How To Avoid Dairy In India

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Getting to know India

So, you just landed in India and you’ve been told that India is a vegetarian paradise. It is! But as a vegan your major problem will be: how to avoid all those dairy products that are found in so many vegetarian dishes.  This article will help you steer past any added milk products that may decide to come your way so that you can celebrate the amazing food culture India has to offer.

For more info about vegan in India, be sure to check out our Local Food tab that will help you become more familiarized with  the local vegan foods.


South indian vegan thali

Why Is There So Much Dairy In Indian Food?

After the 1970 white revolution in India, Dairy became an integral part of Indian cuisine. The milk is consumed in various forms such as milk, paneer (cottage cheese), curd/yoghurt, buttermilk, makhan/butter, ghee (clarified butter), processed cheese, milk powder etc. Often these products are not directly observable nor noticeable in the foods, making it a challenge to avoid dairy products for visiting vegans.

Today India has taken the pole position and is producing the largest amounts of milk in the world!


Milk glass


Main points you should keep in mind when eating / ordering vegan food in India:

Dosa South indian vegan food

1. The meaning of “vegetarian” is not the same in India

Unlike in the West, where a vegetarian diet included eggs, milk, honey; here in India vegetarian implies people who are consuming plants, Milk and honey products only. Egg eaters are usually known as Eggetarians.

2. Your waiter may not know what vegan means

The majority of Indians have no clear distinction between vegan and vegetarian. So, whenever you say to someone in India that you are a vegan, there is a high possibility that you will be mistaken as a vegetarian.

3. The green dot on packages does not always mean vegan

A vegan diet is not officially recognized by the govt of India. So, if you see a food packet (or even a restaurant) that says ‘Pure Vegetarian’, or labelled with a green dot, it may still contain dairy or honey products. Hence, it is always recommended to read the ingredients on the back of packed foods before you buy.

4. It doesn’t hurt to spell out over and over what you do not eat

ALWAYS make sure you inform the waiter about the kind of food you are looking for. Make sure he clearly understands what you have ordered and tell him not to add any dairy-based products in the foods. Repeat your request if needed. Say: “Don’t add milk, ghee, paneer, curd, cream, butter, etc. Absolutely NO dairy products in the foods we order.”

5. Remember that:

  • The majority of North Indian vegetarian cuisines contain dairy as oppose to south Indian vegetarian cuisines – which are likely vegan.
  • The majority of desserts/sweets in India do contain dairy. Hence, it’s preferred to consume jaggery based desserts. However, as a precaution, it’s better to check with the steward or on the packaging.
  • Some dishes may not contain dairy in itself, but they are served with a cup of curd/yoghurt on the side, which you can ask them to take back.
  • If the food looks creamy, it likely has the dairy product in it.Tea and Coffee in India are always prepared with milk. So, you can order black tea or black coffee. Starbucks India has recently introduced plant-based milk in their menu at some of their stores, you can check that as well.

10. The good news:

  • Chinese vegetarian food in India is usually vegan as the recipes do not contain dairy-based ingredients.
  • The majority of the breakfast menu in India is vegan. However many do add butter or ghee to garnish the food, especially for the common breakfast items like dosa and idli. Here, when you order, you can say “make it with oil and not butter.. don’t add ghee or butter”, etc.

Product MarkingsVeg non veg symbols

Another useful tip is that all products sold in India are marked with “Vegetarian” and “Non-Vegetarian” symbols. It’s important to mention that if a item has egg inside it will be considered non veg and will be marked with the red/brownish dot, even though no actual meat was added to the product.


Lord Ganesha veganTo sum it up, vegetarian cuisine in India is vast and has unique items based on the culture and the state/province you are travelling in. In general the most vegan-friendly foods are breakfast items, street foods, south Indian vegetarian meals, Chinese vegetarian cuisines  and desserts/sweets made with jaggery. However, it’s advisable to confirm with the seller/steward, before ordering the food.

Having mentioned all these things, one must not worry. India is one of the most vegan-friendly places you can visit in the world. Your journey will be smooth and stress-free especially if you know what to eat and order. Since 2018 there is a growing number of vegan restaurants, especially in the metropolitan cities. So when you are travelling it is best to keep a list of vegan restaurants in your checklist along with joining facebook vegan groups like: Vegans In India and India Vegan Revolution or asking your question through The Veganary India Forum Tab.


Harsha Atmakuri Vegan activist.


This article was written by:

Harsha Atmakuri is a doctor (MBBS) by education and used to work as a Medical Writer before he left his job back in May 2018 to become a full-time independent Animal Rights Activist. He primarily works on Animal Rights awareness campaigns – offline and online. He’s the founder of Truth Is Vegan and Vegans Of India.

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