Indian Restaurant Terms



Onion Deep fried balls of onion and batter. The batter is made from gram flour which is derived from chana dhal. The name can be a little confusing because restaurants use the term "bhaji" both for the deep fried onion sort and for various dishes e.g. bhindi bhaji, brinjal bhaji, which are vegetables cooked in a little curry sauce. Bhindi okra, ladies fingers

Refers to any of the pulse family - dried peas, beans and lentils. There are hundreds of types of dhal but the most common in restaurants are "masoor dhal" (split red lentils) and "chana dhal". The word dhal is also used to describe the name of the finished dish. e.g. tarka dhal where cooked dhal is garnished with fried garlic and spiced oil.

Meat, typically lamb or mutton.

Garam Masala:
North Indian spice mix - means "warming spice mix" containing ground coriander, cumin, cardamon, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.

It is not a traditional Indian dish as such but, like the bhuna, is actually a method of cooking. It literally means "hot-fry" but is probably better translated as "stir-fry". The term jalfrezi entered the English language at the time of the British Raj in India. Colonial households employed Indian cooks who would use the jalfrezi method of cooking to heat up cold roasted meat and potatoes. But the restaurant jalfrezi is not a version of the Anglo-Indian dish. Oh no. The Indian restaurant chef uses the jalfrezi method to stir-fry green peppers, onions and plenty of green chillies as the basis for a curry with just a little sauce. The chillies make the jalfrezi taste very fresh but also make it one of the hotter curries on the restaurant menu.


Curry sauce is a rich and creamy sauce, flavoured with ginger, yoghurt, cream and ground almonds. It sometimes also contains dried fruit as a garnish.

A traditional korma will have a long slow cooking. In fact, korma is not one particular dish but rather a method of cooking similar to braising. Because korma is a cooking method there are a wide variety of dishes that could be described as "korma". Many kormas call for the meat to be marinated in yoghurt and then the meat plus marinade are braised on a very low heat until all the juices condense down into a thick sauce. The restaurant chef has to cook to order so doesn't have time for long, slow cooking. The korma you find in Indian restaurants usually contains ground almonds, coconut and thick cream. It is often described on restaurant menus as being "very mild" but a good korma should not be bland.

Chopped salad usually containing cucumber, onion, tomato and coriander.

Minced meat, usually lamb

Can be vegetable or meat shaped dumplings usually in curried sauce.

Indian style ice cream made from milk, sugar, cardamon and pistachios or almonds.

Creamy curry with coconut milk, this curry is popular in Kerala on India's West Coast, and usually contains seafood and is often very hot


Green peas

A teardrop shaped leavened bread cooked in a tandoor. Nan bread is cooked by slapping it onto the wall of the tandoor where it sticks while baking. Nan has a unique flavour because it is cooked in the tandoor alongside meaty kebabs. The kebabs give off juices which burst into little droplets when they hit the charcoal imparting a smoky flavour to the naan. There are numerous types of naan including stuffed ones. For example, a kulcha is a naan stuffed with onions and a Peshwari naan is a naan stuffed with sultanas, coconut and ground almonds.

Rice flavoured with spices sometimes yellow with saffron

Home-made cheese made by boiling whole milk and then curdling it with an acid such as lemon juice. The whey is then strained off and the curds are pressed to extract moisture. The end result is a block of fresh cheese which is cut into cubes. Paneer has a mild taste and does not melt when heated.

A flat, unleavened bread enriched with butter. Similar to a chapati but thicker and layered to give a flaky texture. Can be stuffed with a spicy filling of mashed vegetables or minced meat.

Deep-fried thin corn chips like discs made from ground lentils and spices. Papadams are often served warm as an appetiser accompanied by a selection of chutneys.

Yoghurt accompaniment often made with cucumber, spices and yoghurt.

Rogan Josh:
Rogan josh is another all time favourite on the curry house menu. It was originally a Kashmiri dish but is equally at home in the Punjab. An authentic rogan josh will be made with lamb and may, at its most elaborate, contain dozens of spices. The Kashmiri and Punjabi versions do differ (the Kashmiri does not traditionally contain onions or garlic) but they are both highly spiced and share a deep red colour derived from the liberal use of dried red Kashmiri chillies. The curry house rogan is also red but the colour comes from red peppers and tomatoes rather than Kashmiri chillies. The restaurant rogan is characterised by its garnish of tomato pieces and fresh coriander. It is usually medium hot.

Usually refers to spinach on the Indian restaurant menu although, strictly speaking, it means soft green leaves like fresh fenugreek leaves, mustard greens or, of course, spinach.

Saag gosht:
Is a classic curry traditionally made with spinach and lamb. Saag is, strictly speaking, a general term for tender green leaves such as spinach, mustard greens and fresh fenugreek leaves. If you were talking about spinach on its own it would be called palak. Many restaurants these days will offer a chicken or a prawn alternative to lamb and so the dish will show on the menu as just "saag" or "palak" omitting the gosht (lamb) from the name altogether. The saag is usually served medium hot and is made in the bhuna.

Seekh kebab:
A long sausage shaped kebab made with spiced minced lamb. Can be cooked in the tandoor or on a char-grill.

Barrel shaped clay oven. Traditionally fired with charcoal although gas fired tandoors are sometimes used in restaurants. The enclosed nature of the oven, the thick walls and the fierce heat source mean that wall temperatures can reach up to 250ºC. Nan breads are stuck onto the inner walls of the oven and cook in seconds. Tandoori chicken and kebabs are threaded onto skewers and let down into the oven for rapid cooking in the high heat. Chicken quarters can take as little as 10 minutes to cook.

Tandoori chicken:
Chicken quarters which have been marinated in yoghurt and spices and then cooked in the tandoor.

Means "little pieces". Tikkas are small chunks of chicken or lamb which have been marinated in yoghurt and spices and then threaded onto skewers and cooked in a tandoor or over a char-grill. Chicken tikka can be served dry or added to a rich creamy sauce to make the famous chicken tikka masala.

Crisp flaky pastries - deep fried, can be filled with minced lamb and peas or potato and peas.


Tikka Masala:
Chicken tikka masala is the all time most popular dish on the Indian restaurant menu and what the restaurant diner really needs to know is whether the restaurant is providing a good example of the dish. And what is a good example? Well, the chicken tikka pieces should be aromatic and slightly smoky from the tandoor. The masala sauce should be well spiced but not hot, rich and creamy and have a hint of coconut. Tikka masala usually has a deep red colour.

The vindaloo was originally a Portuguese dish which took its name from the 2 main ingredients which were "vinho", wine/wine vinegar, and "alhos", garlic. Over time it was spiced up, hotted up and otherwise changed by the indigenous peoples of the ex-Portuguese colony of Goa. Not many restaurants produce an authentic Goan vindaloo not least because the pork used by Christian Goans in their recipe would not be acceptable to Muslim chefs. In some restaurants the vindaloo is just a pumped-up Madras i.e. the same recipe but with lots more chilli powder. Other restaurants have interpreted the "aloo" part of the name as meaning potato and introduced diced potato to a hot standard curry with added lemon juice for tartness and black pepper for extra pungency. Very hot.

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