Whether you are travelling in India or trying out unfamiliar cuisine in a restaurant, the issue of pronouncing the names of food unknown to you often crops up as you browse through a menu card. More often than not, it happens the same way—staring at the menu, mouth salivating while the brain tries to figure out how to say ularthiyathu (ul-lar-thi-yuh-the) or kathiawadi akha adad (ka-thi-ya-va-dee a-kha ad-dud). Is it do-sa or do-sha or do-sey? Do you ask for a-chaar or aa-chaar to go with the pa-ra-tha or par-ran-tha? Why is it spelt pulao in some places and pilaf in others?
Many a time, the name of a dish varies from state to state, sometimes lost in pronunciation. Take the staple South Indian favourite, dosa. In Kerala, it is pronounced do-sha, but if you go anywhere else in India, it is pronounced do-sa, even though it is sometimes written as 'dosai'. Chicken chukka, a Mangalorean side dish in which cut chicken is marinated in spices and then fried, is sometimes called chicken sukka outside of Karnataka. Pulao, with its origins in Persia, is called pilaf in some places outside India. Pilaf (pi-laf) was introduced to the Greeks when Alexander the Great conquered Persia, and the name stuck there; whereas when it came to India through Afghanistan and the Mughals, it was called pu-la-u.
Save yourself the embarrassment of pronouncing a dish incorrectly—or sheepishly pointing your finger at the name on the menu to the waiter—and make a note of these popular must-try dishes and drinks around India that are often mispronounced:
A cooling yogurt-based drink to beat summer heat and indigestion problems, the simply delicious drink is known as either chaas or chaach. In Hindi script, it is written as ch-aa-ch, but in many places across the country it is pronounced simply as ch-aa-as. The name hails from the Northern regions of India, specially Rajasthan. Down south, it is called morru (mor-ruh), and instead of just salt and masala, the drink has coriander leaves, green chilli and ginger. In English, it is called butter milk.
Karnataka: Bisi bele bath
A staple dish in Karnataka, bisi bele bath translates to hot daal rice. It is pronounced bi-si bey-lley bath, often mistaken as bey-si-bey-la-bha-ath. Warm rice cooked with lentils, tamarind and spices, it is as popular a comfort food in South India as rajma-chawal is in the North. Traditionally, this dish has no onions or garlic, and is seasoned with ghee. Nowadays, most households use ready-made bisi bele bath masala for a quick warm satisfying meal.
As with any Bengali name, the pronunciation is different from how it is spelt as—like the popular Rasgulla, pronounced as ro-sho-gol-la. Shon-desh, a favourite milk and sugar dessert, is made of chenna, or a soft form of paneer. Some sweet makers garnish it with fruit essence, dry fruits and saffron. Making sandesh is quick and simple, involving just boiling, mixing, kneading, shaping and cooling. Literally meaning 'news', this sweet is used to grace auspicious occasions with happiness.
A popular accompaniment in Gujarati, Rajasthani and Maharashtrian cuisine, a warm bowl of kadhi is a must during a meal, served with rice or roti. Often called incorrectly as kad-hi, its pronunciation is tricky for those unfamiliar with 'arh', which sounds something in between 'adh' and 'ar'. It is pronounced as ka-Rhi, where 'aRhi' is similar to 'aRh' in Chandigarh. Made of chickpea flour and yogurt warmed to perfection, it is sweeter in Gujarat, made without sour yogurt in Punjab, and has variations in South India.
Maharashtra: Puran poli
This Maharashtrian sweet dish is pronounced as poo-ran po-lli in Marathi, where 'l' is the retroflex lateral flap 'lla' found in the Marathi script that replaces the Hindi or Sanskrit consonant 'la'. A combination of chana dal, jaggery, flour, and cardamom powder cooked in ghee, it is made like a flat bread, and is often accompanied by dollop of ghee. Variations include using coconut stuffing in the Konkan areas and using toor dal in Gujarat (called vedmi), Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (called boli).
Andhra Pradesh: Royala pulusu
This typically Andhra dish of scrumptious prawns in a tangy tamarind juice curry is served with hot rice or dosa. Ro-yya-luh poo-loo-suh translates to prawn curry, and is a thin gravy rich in spices. Royala iguru (ee-goo-ru) is a thicker gravy, while vepudu (vey-pu-duh) is the dry fry version. It is believed that the more the time lapse between preparation and consumption, the tastier the dish will be.