Wok talk: enlarging the scope

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Following up on "Wok talk: a real-life retronym!" (10/16/23), Jim Millward remarks:

My wife (Punjabi background) and her family call the "wok-shaped pan" they use for cooking vegetable or meat dishes "kurai" (that's my phoneticization–it could be aspirated or unaspirated k / g, I'm not good at hearing the difference).  I've seen these and we've got a couple–they are indeed parabolic curved-sided heavier metal pans, though some have small diameter flat bottoms for convenience.   Other pots and pans are called patila.   The dishes, generally, are bartan.  The kurai, she just told me, is specifically the "wok-shaped pan." 

I don't have the tools to look into this, but kurai may be Hindi with Sanskrit origins, possibly related to 锅?

A ready reference from Sunny Jhutti: 

Karahi Or Kadai or Kadahi (Punjabi: ਕੜਾਹੀ*) Frying Pan Iron (Punjabi: Sarabloh) Round Base – Diameter 30 Inch


This catalog description has a lot of valuable information about the nature and use of the karahi.

The name refers both to the pot and to the dishes cooked in it.

There are so many different ways to write the name of this pot in English Romanization:

A karahi (/kəˈr/; Assamese: কেৰাহী, romanizedkerahi, Bengali: কড়াই, romanizedkoṛāi, Hindi: कड़ाही, romanizedkaṛāhī, Marathi: कढई, Nepali: करै, Urdu: کڑاہی; also kadai, kerahi, karai, kadhi, kadahi, kadhai sarai, or cheena chatti) is a type of thick, circular, and deep cooking pot (similar in shape to a wok) that originated in the Indian subcontinent. It is used in Indian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Bangladeshi/Bengali, Afghan, and the Caribbean cuisines. Traditionally press-formed from mild steel sheet or made of wrought iron, a karahi resembles a wok with steeper sides. Today, they can be made of stainless steel, copper, and nonstick surfaces, both round and flat-bottomed, or of the traditional materials.

Karahi or Kadahi comes from the Prakrit word Kataha, mentioned in Ramayana, Sushruta Samhita. The Karahi vessel is first mentioned in the Vedas as bharjanapatra.

Karahi serve for the shallow or deep frying of meat, potatoes, sweets, and snacks such as samosa and fish and also for Indian papadams, but are most noted for the simmering of stews or posola, which are often named karahi dishes after the utensil.

Stews prepared in a karahi include chicken, beef, mutton (goat) and lamb. Karahis prepared with paneer or tofu are becoming increasingly popular amongst vegetarians. Prepared in a reduced tomato and green-chilli base with ghee, a karahi is a popular late-night meal in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, usually ordered by the kilogram or half/full karahis and consumed with naan.

An inverted karahi is used to cook rumali rotis.


Note the explicit comparison with the wok, for illustrations of which see on the right side here.

Compare Assamese  karahi কেৰাহী ("cooking pan, saucepan")



Selected readings



  1. Ling said,

    October 17, 2023 @ 6:58 pm

    A word I presume to be related is "kuali" in Indonesian (Wiktionary says "kuali" is from Tamil, but the Tamil entry doesn't have a good definition of it).

  2. Victor Mair said,

    October 17, 2023 @ 7:31 pm

    Cooking with a kurahi

    Mutton Karahi Famous in Karachi #muttonkarahi #muttonShinwari


  3. Victor Mair said,

    October 17, 2023 @ 7:38 pm

    Look at the enormous size of these karahi cauldrons!

    Golden Temple Langar Tour | India’s Biggest Kitchen | Veggie Paaji Amritsar


  4. AntC said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 2:13 am

    … made of wrought iron, a karahi resembles a wok with steeper sides.

    Not all in these descriptions is ringing true with me. In particular, some of the illustrations Victor links to do not show "steeper sides", but flared sides more like a wok [**]. I have got out from my kitchen cupboard a) a smallish-flat-bottomed flared-sided pressed-steel wok bought in a Chinese supermarket in Leeds (on the road to Bradford), UK ~1980; b) a semispherical rising to vertical-sided karahi, wrought iron/much thicker than the wok, bought in an Indian supermarket in Bradford (on the road to Leeds) ~1982. [***]

    The karahi is notably less than 30 inch diameter — more like 10 inches, because it's not flared. Also because it's intended more for deep-frying bhaji/pakora — where flaring would just make a much wider area of spitting oil. Is it possible I have a different cooking vessel with a different name?

    [**] specifically the wikip photo "Egg being fried in a karahi". Is it possible the traditional Indian form has been influenced by the wok in more recent years? The vessel in that photo looks to be non-stick coated: not traditional.

    [***] The longevity of these pans is precisely because they are *not* non-stick coated: all coatings eventually wear off; whereas with bare steel pans, you build up a patina of smoked oil over longer use.

    Look at the enormous size of these karahi cauldrons!

    Oh! Yummeeee! Gimme that dhall now! And the palak aloo

  5. Robot Therapist said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 2:30 am

    Is the word "curry" related to karahi?

  6. Din said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 2:39 am

    Maybe it has somehow related to 簋 “gui”

  7. AntC said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 3:14 am

    @RT "curry" at etymonline — "mingling of various south Indian (Dravidian) words ", probably via Portuguese.

    "Karahi" ultimately from Sanskrit — wp, from Victor's link. So, no.

  8. Linda said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 4:47 am

    How is it related to a balti, which is what we have in Birmingham (UK)?

  9. Victor Mair said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 8:09 am

    From Fred Smith:

    The Wikipedia article seems spot on. I learned this word shortly after arriving in Pune 50 years ago (1973, !!!). The Marathi kaḍhaī was the word I learned, as Wikipedia states. A kaḍhaī was among my first purchases, after a portable two burner stove and a "Burshane" unit, as the cooking gas cylinders were called back then.

  10. Robot Therapist said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 8:20 am

    @AntC thanks!

  11. crturang said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 8:31 am

    The word in Dravidian languages is from a different source. In Kannada, it is bāṇale with a version of the word bāṁḍli used for a vessel of a similar shape used to carry sand, cement, etc. in construction sites. In my dialect of Tamil, the word is vāṇāyi.

  12. Su-Chong Lim said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 11:42 am

    The everyday Malay word used in Singapore and Malaya/Malaysia in the 1950s was kuali – same as in Indonesia.

    Interestingly, despite a plethora of other European influenced pans and pots, which all have their uses, I still find my old indestructible carbon steel kuali/wok a reliable, versatile go-to implement on my modern induction stove-top here in Canada. I used it yesterday to brown some carrot chunks that I threw in my Beef Bourguignon that I was cooking in my Instantpot. (I had earlier browned the meat and onions in the Instantpot using the Saute function, but didn’t want to add carrots that early for fear of getting them too mushy — the wok was a perfect quickie browning implement when the Instantpot was now currently full of slow-cooking stew.

  13. Chris Button said,

    October 20, 2023 @ 6:45 am

    I don't have the tools to look into this, but kurai may be Hindi with Sanskrit origins, possibly related to 锅?

    A word I presume to be related is "kuali" in Indonesian (Wiktionary says "kuali" is from Tamil, but the Tamil entry doesn't have a good definition of it).

    It seems like Bodman proposed the connection between kuali and 鍋.

    Another good reason for reconstructing this rhyme group with a final -l as Zhengzhang and Pulleyblank do for example.

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