Contrary to popular belief, the one thing all Indians share is not a fervent religious passion for cricket. It’s actually at least one memory of Ma’s arsenal of vernacular idioms that stop any argument through sheer ineffability.
No, seriously. If I had a paisa for every time I heard the old line challenging me to jump down the well I’d—well, I’d be able to afford my own well and sit there comfortably, waiting to follow somebody in.
So here are some classic Hindi idioms about food that sound even better (and utterly nonsensical) in English:
1. Oonth ke munh mein jeera – To put a cumin seed in a camel’s mouth
This is supposed to signify a grossly inadequate offer. I should be making more intelligent remarks than ‘I’m laughing so hard’ but oh god, I’m laughing too hard.
2. Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swaad – What does a monkey know of the taste of ginger?
Quite a bit, probably. Likely enough to make an Indian version of Ratatouille, but with a monkey at the helm (or under the cap, so to speak). This is meant to sarcastically call out a person who criticises something you like.
3. Karele mein neem ka swaad – Bittergourd flavoured with neem
Frankly one of the best ways I have ever heard to describe something you hate that turns out worse than you feared. Taxes too high? Tsk. Bittergourd flavoured with neem, that.
4. Kis khet ki mooli hai? – Which farm is that radish from?
As this awesome article explains, this is meant to be a way to show contempt, and to tell somebody not to get too big for their britches. But in English it sounds like a genuinely curious question aimed at a vegetable vendor, tinged with something like wonder.
5. Yeh munh aur tujhe masoor daal chahiye? – This face–and you want red lentil daal?
This one is so popular it inspired a Hindi film song. It’s a retort aimed at people who demand more than they deserve, as masoor used to be a delicacy served in the households of kings.
More hilarious stuff from Spoon University here: