India has long been known as one of the best countries in the world for foodies, as well as a dream destination for vegetarians. Its cuisine is also known for being heavy in dairy products – paneer dishes, lassis, milk-based ghee-laden curries, curd, and the list goes on.
However, just like it’s easy to find meatless dishes, it’s also easy to find completely vegan dishes. In fact, many meals are simply referred to as being vegetarian, while they are actually 100% vegan and uncompromisingly delicious. Veganizing many non-vegan dishes in India is often as simple as kickin’ the dairy, if the chef or restaurant has no qualms with that. And though ghee is widely used in Indian cooking, oils – such as mustard and coconut – are also ubiquitous and are an easy vegan replacement.
If you’ve had the luxury of tasting authentic Indian vegan food, that in itself is probably enough to make you book a ticket to this incredible country, however, if you need a few more reasons why India is great for vegan foodies (beyond Intrepid’s NEW Vegan Food Adventure in India!), we’ve got you covered:
Vegan food in India is wonderfully diverse
Approximately 30% of Indians follow a vegetarian diet. And food is deeply respected within Indian culture, which becomes apparent the moment you step foot off the plane. The entire country is full of culinary adventures and gastronomic journeys. One of my favourite things about India is following your nose and navigating the maze-like streets in order to find out what your next snack may be.
The craft of cooking particular Indian dishes has been practiced and perfected over centuries, resulting in crowd-pleasing, richly-spiced, magically-aromatic dishes that will take your taste buds on a wild ride – one that you’ll want to experience over and over and over again.
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The bang for your buck is the best in the world
India is one of the cheapest places to travel to in the world. You can eat the most amazing and intricate dishes around for less than $1, particularly on the street. In restaurants, you can order an exquisitely-delectable thali – a platter of different Indian dishes, ranging from as few as six to as many as 20 – for $2 or even less. In some cases thalis are refillable at no extra cost. I often ate until I could eat no more – it’s just so good!
It’s so cheap that sometimes it’s difficult to spend a lot of money, even when you’re trying. One of the best things about vegan food in India is that it’s even cheaper than vegetarian food (and veggie dishes are already cheaper than meat dishes!). Think about all that money you’re saving and you’ll be one happy vegan. Now, go buy yourself an extra samosa.
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It’s safer than non-vegan food
Digging into mouthwatering street food is part of the fun while in India, and it’s an experience not to be missed. However, it’s important to be cautious when eating it. Be sure the food is thoroughly cooked, and that it hasn’t been sitting out for a long time. Avoid fresh produce, drinks that may use polluted water, any food items that may have been prepared unhygienically, and do not drink tap water. Stick to vendors that have lineups of people waiting for the food.
Though there are ways of trying to prevent illness in India, there are no methods that are foolproof. However, not consuming meat and dairy is a great start, as animal products are often the culprit of illness in India. By avoiding dairy that may have been left out sitting in the heat, you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding Delhi Belly.
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Indian vegan food is mind-blowingly delicious and healthy
Can something be this delicious and still be healthy? Yes! Much of the delicious vegan food you’ll eat in India is healthy. Many curries are often made with lentils and beans and are rich in protein, and other curries are filled with a variety of nutritious vegetables. One of the healthiest things about Indian food is the liberal use of spices and herbs. Ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and many other common Indian spices are rich in antioxidants and have medicinal compounds.
It’s hard to avoid the cliché here, but Indian food really is a feast for the senses: curries can be heard sizzling in the distance; intoxicating aromas drift into your nostrils; the colourful mix of spices and vegetables is easy to stare at; the taste is blissful, and meals are often eaten with bare hands. In my opinion, this is one of the best things about eating in India – it’s a messy job at first, but you’ll soon get into the swing of things. Who needs utensils!?
Ease and availability
Food is absolutely everywhere in India. You can’t go anywhere without smelling it, hearing it being cooked, or watching people buy and sell it. There are SO many diverse and drool-worthy dishes across the sub-continent that are 100% vegan, but they aren’t necessarily known to be vegan or thought of as vegan. Many restaurants in India cater solely to vegetarians, but for the best chances of finding vegan food, seek out restaurants that say ‘pure vegetarian’. This doesn’t mean vegan, but rather lacto-vegetarian, so no eggs.
Though the concept of veganism isn’t nearly as well-known here as vegetarianism, many Indians do follow a vegan lifestyle. North India has a much higher percentage of vegetarians than South India, particularly in the states of Punjab, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. Ahmedabad, located in Gujarat, is said to be one of the best cities for vegans in the world.
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Tips for being vegan in India
- Ask for ghee to be substituted for oil, such as coconut, mustard, or vegetable.
- Find out if the curry is cream-based. If it is, see if it can be removed, or simply choose a different dish.
- Naan is often made with dairy, so consider choosing other bread such as roti or puri, which are vegan.
- Paneer can easily be substituted with tofu (if available) or simply removed to make the dish vegan.
- Happy Cow is a very useful and resourceful online directory of vegetarian and vegan restaurants worldwide.
- Delicious vegan dishes to look out for: samosas, pakoras, chana masala, dal tadka, masala dosas, pani puri, biryani, rajma masala, bhel puri, aloo gobi, saag aloo, baigan bharta, chole bhature, and stuffed paratha.
- Restaurant suggestions: After staring in awe at the Taj Mahal head to Shankara Vegis to fill up in Agra; visit Jal Mahal for some tasty eats after exploring Jaipur’s Amber Fort; hit up Gali Paranthe Wali for some stuffed paratha after exploring Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi.
Ready to eat your way through India? Check out Intrepid’s Vegan Food Adventure.
(Image credits: Pani puri c/o Evan Ceretti. All other images c/o Intrepid Travel.)