Being a vegan in India is not very common. Although It is estimated that 25% – 35% of Indians are lacto-vegetarian. Many people in the country do not know the difference between vegan and vegetarian. But it is changing. Many vegan organizations, such as Sharan, are making great advances educating people on environmental issues and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease that used to be very rare in India and are becoming endemic among the middle-upper class. This might be related to the fact, that India is one of the world’s leading dairy consumers. Read more about this on our How to Avoid Dairy in India article.
Traditionally, in India, “pure vegetarian” refers to people who are lacto-vegetarians (they do not eat eggs). Use the term since it’s a great way to explain what you want: just say that you are “pure veg, without any dairy” (ghee, cream, paneer) and everybody should usually understand. Since almost everyone speaks English, at least in the cities, you should have no problem asking. It is very easy to veganize food in medium to large restaurants since the dishes are usually made fresh upon ordering. If you still have any unresolved questions after reading our other tabs for India, we recommend you ask them to the very welcoming Facebook group: Vegans in India.
Digging into the mouthwatering food is part of the fun while in India, and it’s an experience not to be missed. However, there are a few rules to be mindful of when eating. Be sure the food is thoroughly cooked, and that it hasn’t been sitting out in the open for a long time. Boiling-hot food is best. Avoid fresh produce that may have been washed in unclean water and do not drink tap water or drinks with ice that you suspect have been prepared with non-filtered water. If going for street food, stick to vendors that have lines. Wash hands thoroughly, much more often than you would normally. With these precautions you should be completely fine and, on your way to enjoying one of the best countries in the world for foods.
The cuisine varies from North to South, with the South preparing more coconut based dishes and having rice as a staple and with the North adding cream for richer dishes and using breads as chapati and naan as staples. Study closely our Local Food page to know which dishes are always vegan and which can be easily veganized.
Food is relatively cheap. You will be able to eat the most amazing and intricate dishes for around or even less than $1, particularly on the street. In restaurants, you can order an exquisitely delectable vegetarian thali – a platter offering a variety of Indian dishes (anywhere between 6 and 20) for $2 or even less. In some cases, thalis are refillable at no extra cost. Again, remember to ask for oil as opposed to ghee-based dishes and skip the curd (yogurt) usually served along with your tray.
Many of the Indian dishes are made with clarified butter called ghee. To be on the safe side, always inquire as to whether the dish you’re ordering is made with ghee, and if it is, ask them to substitute vegetable oil instead. People in India will always be happy to cater to that request whenever they can. That being many times waiters will nod their head in agreement, or even say “yes” to your requests, without fully understanding them. For more info and top tips about ordering and veganizing food in India read our “How to Avoid Ghee in India”.
When travelling by car or by train, make sure to stock up on Vegan Snacks. The rides are usually long and the stops in the countryside do not offer many choices to have with your black tea except perhaps for chips. Food on the road other hand can be quite delicious if not always served in clean eateries.
Still have questions? Ask them on our India Forum tab to get all the answers.
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