11/19/13 10:28am

How To Order Authentically Spicy Indian and Pakistani Food

North Indian "mirch" (hot green chilies) front and center, with laal mirch (ground red chilies) in the background. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.
Front: hot green peppers (called mirch in Hindi and Urdu). Back: ground red pepper.

Welcome to the third installment of C+M’s ongoing series of audio guides on how to order authentically spicy food in ethnic restaurants.

As a service to C+M readers I’m compiling a series of audio guides demonstrating phrases in several relevant languages, which can be used to navigate ordering situations fraught with tricky cultural and language barriers.

If (like me) you’ve ever tried to order a spicy dish in a restaurant and been refused (or served a clearly less spicy version), this series of audio features is for you.

Chana masala topped with fresh mirch (green chilies) and onion. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.
Homemade Indian chana masala topped with fresh green peppers (aka, mirch).

We’ve already covered Korean and Indonesian; today’s lesson: Hindi and Urdu.

Sajan Saini grew up in a North Indian family in Canada, where meals at home were always cooked with ample red and green peppers (aka, chilies—called mirch in Hindi and Urdu). “The majority of Indian cuisine does pack a fair amount of heat,” he says. “And most of the heat in [North] Indian cooking is coming from green peppers.” (Full disclosure: Saini is my husband.)

Today Saini teaches us to say, “I’d like to order my food with lots of spicy green peppers.” Use it to order spicy dishes in North Indian and Pakistani restaurants, where the staff speak Hindi or Urdu. (Note: The two languages, when spoken, are very similar—but Hindi and Urdu are written using different scripts.)

Saini loves spicy food and often adds fresh green peppers to cooked dishes (like chana masala, shown above). But he is careful to eat them in moderation. “These chilies are very potent,” he says. “You have to really respect the green chili.”

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2 Comment

  • Wouldn’t it be better to say “Make it as you would for an Indian / Pakistani?”

    I’m just thinking that, while I love spicy food, I’d rather it be authentically spicy and balanced than the chef just chucking a handful of chilies in there.

    • Alex, that’s essentially what you get when you ask for mirch in your dish. In my experience in Indian homes here and in India, folks will put 2-4 of those hot green chilies in a dish — but when cooking for non-Indians, by default courtesy, that number often gets cut down to 1 (or 0).