How to Eat Vegan in India
It's been over a month in India and I can confidently bare the good news: being vegan in India is relatively easy if you do a small amount of research before you go! Here are what I believe to be the handiest things I've learnt along this delicious journey!
1. The terms VEGAN, GLUTEN-FREE and DAIRY-FREE are NOT widely used in India.
You will have to specify which ingredients you do not want and it is very worthwhile to familiarise yourself some of the items of an Indian menu before going to India.
2. No dairy is more challenging than no egg.
About a third of the population in India is VEGETARIAN. In some key religions here, eggs are not considered to be vegetarian, and a PURE-VEG RESTAURANT will never have eggs on the premises. However they will have dairy products, but it is generally very easy to ask for no ghee/butter/curd/paneer.
3. South Indian and North Indian food are distinctly DIFFERENT.
South Indian food is a lot more VEGAN and GLUTEN-FREE friendly. Vegetarian curries in the south will almost always be vegan because coconut cream is used in the South and dairy cream is used in the North. The staple in South India is RICE. The staple in North India is WHEAT. The South is known for being slightly healthier and less heavy.
4. You need to be more wary and make more requests in the North
The North is known for richness in flavour (not that the South is less delicious – oh no no no!). Cooking in the North uses Ghee (clarified butter), Butter, Milk, Paneer (cheese), Curd (yogurt) and Cream more often in curries and on breads. Especially when you’re up north, you need to ask for things to be left out. You cannot say 'I willl have a garlic naan, but no dairy', you need to be very specific about what you don’t want, e.g. “I will have a garlic naan, but No Ghee and No Butter.” Even when you’re ordering South Indian foods like Dosa in the North, always request No Ghee, No Butter. Again, knowing the menu will help you out.
Downloaded my full menu guide if you want to see what items usually have ghee or butter!
5. Don't buy the 'Almond Milk'
Badam Milk is a popular drink in India – the direct translation is almond milk, but heed this warning: it’s almond FLAVOURED dairy milk.
6. Try the Chinese
There are some standard ‘CHINESE’ menu items that are typical to most Indian menus – most of these will be vegan.
7. Learn Hindi Words for vegetables you like!
The good thing about menu items is that they tell you the main ingredients in them. Usually 2 words. E.g. PALAK PANEER literally means ‘spinach cheese’ – so ding ding ding, STAY AWAY. ALOO PALAK literally means ‘potato spinach’ – so ding ding ding, ORDER DAT. Easy.