25 Hindi Idioms Inspired By Food

8 Nov

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

i-mango-cubes 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

i-date-tree 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

i-flour-80 Literal translation: To know the price of flour and pulses

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

i-khichdi 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

i-ginger 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

i-gujarati-dal 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

i-spinach-dal 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

i-milk-water 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

i-milk 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

i-milk-nadiyan Literal translation: To pour away rivers of milk

Used when someone spends extravagantly, as in preparing for a wedding.

11. Ek anaar sau beemar

i-pomegranate 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

i-moong-dal 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

i-ghee 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

i-asafoetida 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

i-grain 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

i-bitter-gourd Literal translation: Bitter gourd flavored with neem

Imagine the effect of rubbing the very bitter neem on bitter gourd.

Used for a foul-natured person or a situation that turns out to be even worse than feared.

17. Khatte angoor

i-grapes Literal translation: Sour grapes

Enough said.


18. Kis khel ki mooli hai?

i-radish 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

Chapati 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

i-salt 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).

The Hindi film industry is pretty fond of this idiom, as the names of these films indicate – Namak Halaal (1982) and Namak Haraam (1973).

21. Oont ke munh mein jeera

i-cumin 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

Papad 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

i-ghee 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

i-eggplant 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?

i-masoor-dalLiteral 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.

Any others?

43 Responses to “25 Hindi Idioms Inspired By Food”

  1. Tadka Pasta November 10, 2011 at 9:11 AM #

    This was a real blast..we shared it on FB and everyone loves it.

    • S November 10, 2011 at 11:47 AM #

      Good to know you enjoyed it. Thanks a lot for sharing :)

  2. Ansh January 4, 2012 at 11:02 AM #

    LOL!! This is so cool!

    • S January 4, 2012 at 11:35 AM #

      :) Thank you Ansh.

  3. Sevpuri Rocks January 13, 2012 at 1:41 AM #

    A delightful website. Thought i’d add to this pot:

    Lohe ke chane chabana (face a challenging situation)
    Pani pani hona (be extremely embarassed)
    Thota chana baje ghana (all talk and no action)

    • S January 13, 2012 at 6:33 AM #

      Thanks Sevpuri Rocks (what a lovely name!).

  4. Nisha January 29, 2012 at 12:49 PM #

    Hahahaha, good post!!

    And here’s one that’s not specific but about food in general:

    “Daane daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam”
    (Translation: Each grain is engraved with the name of person who’ll eat it…) :D

  5. sangeeta December 3, 2012 at 10:48 PM #

    Unchi dukaan, phikay pukwaan.

    Fancy shop but the stocks bland sweets.

  6. S December 17, 2012 at 11:37 PM #

    Thanks for those, Nisha and Sangeeta. The translations in English sound so off, no :)

  7. Mallika February 12, 2013 at 9:30 PM #

    Great post! Apke muh meh ghee shakkar (sorry couldn’t resist! )

    • S February 12, 2013 at 11:24 PM #

      Thanks, and great to see you here Mallika – love your blog! [makkhan nahin laga rahi, kasam se :P]

  8. Ismail April 6, 2013 at 8:53 AM #

    Jalebi ki tarah seedha

  9. Anita December 25, 2013 at 1:47 PM #

    I think the explanation for the first one is incorrect. I think the translation is “getting an aam for the price of the guttli” — which means the same thing … Getting a great deal.

  10. Ali May 22, 2014 at 9:44 PM #

    Thanks for this post. Very helpful and enjoyable.
    We south asians really say it with food don’t we?

    Here is another one

    Doodh ka Jala Chaaj bhi Phoonk Phoonk kar peeta hai

  11. richa goyal July 3, 2014 at 1:48 PM #

    Hi… I loved dese idioms n I m going to keep it as my kitty game.

  12. kasthuri July 12, 2014 at 8:50 AM #

    What a wonderful article ! I am a south Indian, so a lot of wonderful nuances of The beautiful language that Hindi is are lost on me. I actualy came here because i was trying to understand “yeh mooh aur masoor ki dal” idiom.And oh boy, ended up learning a lot,smiling, and getting hungry to boot :).
    As a vegetarian myself, couldnt help chuckling at your ‘chicken’ sense of humour :) .

    • S July 12, 2014 at 8:58 AM #

      Glad you liked it kasthuri :-)

  13. Naveen Rana August 29, 2014 at 9:14 PM #

    Thanks a lot …. Its Very helpful … God Bless Yew :)

  14. clotilde October 13, 2014 at 2:10 PM #

    I love love love this, thanks so much for sending the link! I’ve shared on social media. Won’t you make it into a book, as I have with Edible French?

    • S October 14, 2014 at 12:29 AM #

      Hi clotilde, Welcome here! I hopped over to your site to find that I must thank “Gourmet Girl” for sending the link to you – I didn’t, but I’m super-glad she did :-)

      Wish you the best with Edible French – lovely concept!

  15. Aisha November 4, 2014 at 5:32 PM #

    Great list, really enjoyed it. Came over here after I saw the link on Clotilde’s (from chocolateandzucchini.com) latest favorites list, only to realize that I had already checked out your blog as I was looking for a raw jackfruit curry recipe.
    I’d add another one to your list: kabab mein haddi. A bone in the kabab, meaning something out of place in an annoying way, something or someone butting in where they shouldn’t.

    • S November 4, 2014 at 10:28 PM #

      Welcome back here Aisha :-) Ah “kabab mein haddi”…thanks for that! Classic example: the chaperone who tags along with the girl when she goes out with the guy she is supposed to have an arranged marriage with.

  16. ramesh kumawat December 2, 2014 at 10:26 AM #

    Nak par supari todana muhaware ka arth

  17. arunima January 7, 2015 at 10:48 PM #

    I loved your website.Actually i reached your website when i was finding some idioms and there meanings.I am soory that i don’t have any idiom but the idioms on your website were very nice.I have got a very good inspiration from your website. I loved your website. hope you will reply me.I will be waiting for your reply.oh i am really soory, by the way i am a school girl and i am 11 years old.

    • S January 7, 2015 at 11:23 PM #

      Hi Arunima, Thanks for stopping by and sharing your nice feedback :-)

  18. Husain January 19, 2015 at 11:39 AM #

    Jaley pe namak chhidakna.

  19. pankaj June 2, 2015 at 12:10 PM #

    Few more…

    1-Apni dahi kisi ko khatti nahi lagti hai.
    2-Akela chana bhaad nahi phodta hai.
    3-kharbooje ko dekhkar kharbooja rang badalta hai.
    4-do joon ki roti naseeb hona
    5-khaya piya kuchh nahi gilas toda 12 aana.
    6-paancho ungliya ghee me aur sir kadahi me hona.

    • S June 2, 2015 at 12:34 PM #

      Those are some interesting less-known ones!

      1 – quite a contrast to ‘ghar ki murgi dal barabar’, isn’t it?
      5 – hadn’t heard of this before – eminently usable :-)

  20. JK June 2, 2015 at 12:55 PM #

    since its 2 June today there is another hindi idiom on food “Doo Joon ki Roti…bhi naseeb nahi”

    Thanks !

    • S June 2, 2015 at 2:51 PM #

      Well timed :-D

  21. syed June 4, 2015 at 1:00 PM #

    how to say chinti kaati in English and pate main chuhe(rats) daudren in English

    • S June 6, 2015 at 6:59 PM #

      Out of syllabus question ;-) – those are not food idioms. In any case I’ll give the second a shot: instead of “mere pet mein chuhe daud rahe hain”, one could say “I’m ravenous” or “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse”.

  22. amitab June 1, 2016 at 11:26 PM #

    hi friends, i like all the idioms , but i have no idea about this idiom ( do june ki roti naseeb hona), pls some one explain me.

    • S June 4, 2016 at 11:05 AM #

      ‘june’ is not the month in this idiom, it means a meal-time. ‘do june ki roti naseeb hona’ is equivalent to ‘being able to afford two square meals’.

  23. ashish August 10, 2016 at 9:46 AM #

    “Tere muh main ghee shaakr” how you say it in english

    • S August 13, 2016 at 7:41 PM #

      Literally “ghee and sugar in your mouth” is the response when one is particularly pleased with something someone has said. The closest English equivalent I can think of is “bless you for saying that”.

  24. S October 25, 2016 at 10:19 PM #

    I stumbled on to this post while searching for a recipe, and even a few years later, I love it. I wish people would use this colorful speech much more in daily life.

    A few more food related idioms for you:

    a. Andar laddoo phoot rahe hain
    literal meaning, sweets are erupting inside you;
    meaning: feeling overjoyed inside, though outside you may present a straight face to hide your true feelings.

    b. Chaati pe moong dalna
    literal meaning: splitting mung beans on one’s chest
    meaning: tremendously harassing someone
    keep the pronunciation of ‘dalna’ in mind: it is not daalna like put, but dhalna like making dal

    c. Birbal ki khichdi pakana
    literal meaning: cooking Birbal’s khichdi
    meaning: do something in a very long drawn out way that won’t succeed: like when Birbal proved his point by suspending his khichdi pot far above the cooking fire

    d. Baasi kadhi ubaalna
    literal meaning: re-boiling stale kadhi
    meaning: go on repetitively about a stale topic,

    Thanks for the original post!!

    • S October 29, 2016 at 11:17 PM #

      Hello Namesake! Thanks a lot for the additions. Long time since I came across “Birbal ki khichdi pakana” in conversation – must seek out opportunities to use it myself :-P

      • S January 25, 2017 at 4:15 AM #

        Hi, I am back in the new year with one more:

        Doodh ka jala chaach bhi phoonk-kar peeta hai
        literal meaning: someone scalded by hot milk will hesitate and blow on even buttermilk before drinking it
        meaning: someone who has had a bad experience becomes ultra cautious, e.g. the equivalent English idioms: once-bitten, twice-shy; or a burnt child dreads the fire ….

        If I find more, I will be back.
        Happy 2017!

  25. Sana February 26, 2017 at 11:02 PM #

    “aap dono hathon mein laddo nahin rakh sktey” how you say it in english?

    • Kamal Kant Jaswal March 27, 2017 at 10:16 PM #

      You can’t say, ” Heads, I win; tails, you lose!”
      Kamal Kant

    • S April 3, 2017 at 6:27 AM #

      I think how you say that in English is “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” – ie you can’t enjoy a benefit and yet hoard it at the same time…..

  26. Ajay Singh May 17, 2017 at 12:43 PM #

    Terrific list. Correcting two spellings: 1. Aate dal ka bhav malooM hona. 2. Kis kheT ki mooli hai?

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