As you explore the Asian Diet, you may encounter some unfamiliar words in menus or in recipes. We don’t want anyone to pass up trying a new food simply because they don’t know what it is – so we’ve included this glossary of food terms for all types of foods, spices, dishes, and more.
Adzuki [a-ZU-ki]: Also called azuki, aduki, or red mung bean. This red, pea-sized bean is often boiled with sugar to make red bean paste, a common ingredient in many sweets (like Chinese zongzi or mooncakes, or Japanese dorayaki), as well as sweet red bean soup.
Amchoor [am-CHOR]: Also called mango powder, although it doesn’t taste sweet like mangoes. Unripe mangoes are dried and ground to make this sour and tart spice powder, used in many Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.
Chaas [CHOO-s]: A popular Indian yogurt drink, sometimes called “buttermilk” in India. It comes in many variations, and can be served plain or spiced.
Chapati [chuh-PAH-tee]: Also known as roti, safati, shabaati, and roshi. This unleavened whole wheat ﬂatbread is commonly in South Asian countries like India and Nepal.
Congee [KON-jee]: Like a soupy version of Italian risotto, congee is a comforting rice porridge served throughout Asia. It can be served at any meal of the day, either plain or with toppings like meat or ﬁsh. This is the go-to dish to eat when you’re ill, like chicken noodle soup is in the West.
Dim sum [DIM-suhm]: Similar to Spanish tapas, dim sum describes a selection of various sweet or savory dishes in small portions, often served with tea. The dishes are usually hidden away in small steaming baskets and include things like steamed buns, taro cakes, and steamed rice ﬂour rolls.
Donburi [DOHN-boo-ree]: A typical Japanese meal where rice is served in a large bowl with a variety of cooked toppings, such as beef, pork, ﬁsh, tempura, and/or vegetables.
Furikake [fu-RI-ka-keh]: A dry Japanese seasoning, usually made from a mixture of dried ﬁsh, sesame seeds, chopped dried seaweed, sugar, and salt. It is commonly sprinkled over cooked plain rice.
Galangal [GAL-uhn-gal]: Like ginger, galangal is a rhizome, or a stem that grows underground, with a thin, rough skin that must be peeled before using. Widely used in Thai cooking, galangal has a fresh ﬂavor and gentle heat, with a pine-y, citrus taste.
Ghee [gee]: A type of clariﬁed butter (butterfat without the water and milk solids) that originated from the Indian subcontinent and is widely used in dishes from South Asia and Middle East.
Gomashio [go-MA-shi-o]: Also spelled as gomasio. It is a type of furikake made from sesame seeds and salt. It is typically sprinkled over plain rice, steamed sticky rice with adzuki beans (sekihan), or onigari. Some varieties are sweetened.
Kimchi [KIM-chee]: A typical Korean side dish made from salted, fermented vegetables (usually napa cabbage and Korean radishes) and ﬂavored with mixed seasonings (usually chili powder, scallions, garlic, ginger, and salted seafood). Kimchi has many variations and can be served either as a garnish to meals or as a main dish on its own.
Kombu [KOHM-boo]: A type of seaweed widely eaten across East Asia, can be used to make soup (dashi), kombu tea, or can be added to beans while cooking to help digestion.
Kumquat [KUHM-kwot]: A small, olive-sized fruit that closely resembles an orange. Unlike oranges, kumquats are eaten skin and all, as the skin is slightly sweet, while the ﬂesh is slightly sour.
Laksa [LAK-sa]: A spicy rice noodle soup commonly found in Southeast Asia. The dish is prepared from a base of curried coconut milk or sour tamarind, and is usually made with chicken, shrimp or ﬁsh.
Lassi [LAH-see]: A popular Indian beverage made with yogurt and water. Traditionally it is mixed with spices like cumin, but can also be sweetened with fruit like mango instead of using spices.
Longan [LONG-guhn]: This aromatic, golf-ball sized fruit is also called dragon eye fruit, because when peeled and cut in half, the dark pit inside of the round, milky colored fruit somewhat resembles an eye.
Lotus root [LOH-tuhs ROOT]: Commonly used as a vegetable in soups and in deep-fried, stir-fried, and braised dishes in China, Korea, and Japan. When cut into rounds, lotus root reveals holes inside that make it look like a snowﬂake. Lotus root tastes slightly bitter, and has a crispy texture like jicama.
Lychee [LEE-chee]: A sweet, ﬂeshy stone fruit native to China that is used in desserts or enjoyed fresh. About the size of a big grape, lychee has an inedible outer skin that can be easily peeled oﬀ.
Makizushi [MAH-kee-zoo-shi]: Also called maki, this dish is what comes to mind when most people think of sushi: rice and seaweed rolls with ﬁsh and/or vegetables.
Makrut (Kaﬃr) Lime Leaves [muh-KROOT lie-m leevs]: Makrut lime leaves bring an intense citrus and ﬂoral ﬂavor to Southeast Asian cuisine. Previously referred to as Kaﬃr, now considered a racial slur, Makrut lime leaves, like bay leaves, are often bruised and added whole to dishes while they cook and later removed, as their texture can be tough.
Mangosteen [MANG-guh-steen]: Not related to a mango at all, this Southeast Asian tropic fruit has a sweet, tangy ﬁbrous ﬂesh, and a hard, inedible outer skin.
Mantou [MAN-toh]: Also known as Chinese steamed bun. It is typically cloud-shaped without ﬁllings, and is popular in Northern China. A sub type of mantou called baozi is ﬁlled with either sweet (red bean paste) or savory (meat and vegetables) ﬁllings.
Mapo tofu [MA-puh TOH-foo]: Originated in Sichuan province in China, this dish consists of tofu and minced meat cooked in a very spicy, chili and broad bean sauce (douban).
Natto [NA-toh]: Fermented soybeans with a strong smell and distinct ﬂavor, most popular in the eastern regions of Japan.
Nigiri [ni-GEE-ri]: A type of sushi that simply includes sliced raw ﬁsh on top of sushi rice, without vegetables, sauces, or other ingredients.
Paneer [puh-NEER]: A fresh cheese (similar to cottage cheese) common in South Asia. It is prepared by adding lemon juice or vinegar to heated milk.
Rambutan [RAM-boo-tan]: A fruit with a spiny red skin and a sweet, mildly acidic juicy ﬂesh. It is native to various regions of tropical Southeast Asia.
Sake [SAH-keh]: A popular rice wine in Japan that can be served either hot or cold.
Sashimi [sah-SHEE-mee]: Fresh raw ﬁsh served in thin slices, often seasoned with soy sauce, wasabi, and grated ginger at the table.
Satay [sah-TAY]: Grilled meat served on skewers, typically sprinkled with various spicy seasonings and eaten with soy and peanut sauce. It is commonly found in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Somen [SO-muh]: White Japanese noodles similar to the size of angel hair pasta. They are made of wheat ﬂour, and are usually served cold and eaten with a dipping sauce called tsuyu.
Takoyaki [TA-koh-yah-ki]: A popular Japanese snack where wheat ﬂour dough balls are ﬁlled with minced octopus, tempura scraps, and ﬂavorings of green onions and pickled ginger. Commonly serve in a ‘boat’ made of paper and topped with mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce.
Tamago [TA-ma-goh]: Japanese-style layered omelet that can be served as a breakfast, a side dish, or on sushi rice. Unlike Western omelets, there are usually no vegetables or ﬂavorings added in between layers.
Tempeh [TEM-pay]: An Indonesian staple source of protein made from fermented soybeans. Unlike tofu, it has a ﬁrm texture and is usually sold as a cake or block.
Tom Yum [TOM YAM]: A spicy, sour soup popular in Laos, made with herbs like lemongrass, and often served with meat or seafood.
Wagashi [wa-GA-shi]: A collective name of traditional Japanese sweets that are typically made of rice ﬂour and served with green tea. The shapes, ingredients, and tastes of wagashi vary greatly across regions and diﬀer in diﬀerent seasons. Some famous types include: mochi, daifuku, manju, yokan, and dorayaki.
Xiao Long Bao [SY-ow LONG BOW]: Also called “soup dumplings,” these are a type of baozi (steamed buns with ﬁllings) that originated from the Jiangnan region of China. Xiao Long Bao are traditionally steamed in bamboo baskets, and can be ﬁlled with pork or minced crab meat and ﬁsh roe. There are diﬀerent variations of Xiao Long Bao across diﬀerent regions, but most are ﬁlled with broth.
Zongzi [ZONG-zee]: A traditional Chinese festival food intended for the celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival. It is made of sticky rice with various ﬁllings (either sweet or savory) and wrapped in bamboo leaves, then steamed or boiled.