When food couples with language, delicious idioms are born.
My mother tongue Hindi invokes the nature, tastes, colors and characteristics of food with great wit and insight in these idioms.
1. Aam ke aam, gutliyon ke daam
Literal translation: To earn the price not only of mangoes but also their pits
Used when you make a killing with a deal or decision, profiting on even the valueless peripherals.
A close equivalent of "hitting two birds with one stone".
2. Aasman se gire khajoor me atke
Literal translation: Fallen from the sky, stuck on a date palm
Used when you get over one hurdle and bump into another. Much like "from the frying pan into the fire".
3. Aate dal ka bhav maloon hona
To come to learn the realities of living. Often used to poke fun at one who steps out of a sheltered, ignorant life into the struggles of the real world.
4. Apni khichdi alag pakana
Literal translation: To cook one’s khichdi by oneself
Used when someone differs from the collective opinion of a group and decides to go his own way.
5. Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swad
Literal translation: What would a monkey know of the taste of ginger?
A sarcastic barb aimed at one who dares to criticize something you have made/worn/recommended.
Dislike? You have poor taste. Period.
6. Dal mein kaala
Literal translation: Black (particles) in dal
Before dal is cooked, the lentils are sifted to remove the impostors – tiny stones, dust etc. Store-bought dal in Indian cities has eliminated this step but the idiom is very much in currency.
Used when you suspect something fishy is afoot.
7. Dal nahin gali
Literal translation: Dal (when cooked) did not disintegrate
When making dal, the lentils need to be boiled for a long time before they become fit for consumption (assuming no pressure cooker is involved, as was undoubtedly the case centuries ago in the kitchen of the person who coined this phrase). You may add all the tadka you like, but if the pulses haven’t disintegrated the dal goes to waste.
That is what "dal nahi gali" means – a wasted attempt.
So if you use the line "bandar kya jaane adrak ka swad" on your critic yet he remains unfazed – your arrow missed its mark, despite your try. Dal nahin gali.
8. Doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani
Literal translation: Milk with milk, water with water
In life, as with soluble fluids like milk and water, facts get muddled with half-truths and lies. But unlike soluble fluids, fact and fiction can be separated under a perceptive lens. When that happens, we have a "doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani" moment – the attainment of clarity, the emergence of truth.
When Hercule Poirot resolves a whodunit in the novel’s climax, he does a "doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani".
When the vegetable vendor insists the okra he’s selling is young and tender but you sense it isn’t, you try the "bend test" on an okra piece. If it snaps, it’s young. No guesswork, no ambiguity – “doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani”.
9. Doodh ka dhula
Literal translation: Washed in milk
Whatever is "doodh ka dhula" is supposed to have no evils, however the idiom is seldom used as a compliment. It is more commonly used with negation: "tum bhi koi doodh ke dhule nahin ho" – you aren’t exactly flawless either.
10. Doodh ki nadiyan bahana
Literal translation: To pour away rivers of milk
Used when someone spends extravagantly, as in preparing for a wedding.
11. Ek anaar sau beemar
Literal translation: One pomegranate, a hundred ill
Used when there are too many contenders for an object, such that a fair division seems impossible.
12. Ghar ki murgi dal barabar
Literal translation: A chicken at home seems no better than dal (pulses)
On the lines of "the grass is greener on the other side". Used when someone undervalues his own possessions.
The assumption is that chicken is a more coveted meal than dal. Indian vegetarians have thus far lodged no protests and use the idiom as much as their meat-eating brethren.
13. Ghee ke diye jalana
Literal translation: To light lamps full of ghee (clarified butter)
To rejoice. Ghee is the most expensive Indian cooking medium; using it to light lamps is a luxury you’d allow yourself only when you’re extremely happy.
14. Hing lage na phitkari, rang bhi chowka aye
Literal translation: No asafoetida, no potash alum, yet a lovely color
Used when you are rewarded handsomely for little effort.
15. Kaam ka na kaaj ka, dushman anaaj ka
Literal translation: Doesn’t do any work, is an enemy of grains
Another pejorative – a colorful way of calling out "You good-for-nothing fellow!"
16. Karela Neem Chadha
Literal translation: Bitter gourd flavored with neem
Used for a foul-natured person or a situation that turns out to be even worse than feared.
17. Khatte angoor
Literal translation: Sour grapes
18. Kis khel ki mooli hai?
Literal translation: Which farm is that radish from?
Used with contempt when talking of another person who you think is trying to act too smart.
19. Muft ki rotiyan todna
Literal translation: Tearing off chapatis for free
Used to refer to freeloaders sponging on another’s generosity. Also with negation: "maine muft ki rotiyan nahin todi" – I haven’t taken any free lunches, I have earned my bread.
20. Namak khana
Literal translation: Eating salt
Immortalized by the line from the film Sholay (1975): "Sarkar, maine apka namak khaya hai." (My lord, I have eaten your salt), spoken by a minion of the dacoit chief Gabbar, as plea to spare his life.
When a person eats another’s salt i.e. depends on another for his meals, he is bonded to the salt-giver through debt and loyalty. One who upholds this salt-forged bond is namak halaal (faithful), one who betrays it is namak haram (traitor).
21. Oont ke munh mein jeera
English translation: A cumin seed in a camel’s mouth
A cumin seed is not much of a meal for a camel, similarly anything called "oont ke munh mein jeera" is a grossly insufficient offer.
22. Papad belna
Literal translation: Rolling out papads
Rolling out papads is an arduous task, which is why doing it at home has gone out of fashion. Most households have switched to buying ready-to-roast papads from the store.
Papad belna is to put in extraordinary efforts to achieve something.
23. Tedhi ungli se ghee nikalna
Literal translation: Bending the finger to extract ghee
Ghee solidifies at room temperature, some of it getting stuck to hard-to-reach surfaces of its container such as the sides near the top. To take ghee out of such situations, a spoon will not do – one needs to bend the finger and scoop it out.
The idiom is used when one cuts corners or deviates from the rules to get what one wants.
24. Thali ka baingan
Literal translation: An eggplant on a plate
When a round eggplant is placed on a plate, it rolls at the slightest tilt.
A person called "thali ka baingan" shifts loyalties as it suits him and cannot be trusted.
25. Yeh munh aur masoor ki dal?
Literal translation: This face – and you want red lentil soup?
Masoor ki dal (red lentil soup) used to be prepared as a rich delicacy in royal households, a meal fit for kings.
And so you fling this retort at those who demand way more than they deserve.
Old Hindi film song inspired by this idiom – watch it here.