Decoding Indian Menu Terms: A Guide to Navigating Indian Restaurant Menus

The image shows two elephants back to back one orange and one green depicting the Indian flag and the text saying Indian Restaurantas it is a blog on how to understand menu items in Indian restaurants.

Decoding Indian Menu Terms: A Guide to Navigating Indian Restaurant Menus

When dining at an Indian restaurant, the extensive menu can sometimes be overwhelming.! If you’re a foodie who loves exploring new cuisines, this is the perfect resource to help you decode Indian menu terms and navigate the diverse and delicious world of Indian cuisine.

Deciphering unfamiliar names and understanding the flavors and ingredients can be a challenge.

Let’s take a closer look at various Indian menu items and decode some popular dishes.

Understanding Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine is a tapestry of diverse flavors, spices, and regional specialties.

By understanding common Indian restaurant menu terms, you can unlock a world of culinary exploration. Indian cuisine is renowned for its vibrant spices, aromatic herbs, and a balance of flavors that tantalize the taste buds.

Whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat lover, there’s something for everyone in Indian cuisine.

Demystifying Common Indian Menu Terms

If you’re feeling a bit lost in the world of Indian cuisine, fear not! Let’s decode some common Indian restaurant menu terms together.


Curry is the cornerstone of Indian cuisine, but it’s not just a single dish.

In Indian cuisine, curry refers to a wide range of flavorful dishes prepared with a blend of spices, herbs, and other ingredients.

Common types of curries include butter chicken type sauce, any masala curry with a base of onions-tomato-ginger-garlic, korma, and curries without the use of onions or garlic.

Butter chicken is a rich and creamy tomato-based curry, while masala curry is known for its flavorful spiciness (although the heat level is easily adjusted).

Korma curry is a milder, more aromatic option.

Each curry has its unique combination of spices, giving it a distinct flavor profile.

Photo of Indian butter chicken curry in a tomato based thick sauce served in a white round bowl on a white abckground with a bowl of rice with some lime wedges in the background.
Butter Chicken Curry


Biriyani is a fragrant and aromatic rice dish that originated in the royal kitchens of India and is a beloved dish enjoyed by people of all ages. The rice is cooked with the meat and spices, allowing the flavors to meld and infuse.

Biriyani is typically made with basmati rice, meat (such as chicken, lamb, or goat meat), and a blend of aromatic spices including saffron and herbs like mint and cilantro.

Nowadays Vegetarian Biriyani made with paneer or other vegetables is quite popular, as is Egg Biriyani, Shrimp Biriyani, and Fish Biriyani.

Each region in India has its own variation of biriyani, making it a versatile and customizable dish. However, biriyani originated with the Mughal royals of North India who contributed this decadent dish to Indian cuisine.

A plate of mutton biriyani served in a wide dinner plate on white background. There are a few dried red chilies in the background, some crushed spices and whole green cardamom too and a bowl of raita.
Mutton Biriyani


The word “tandoori” evokes images of succulent, grilled delights!

Tandoori cooking originates from the Punjab region of India and involves cooking food in a traditional clay oven called a tandoor. The tandoor imparts a unique smoky flavor to dishes and creates a wonderful texture.

Tandoori chicken is a well-known dish, featuring marinated chicken cooked in the tandoor until it is juicy and charred on the outside.

Paneer tikka, made with grilled cottage cheese and a blend of spices, is another popular tandoori dish. The tandoor is also used to prepare flavorful kebabs and naan bread.

The best part though is that you can create these tandoori dishes at home using your own indoor or outdoor grill and even your oven!

Photo of a plate of charred and succulent chicken tandoori on a plate with raw onion rings and a bowl of green chutney for dipping.
Chicken Tandoori

Exploring the Variety of Indian Dishes

Indian cuisine offers a vast array of dishes to suit every palate.

Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, seafood aficionado, or meat lover, there’s something to satisfy your cravings.

Vegetarian and vegan dishes feature a combination of vegetables, lentils, and spices. They range from creamy and mild dishes like palak paneer (spinach and cottage cheese) to robust and flavorful vegan dishes like baingan bharta (roasted eggplant curry).

Chickpea dishes like chana masala are a popular restaurant order as are gluten-free vegan dishes like daal, okra curry, dum aloo, mixed vegetable curry, khichadi (a thick soup of rice and lentil with or without vegetables), and South Indian foods like idli, dosa, and uttapam which are made of fermented rice and lentils.

Seafood dishes highlight the coastal influence on Indian cuisine, with popular dishes like fish curry and prawn masala.

Meat lovers can indulge in dishes like lamb vindaloo and chicken curry.

Indian Street Food

Indian street food is a vibrant and diverse culinary experience that reflects the country’s rich food culture.

Street food stalls and carts can be found in bustling markets and busy street corners across India, offering a wide range of delicious and affordable treats.

When it comes to exploring the vibrant world of Indian street food, decoding Indian menu terms becomes an invaluable skill!!

Understanding the menu will let you dive into the rich flavors and unique culinary experiences of Indian street food with confidence and excitement!

Some popular Indian street food dishes on Indian restaurant menus include:

Samosa: A deep-fried pastry filled with a spicy potato and pea mixture, often served with chutneys.

Vegan samosas on a plate with some green chilies on the side and a glass of hot Indian tea.
Samosas paired with hot tea

You can make samosas at home with puff pastry and not feel pressured to make that flaky crust that we love so much! Using puff pastry takes all that work out of our hands. All you need to make is the easy potato filling and make your puff pastry samosa turnovers!

Vada Pav (pronounced vada pao): A popular street food from Mumbai, consisting of a deep-fried potato fritter served in a bun.

A photo of an Indian snack called vada pav. Vada is the potato fritter which is round in shape and the pav pronounced pao is a small bun in which the vada is nestling.
Vada Pav

Pav Bhaji: A tangy and spicy vegetable curry served with a soft buttered bun.

Indian street food called pav bhaji which is a vegetable curry cooked with lots of butter and spices served with a bun (pav) and onions and limes.
Pav Bhaji

Pani Puri: Also known as golgappa or puchka, it is a bite-sized crispy hollow puri filled with spicy and tangy water, chutneys, and a mixture of potatoes and chickpeas.

The photo shows Indian street food pani puri with a bowl of pani puri water.
Pani Puri

Dahi Puri: Mini crispy puris filled with a mixture of yogurt, spicy and tangy chutneys, potatoes, and chickpeas.

The photo shows a close up of dahi puri an Indian street food which is a spinoff of pani puri. The small round crisp puris are filled with a potato filling and topped with a sweet yogurt sauce, tamarind and green chutneys and some fried chickpea noddles called sev.
Dahi Puri

Pakoras: Deep-fried fritters made with a batter of chickpea flour and various vegetables like onion, potato, or spinach.

A plate of vegetable pakoras which are vegetables dipped in chickpea flour batter and deep fried. In the background there is a bowl of red dipping sauce.

Aloo Tikki: Shallow-fried potato patties mixed with spices and served with chutneys.

A plate of potatoes patties called aloo tikkis with two dried red chillies on the right side, a bowl of green peas on the left and a bowl of turmeric to the far left. On the right a bunch of green cilantro is visible and the table is strewn with a few green peas.
Aloo Tikki

Aloo Tikki Chaat: Aloo tikkis covered in a blanket of creamy spiced yogurt and topped with tamarind chutney, green chutneys, onions, chopped cilantro and crispy chickpea fries (sev).

a plate of Indian street food Aloo Tikki Chaat.
Aloo Tikki Chaat

Indian Desserts

Indian desserts are known for their indulgent sweetness and rich flavors.

They are often made with ingredients like milk, ghee (clarified butter), sugar, nuts, and aromatic spices.

Some popular Indian desserts you will see being offered on Indian restaurant menus include:

Gulab Jamun: Deep-fried dough balls soaked in a sweet syrup flavored with rose water and cardamom.

A plate of gulab jamuns an Indian dessert with a sprinkling of desiccated coconut with a cup of coffee in a decorative holder and a bowl of dried flowers and another bowl with a liquid and some dried petals. The dried flowers are pink and purple.
Gulab Jamun

Jalebi: Crispy pretzel-shaped sweets made by deep-frying a fermented flour batter and then dipping them in a sugar syrup.


Kheer: A rice pudding made with milk, rice, sugar, and flavored with cardamom, saffron, and nuts

A glass bowl filled with Indian rice pudding make with milk, rice, sugar, saffron and topped pistachios and almonds.
Rice Kheer

Rasgulla: Soft and spongy cottage cheese (paneer) balls cooked in a sugar syrup.

A glass bowl of Indian dessert Rasgulla which means balls with syrup. It is made with paneer (Indian cottage cheese).

Gajar Halwa: a delightful Indian dessert made with grated carrots cooked in ghee, milk, sugar, and flavored with cardamom, and garnished with nuts.

Two white bowls filled with orange gajar halwa the Indian carrot pudding topped with cahwes and almonds.
Gajar Halwa

Rasmalai: a popular Indian dessert made with soft and spongy cottage cheese (paneer) balls also called rasgullas served in a creamy milk sauce flavored with saffron and cardamom.

A white square bowl nestling in a bigger white square bowl filled with rasmali which is an Indian dessert of rasgullas in a creamy sweet milk sauce.

Ready to explore the flavors of India?

Armed with your newfound knowledge of common Indian menu terms, you can confidently navigate the offerings at Indian restaurants.

Embrace the vibrant flavors and aromas of Indian cuisine, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Whether it’s a comforting curry, aromatic biriyani, or sizzling tandoori dish, let your taste buds transport you to the rich culinary heritage of India.

I’d love it if you shared your favorite Indian dishes or any lingering questions you have – I’m here to guide you on your culinary journey!

Written by:

HI! IM MISH. nice to meet you! My mission is to lower barriers and show you that cooking delicious Indian food is much simpler than you think. Let's get started on this culinary adventure together, and bring the joy of Indian flavors to your home!

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