So here is a translation table for understanding Indian menus. It mainly refers to Northern food as my experience was restricted to it. Most of the times you’ll find the name of the dish or its ingredients spelled out in a local language-English mix and people will struggle explaining you what the thing actually is or what’s inside it. So learning the most common names was really useful to me, especially when lacking internet connection to access a translator. For a bit more about my travels in India, check this post on wondrous Jaisalmer!
Most of restaurants in India are vegetarian but cream, butter, ghee (refined butter), milk or paneer (sort of delicate cream cheese, similar to Italian ricotta) are often present so beware if you’re vegan. Eggs are considered non-vegetarian. The cool thing is that any packed food must have a green dot on its package if it’s vegetarian or a red one if it’s not (it is red if eggs are included).
Tofu is rare but can be found, not many people know the word “tofu” but you can say “soy paneer” to be easily understood.
Well, here is the conversion table. I might have misspelled some names, others change their spelling depending on the area…hope this won’t create many misunderstandings.
- Chole/Channa: chickpeas
- Dal: lentils
- Pallak: spinach
- Paneer: delicate ricotta-like cream cheese
- Naan/Chapati/Roti: delicious flat bread in many variations
- Aloo: potatoes
- Matter: peas
- Mutton: well, mutton
- Bringel: small and crazily delicious aubergines
- Bhindi/lady’s finger: okra
- Tamatar: tomatoes
- Gobhi: cauliflower
- Ghee: liquid refined butter
- Lassi: drinkable yoghurt, salty or sweet
- Dhosa: a super thin sort of eggless omelette, crunchy and South Indian. It’s vegan and served stuffed or with coconut sauce if plain. Not spicy
- Papad: flavourful thin and crunchy flat bread, spiced with cumin
- Ginger: just grab that fresh ginger. I’ve never smelled anything so good anywhere else
- Mango: best mango ever
- Soya paneer: tofu
- Chole bathure: my favourite. Spicy chickpeas (chole) served with a huge inflated deep fried bread (bathure). Should be vegan but sometimes paneer is added to the bread. MUST TRY, the best is in Delhi.
- Pao Baji: legumes creamy soup (not so spicy) served with toasted bread and butter. Saved for the butter, it’s vegan and delicious and of course you can ask for the butter-free version.
- Pallak paneer: paneer served in a not spicy spinach cream.
- Aloo gobhi: absolutely delicious cauliflower and potatoes dish, all dipped in a light sauce, often peas and tomato. Vegan and my second favourite (I didn’t even like cauliflower before trying this stuff)
- Tikka: kind of cooking, based on marinating the food in spicy yogurt and lemon.
- Aloo tikki: street food, a potato mash with a mix of dips
- Golgappe/pani puri: streetfood, bite-sized spherical crunchy bread, empty inside. They tap a hole in it and fill it with icy and spiced water, potatoes, chickpeas and sauces. Should be vegan
- Korma: way of cooking, based on the use of a cream made of cashews, delicate and delicious. It often contains milk but you can ask the dairy-free version, it is delicious.
- Thali: way of eating based on having a large platter made of smaller bowls containing various foods. You should eat them with rice and/or chapatti and it’s super satisfying.
- Tandoori: way of cooking using –of course- a tandoori oven
- Samosa: deep fried (vegan) dough, pyramid-shaped and stuffed with potatoes and peas. God, how much I miss the real thing…
- Pickle: VERY pickled, the mango one is the most popular.
- Tamatar Aloo: I fell in love with it. Potatoes cooked in a super flavourful tomato sauce
- Paneer butter masala: paneer cooked in tomato sauce and butter
- Butter chicken: well, chicken cooked in tomato sauce and butter
- Besan laddoos: my favourite. Dusty chickpea flour balls, fried. Just chickpea flour and sugar. They can be fried in ghee instead of oil so might not always be vegan
- Dalda: vegan tip! It’s plant-based ghee, so vegan even if of lower quality. I used to ask for dalda laddoos when I wanted vegan sweets. They might not tell you they use dalda because it’s considered cheap so beware of the way you ask.
- Laddoos (I don’t remember the name but the orange ones): I don’t like them, besan laddoos are way better.
- Other laddoos: try them all! Especially the ones containing nuts
- Jalebi: vegan, deep fried sweet batter. Very very sweet.
- Jamun: too sweet to be eaten for my taste. Dairy-based I think
- All other sweets: try them all, if they’re not too sweet they’re awesome
- Lassi: liquid yogurt, sometimes made sweet
Did I miss anything? More delicious translations to provide?
And here are a couple of more lists, hope they can be of use: