A few weeks ago Dave and I shared dinner with a group of Kenyan expats at 4-Course Vegan. It’s a place where you either go with a group of 8 and take up a whole table, or you share your table with strangers. We shared with strangers and had a wonderful evening. After the perfunctory questions such an occasion calls for–what do you do?, what’s your name?, do you live in Brooklyn?, are you vegan?–were out of the way, we got to talking about Kenya and what our new friends missed and didn’t miss about it. We talked a lot about food. Much to my surprise, cilantro is an absolute staple in Kenyan cooking.
But it took some time to figure this out because Kenya, like much of the world, does not call cilantro cilantro. In Kenya, cilantro is dhania, the Hindi word for cilantro. (There’s a large Indian population in Kenya which I only know because one of my best friends is Indian with a lot of family in Kenya.) So if you’re someone who likes to travel or eat “ethnic” food (that term sounds so vaguely offensive to me, but I don’t have a better one) and hates cilantro, you’ll want to know what the locals call it, especially in cultures that eat a lot of this horrible stuff.
Cilantro: English, Spanish, Italian. Used in the US and much of Western hemisphere and apparently Italy (Cilantro pizza anyone? Gag). This covers Latin cuisine which is of course a red flag cuisine for cilantro haters, but at least you can use the word with confidence that the restaurant will know what you’re talking about. Indeed we get the word in English from the Spanish.
Dhania: Hindi; used in Kenya, India
Koriander: German (I find going for cilantro and coriander both in a restaurant situation where the waiter doesn’t speak really great English to be an effective communication strategy, though for Indian food they use a lot of coriander seed which is delicious to most cilantro leaf haters I know, so if you can successfully clarify you mean the coriander/cilantro leaf and not the seed you’re all set).
الكزبرة: Arabic. Pronounced “el-kez-bur-uh.” You know, the next time you order Falafel in Dubai.
Coriandre: French. Even cilantro sounds beautiful in French, though they don’t have too much cause to use the damn word since the French (at least historically) favor sophisticated herbs like tarragon to horrible ones like cilantro.
Shiang Tsai: Chinese – Mandarin. I have not discovered a lot of cilantro in Chinese food, but then again I’ve never been to China and the cuisine is so diverse there, I wouldn’t put it past one or more of the regional cuisines to rely heavily on cilantro.
Yim sai: Chinese – Cantonese
כוסברה: Hebrew. Pronounced “koos-uh-bur-ah.” Latkes with cilantro-infused applesauce. Mmmm…
Koyendoro, Koendoro: Japanese
Source: Google Translate where you can find the word for cilantro in virtually any language you’d ever want to. I know the next trip I take or ethnic meal I eat, I’ll have the right word ready to go. And depending on the language, learning “no” or “without” is just as important, lest we end up with a generous extra portion of Dhalia with our samosas.