dish; made with mutton, saffron, and various aromatic spices.
  • Tandoori Chicken: chicken marinated in yogurt and spices; roasted.
  • Goan Fish Curry: fish curry with coconut milk; from the Goan region.
  • Chicken Chettinad: chicken with roasted spices; a specialty of the Chettinad region.
  • Egg Curry: eggs in spiced tomato gravy; a protein-rich dish.
  • Malabar Prawn Curry: prawns in coconut-based gravy; from the Malabar coast.
  • Nihari: slow-cooked meat stew; often consumed with bread.

You have now learned about the many non-vegetarian dishes that are integral to Indian cuisine. These dishes offer a rich array of flavors, reflecting regional influences and culinary traditions. Your understanding of these terms will enhance your enjoyment and exploration of India's non-vegetarian culinary offerings.


Indian food is an exquisite blend of flavors, aromas, and textures. By understanding the vocabulary presented in this article, you can now navigate Indian menus and recipes with confidence. This guide to Indian food vocabulary enriches your culinary experience and bridges the gap between cultures.

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GeneJan 16th, 2024
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