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India: A Paradise For Vegans And Vegetarians
Updated : October 14, 2022 19:10 IST
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India boasts a plethora of culinary traditions that date back hundreds of years. With 28 states and eight union territories, each region contributes something.
India boasts a plethora of culinary traditions that date back hundreds of years. With 28 states and eight union territories, each region contributes something. However, as diverse as Indian food is, there are many dishes that are routinely cooked across the country, all crafted with a family’s own twist to make something familiar taste absolutely original and inviting. We won’t do a deep dive into Indian food (since that would necessitate an encyclopaedia or two), but we will cover the essentials. Follow these instructions whenever you eat Indian food, even in India, so you know exactly what to order to ensure your meal is vegan. For the sake of simplicity, we’re categorising Indian food into four distinct regions: North, South, West, and East. Remember that there may be variances within these regions, but with this guide, you’ll be able to navigate the maze of popular Indian cuisine.
India: A Haven For Vegetarians
India is a terrific place for vegetarians because it is densely inhabited by meat-free people. According to certain estimates, 30 per cent of the population consumes a vegetarian diet.
While up to one-third of the population does not consume meat, dairy is widely consumed in many traditional Indian diets. Dairy consumption is a relatively new phenomenon; for centuries, it was out of reach for most people due to its expensive cost. Spices are also an important component of the culinary culture, as they contribute to the peculiar flavour of Indian food. It’s not uncommon to eat a dish made with 15 or more spices at the same time! While spices such as turmeric, cumin, and chiles are used throughout India, the way they are utilised varies depending on the region of the dish. Here is your primer, divided into these regions.
North India
North India’s scenery includes hilly vacation locations in the Indian Himalayas, verdant lush river plains, and the Thar Desert. The food from this diverse region reflects these various climatic emotions. North Indian savoury food relies on fresh green chillies to add a lot of heat and employs more warming spices like cumin and cinnamon. This type of food is also known for being high in dairy (particularly cottage cheese, known as paneer and cream), eggs, and even meat. Despite its reliance on animal-based ingredients, it is not off-limits to vegans—you just have to know what to order.
Flatbreads or Rotis, either roasted on the pan or fried into puffy pooris made from wheat flour, are staple North Indian vegan dishes served with a side of a legume-based gravy made with chickpeas, kidney beans, black gramme, or pigeon peas and a dry vegetable dish like pan-fried spiced potatoes (aloo) or okra (bhindi).
Rotis are frequently transformed into parathas, which are typically packed flatbreads, with aloo paratha being the most popular. While butter or clarified butter (ghee) is typically used in the preparation of parathas, any vegetable oil can simply be substituted. Among the grains used, rice gets a flavorful boost from spices and veggies in the form of pulav.
Chickpeas are used in chole, and kidney beans are used in rajma, both of which are essential meals that every North Indian home cook prepares at least once a week. Both are typically served vegan, even in restaurants, with a base of tomatoes and onions and a slew of spices. Dal is a traditional side dish eaten with rotis and rice practically everywhere in India in various forms. Dals from North India are typically yellow-coloured, moderately spicy gravies made from split beans that are used as dips for rotis and parathas.
Anyone who wishes to eat vegan will find plenty of options among the dry vegetable-based sides. Popular sides include aloo matar (potato and peas), which can be served dry or with a tomato-based gravy, spiced okra (bhindi masala), and roasted veggies in pickling spices (achari sabzi). Any of these delectable meals, paired with rice or roti, is well enough for a filling plant-based meal.
These are just a few of the numerous vegan meals available in North Indian cuisine. Note that many sub-cuisines within North Indian cuisine, such as Kashmiri, Sindhi, Himachali, and Rajasthani, have traditional vegetable-based recipes that are easy to veganise if not already vegan.
West India
This region’s cuisine has been affected equally by the North and South, but it has its unique richness of tastes. The West of India, like the South, is affected by its extensive coastline. While fresh coconuts are widely utilised in many vegetable recipes from the coast, the mainland favours peanuts instead. Rice, which is also derived from the South, is widely used in Western cuisine, but wheat has made inroads as well. A typical West Indian lunch will include dry vegetable dishes known as sabzi or shaak, plain or flavoured rice, thin flatbreads made from various grains known as roti, phulka, or bhakri, and daal made from various lentils. All of these are vegan in general. Sprouts are very popular, and they are served in exquisite gravies (missal, usal) with a side of local Indian bread (pav).
East India
East Asian cuisine is a sort of mash-up of Indian cuisines and influences from adjacent countries. The major oil used here is mustard oil, which imparts a strong flavour to everything it touches. While this cuisine is not as vegan-friendly as the rest of the country, there are several naturally vegan traditional vegetable dishes.
Dry sabzis are cooked in mustard oil with a specific five-spice blend in Bengali cuisine. Rotis made from rice or wheat are particularly popular, as are vegan-friendly dals. As you travel east, Southeast Asian influences begin to emerge, with delicacies such as steamed dumplings known as momos, pickles made from bamboo shoots, and axone, an Indian counterpart of tempeh or natto.
South India
The south of India is a mostly flat territory with a few hilly hills, but it has a long tropical coastline. Because coconuts are farmed there, they appear prominently in many of its cuisines. These tropical fruits are most commonly utilised to add a distinct and craveable creaminess to vegetable-based recipes. In to contrast, the creamy texture, the most typically utilised spices in South India are pepper and red chillies.
Rice is the dominant grain in this region, and it may be found in fermented batters and even noodles (sevai/idiyappam). Pillowy soft rice cakes (idlis) packed with lentils and savoury breakfast crepes (dosas) with a slightly spicy coconut chutney are two favourite morning meals. Want more? Vegan-friendly foods include crispy deep-fried savoury lentil doughnuts (vadas), a soft porridge made from broken wheat and vegetables (upma), and flavoured rice of tamarind, spices, vegetables, and lentils (sambar). Dairy in the form of yoghurt abounds in the food here, but South Indian cuisine is considered the most vegan-friendly of the regions.
Indian Snacks And Desserts
Dessert is maybe the most difficult to find vegan in Indian cuisine. Desserts are typically seen as an indulgence, and as a result, dairy may be found in practically every dessert in India. Traditional desserts may have evaded the invasion, but they are often hard to come by.
Snacks, on the other hand, are abundant when it comes to vegan options, and Indians love their snacks. To achieve that craveable crunch element, these savoury delicacies are frequently deep-fried. Vegan snacks range from samosas and chaklis to banana chips and stuffed wheat flour balls (kachori) found across the country. Snack menus often include vegan street foods such as pani puri, bhel puri, sev puri, vada pav, samosa pav, dhokla, and patra.

While many items are inherently vegan, it’s best to confirm and indicate that you don’t consume dairy when dining out. Assume you’re allergic to dairy—the that’s the simplest method to ensure the kitchen doesn’t use it when cooking your dish.
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