Whether you’re a carnivore, pescetarian, vegetarian or vegan, you’ll find the food you’re searching for in the deliciously diverse cuisine of India. I am personally a meat eater, but because the vegan food in India is so delicious, it’s easy to avoid meat completely when travelling there. To me, the rich vegetable curries, crunchy papadum and soft naan are the best dishes. When I’m travelling in India, I’m on a completely vegetarian or vegan diet.
While India certainly has some of the best food of any country in the world and it’s also one of the most affordable countries to visit, planning a trip to India can be a pretty challenging task and getting from point A to point B can really test your patience, but when you arrive in a new town and get to taste the regional specialties, it makes it all worth while.
While I do delight in the cream based curries and buttery naan breads, some of the best Indian dishes are completely vegan. before we get started with our preferred dishes, I’d like to introduce you to a few essential words in Hindi because if you’re searching for vegan food in India, these words will be helpful when ordering your first Indian meal.
The Hindi word for vegan is Śākāhārī (शाकाहारी)
Other essential words:
Without – Binā (बिना)
Cheese – Panīra (पनीर)
Meat – Manasā (मनसा)
Egg – Aṇḍā (अंडा)
Seafood – Samudrī bhōjana (समुद्री भोजन)
Poultry – Pōlṭrī (पोल्ट्री)
Dairy – Ḍēyarī (डेयरी)
Honey – Hanī (हनी)
Note: If you’re shopping at grocery stores to cook for yourself, you can use the country-wide mandatory labeling (below) to guarantee that your ingredients are vegetarian. Unfortunately, there is no vegan (pure-vegetarian) labeling as of yet.
Left = Vegetarian, best = Non-Vegetarian
The best Vegan Food in India
Luckily for vegans, even after siphoning off the meals on the menu that include the above ingredients, you’ll still have a lot of tasty dishes to choose from. some of the dishes below may be garnished with butter or cream and while it’s easy to ask for them to omit those ingredients, your best bet is to go to “pure vegetarian restaurants”, which won’t use any animal products.
If you’re travelling with a guide who speaks the local language, you’ll be able to purchase vegan food in India with no problems. If you’re travelling independently, practice the above words or ask around for someone who speaks English.
Here are some of my personal preferred vegan foods in India:
Vegetable Biryani: You’ll have to request that they fry with oil, not butter. This is the Indian version of veggie fried rice and it’s absolutely divine. With a substantial mix of spices including nutmeg, mace, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander and mint, it’s no wonder that this flavourful dish is well-known all over southern Asia. You’ll typically find dismal attempts at a veg biryani served in train restaurant cars, but your best bet is to hit the streets for this meal. quality and flavour can vary greatly, but if you get a good one, you’ll be craving more!
Image By: Miansari66 through Wikimedia CommonsAloo Gobi: Directly translated, Aloo Gobi implies “potato cauliflower” and it’s just that. This savory dry curry is usually spiced with turmeric, curry leaves and in some cases kalonji. The turmeric gives the dish its yellowish hue, while garlic, ginger, onion, coriander, tomato, peas and cumin round off its flavour and add to its robust aroma. Aloo gobi is best eaten with a tasty plain naan bread or chapati (no butter).
Image By: Paul Goyette through Wikimedia Commons
Aloo Puri: Puri refers to the delicious, whole-wheat, puffed bread that accompanies this well-known South Indian favourite. The potato (aloo) comes in a delectable spicy gravy and makes the ideal dipping sauce for the steamy bread pockets.
Image By: ampersandyslexia through Wikimedia Commons
Masala Dosa: This scrumptious dish is usually served for breakfast or lunch and it is completely vegan as long as you confirm that they don’t use ghee (clarified butter) to fry it. Masala Dosa is a thin, crispy, savory pancake made of fermented rice and dahl (lentil), wrapped around a mix of curried potatoes, onions and spices. The mixture is usually dipped in chutney and sambar or a side of curry gravy. Technically a South Indian dish, Masala Dosa is also one of the most popular exported Indian meals and it is found in numerous parts of Southeast Asia and Nepal. You have to try it, it’s the best vegan food in India, and one of our personal favourites!
Note: The masala dosa imagined below (center of the photo) is accompanied by idli and vada (to the right). While these two sides are tasty, in some cases they are made with fermented milk as well as rice flour. Ask before eating them.
Image By: Jpatokal through Wikimedia Commons
Pakoras: The ideal vegan snack! Pakoras are small, bite-sized bits of spiced (eggless) bread and mixed vegetables, deep-fried and typically served in a folded newspaper. There are some that are made with chicken and cheese, so you’ll have to request vegan-friendly ones. Street stalls around Kolkata and Chennai cook up some of the best pakoras, but you can find them all over the country. They make for outstanding train food for those long, hungry journeys.
By Seba Della y Sole Bossio through Wikimedia Commons
Dahl Tadka: This dish is in some cases garnished with ghee (clarified butter), so ask them not to do so. It’s worth the request because this is one of the best dishes to ever come out of Punjab. known as “yellow dahl“, the simplicity of Dahl Tadka is what makes it so delicious. made of onion, ginger, garlic, tumeric and of course dahl (lentils), this thick, steamy yellow curry can typically be found in thalis (all-you-can-eat Indian lunches). If you’re searching for protein packed vegan food in India, this is one of the best dishes.
Image By: Saffron Chronicles
All of the dishes above are best eaten with papadum (a thin, crispy chickpea chip) or naan (delicious, soft bread made in the tandoor oven).
If you’re planning a trip to India, make sure you try as numerous different dishes as you can. You can purchase any vegan meal on the menu and know that it will be tasty and healthy. Indians have a very close connection with their food and they take pride in their spices, flavours and aromas. They also consume less meat per capita than any other country in the world, so they’ll understand and honour your requests!
If you’ve read our articles about India you know that we love to travel independently, but if you’d like to experience India’s culture, cuisine and chaos without any stress or frustration, consider a 2 week package with Eshores.co.uk. The golden triangle trip will take you through Kerala which has some of the best food in the country.
No matter how you check out India, make sure you do as the locals do and eat with your hands, get a bit messy and delight in the communal ambiance of an Indian meal at a restaurant. This is the best place for food-loving vegans, so get your taste buds ready for a spicy adventure through one of the most culinarily diverse countries on earth.
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