The Green Road Around India: Your Guide to Vegan Food Across the Country

Indian street foodIf you travel to India, you’ll want to be up to date on the varieties of food that are available! Especially for vegetarians and vegans, there are many options that you can choose from. The cuisine of each region is an artistic representation of its culture and values. Examples range from the dhokhlas of Gujarat to the idlis of Tamil Nadu to the pohas of Maharashtra. The first step is choosing your preferences for texture, flavor, and quantity.

“Pulao” is the local term for a staple rice dish that is cooked in a vegetable broth. It is readily available, and the ingredients can be altered according to personal preference. It typically consists of peas, carrots, and onions with mild spices. Originally, it was a North Indian dish from Delhi. Now, pulao, a simple meal, is prepared throughout the country. Biryani is a slightly richer version of pulao. It’s made with a different type of rice and is usually cooked with meat, but you can always ask for it to be made vegan!

If you’re making your way across the northern part of India, you’ll typically visit cities such as Chandigarh, Jaipur, Kanpur, Lucknow, and New Delhi. A specialty of this region is naan, a leavened oven-baked flatbread. It’s available as a street food and in restaurants as a main course, served with curries or vegetable dishes. Naan is usually slathered with melted butter, but you can always order it without butter. It can also have different toppings or fillings, such as garlic, onions, and black pepper.

Yoghurt and paneer are commonly found in a lot of North Indian delicacies. Paneer is fresh curd cheese. You can substitute tofu—which is becoming more and more popular—in its place. A lot of dishes, such as paneer tikka and paneer butter masala, which consist of paneer cooked in spices, can be made with tofu instead. Some restaurants won’t have tofu available, so be sure to check with the staff before you place your order. You can also easily opt to order your dish without yoghurt since it’s mainly served as a side dish. Make sure to specify that you would like your food to be cooked using oil rather than butter since most Indian food is cooked with ghee (melted clarified butter).

When you travel across the western part of India, you’ll be in the states of Goa, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), the capital of Maharashtra, is popularly referred to as “the life of India.” It’s a city that grows on you and comes alive with its rich culture, spirit, and food. I would recommend eating the street food here, which is absolutely mouthwatering! “Chaat” is a term that describes savory snacks, typically served by roadside stalls or food carts. The original chaat is a mixture of potato pieces, crisp fried bread gram or chickpeas, and tangy, salty spices, with sour homemade Indian chili. It is garnished with chopped onion, coriander leaves, and hot spices. Note that some types of chaat include curd. The varieties of vegan chaat include bhel puri, pani puripapri chaat, and sev puri. Samosas, kachoris, and papads are other street-food options that you can sample. They’re all different forms of potatoes cooked with vegetables and spices. Vada pav is another popular local street food, which consists of a vegetable fritter placed between two buns. It’s almost like an Indian version of a tiny burger and can be sweet, tangy, or both, depending on your preference.

In addition to restaurants and street stalls, a large number of convenience foods are sold in most supermarkets across India. These include tasty biscuit brands such as Hide n Seek, Monaco, Marie Biscuits (which are best dipped in hot chai tea), Parle Hide & Seek Bourbon Biscuits, Britannia, and Khari Biscuits. These are all local brands that manufacture vegan snacks. Nonetheless, just to be cautious, always have a look at the ingredients before purchasing an item. Imported vegan snacks are also readily available, such as Oreos, Hershey’s dark chocolate syrup, Skittles, etc. If you’re on a budget, try Maggi’s instant noodles or Top Ramen Super Noodles (masala flavored). Several international outlets offer vegan items, too, such as Subway and even McDonald’s. In case you’re staying in India for a longer duration and would like to try your hand at cooking vegan food, there are several dishes that can easily be prepared.

Another extremely well-known food item that originated in Gujarat is dhokla, a tasty snack made up of fermented batter derived from rice and chickpea splits. In fact, most Gujrati dishes are typically vegetarian because of the religious beliefs of the people there. Examples of the region’s other vegan food include khaakras (wheat crackers with spices), fafdas (a traditional crunchy snack), and aamras (sweet syrup derived from the pulp of mangoes). All these dishes are easily available and reasonably well priced.

South Indian cuisine also consists mainly of vegan food. Note that in the state of Kerala, fish is extremely popular and that a majority of vegetarian dishes are cooked or fried in fish oil. So always check that your dish is completely vegan. In Chennai, one of the largest cities in Tamil Nadu, you must try the dosas and idlis, which are the most traditional foods of South India. Dosas are fermented crêpes or pancakes made from rice batter and black lentils. They are served with a variety of spicy chutneys and sambhar, a lentil-based vegetable stew or chowder based on a broth made with tamarind. Idlis, known as “the flavor of South India,” are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils (de-husked) and rice. They are also accompanied with chutneys and sambhar.

If you don’t prefer spicy items, there are a large number of sweet dishes as well, which are readily available, including pongal and upma. Although they can be slightly oily and greasy, they taste fabulous.

The following is my list of the top 10 Indian dishes with regard to taste, price, and availability. Try to sample all these items. It will definitely be worth it!

  1. Dosas (fermented crêpes or pancakes made of rice batter and black lentils)
  2. Chaat items (pani puri, bhel puri, vada pav, etc.)
  3. Chili parotta (classic street food made with layered flat bread, capsicum, and sauces)
  4. Peas and onion pulao (rice cooked with vegetables and seasoned with spices
  5. Idlis (rice cakes with lentils)
  6. Kachoris and khaakras (a flour ball baked with a mixture of vegetables and wheat crackers with spices)
  7. Khaati rolls (a version of spring rolls stuffed with vegetables and chili)
  8. Channa masala (ground chickpeas with tangy seasoning)
  9. Tofu curry masala (a North Indian curry made with rich gravy and chunks of tofu)

In a nutshell, vegan food can be found easily all across the country. India is known for the richness and diversity of its food, so you will have access to unlimited options to choose from! Depending on the amount of time and money that you are willing to spend, you can eat the same dish either at a local roadside stall or a fancy restaurant. That is the beauty of this country!

Posted by former PETA intern Rachna Ramanathan