Is Indian food vegan aside from vegan curry? I think a lot of people believe India is super vegan-friendly. The short answer is: not always. Have you heard of ghee? The ubiquitous clarified butter that makes an appearance in so much vegan Indian food? Yeah, not vegan. Indians are also quite fond of dairy (and don’t understand that it’s not vegan!), something I find mind-boggling given how much they love their cows. I haven’t been back to India since I was in Goa in 2015, and I’m excited to be going back for a quick break from the Winter in a few weeks. I thought now would be a good time for asking my fellow travel bloggers what surprises hide for me in vegan India outside of vegan curry.
I’m packing light and mostly yoga pants (to be fair I’m also going to do a lot of yoga in India) and off to a vegan Indian food tour adventure! Is Indian food vegan? I shall let the pros answer…
Is Indian Food vegan? The best travel bloggers answer
Daal Bati Churma
Daal Bati Churma is a signature dish of Rajasthan, the North Indian state. This dish comprises of stiff wheat balls, lentils and a sweet accompaniment called churma. The wheat balls are slow-roasted on coal, wood or even dry cow dung cakes called upla. It provides an earthy aroma and distinct smoked flavour to the dish. Daal is boiled lentils tempered with spices and herbs. Churma is crushed wheat or bajra (Pearl Millet), mixed with jaggery or sugar.
Daal Bati Churma is a traditional dish commonly eaten in the villages of Rajasthan. You will also find many variations in not only different parts of Rajasthan but other states as well. In villages of Rajasthan, baati is often served with lentils and assorted vegetables and no churma. It is also common in other North India states. In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar it is served with mashed potatoes or aubergines.
It is also great for health as it is a perfect balance of proteins, carbohydrate and vitamins. This food is even eaten by wrestlers to build stamina.
Make sure it’s vegan! In some unfortunate cases, Ghee is poured over the baati or wheat balls and it can also be mixed up in churma. Always ask before ordering!
For many Indians, veganism is not a just movement but a way of life. Street food of India has many vegan offerings such as Pani Puri, Samosa, and Kachori to try, relish and cherish. Panipuri is the God of Indian street food and it’s everywhere: it has various names across India and comes with many flavours and styles.
Pani Puri is one name but has many more like Golgappa, Pani Patasha, Fulki, etc. It’s a small rounded fried dumpling filled with potato mixture, tamarind sauce and “tangy water” making it a bomb of flavours. The combination of spicy filling and cool flavoured water when it bursts inside your mouth could potentially blow your mind. Pani Puri is 100% vegan and can be customized as per your taste at each shop.
In every city of India, you’ll find one iconic shop serving their version of Pani Puri. Pani puri has many folk tales of its origin. Some trace it back to the mythological era of Indian history. It can be found all across the Indian subcontinent from iconic bylanes of Lahuar in Pakistan to Crumbled streets of Dhaka, from the Himalayan heights of Shimla to the beaches of Chennai. When in Delhi, try this vegan food at Iconic Padam Chaat in Old Delhi where the owner has literally has made it best among equals.
A delicious, sweet and spicy Indian burger, Daabeli is a popular vegan Indian street food originally from Kutch, Gujarat. It’s basically a tangy concoction of mashed potatoes with a spicy masala (usually made with a blend of red chillies, local spices and crushed peanuts) served between Ladi Pav (Local buns) topped with some tamarind and date chutney, spicy garlic chutney, spiced peanuts, fresh pomegranate seeds and coriander.
The stuffed buns are then grilled on a flat iron pan (you can ask them to use oil instead of butter for grilling or have it as it is without grilling). These are then topped with some ‘sev’ which are small Indian crisps made of Bengal gram flour. It has a sweet, spicy and tangy taste and a blend of different textures, from soft to crunchy. It can be found mainly in all cities in Gujarat and also in some parts of major cities like Mumbai.
There is nothing quite like having a hot plate of aloo paratha with spiced potato stuffing, daal and cutting chai with sweeping views of the Himalayas. A staple Indian breakfast that can be as heavy as a lunchtime meal, or light as a breakfast starter. Aloo paratha is ultimately a flaky whole-wheat Indian flatbread with a delicious stuffing of potatoes and spices like ginger, turmeric, and cayenne. It is almost available everywhere from roadside dhabas also known as shacks to fancy restaurants. It may not be much of a looker but it makes up for more than that in bursts of flavours filled with spices.
It’s a dish that is popular in Northern and Western parts of India. You can have it with stuffing or without stuffing and a range of condiments like chutney (mint) or raw chilli. I was basically obsessed with it when I didn’t want a super heavy meal and wanted a great kickstarter before my long trek in the mountains. I saw people packing it as a to-go meal even on long bus rides. If you ever go on a solo trip to India in the Himalayas, don’t forget to ask for pickle and dollop of non-dairy yoghurt when you order a plate of steaming aloo parathas.
Chole Bhature is one of the most popular vegan dishes from the north of India. It’s one of those dishes that are popular all over India. This humble dish is a combination of fried Bhature and white Chole (chickpeas). Bhature is a deep-fried Indian bread made with fermented all-purpose flour’s dough. After fermentation, the dough is rolled into a flatbread and deep-fried in oil. The fluffy Bhature is fried on both sides for a few seconds and it’s ready. Chole is made of boiled white chickpeas. These are then tempered with cumin, coriander powder, red chili powder and special Chole masala of mix spices. This curry dish is usually slightly tangy in taste. For this raw mango powder or tamarind paste is used while tempering. This combination of bread and chickpeas curry is known as Chole Bhature. These are served with mango or seasonal pickle, green chilies pickle and raw onions.
Make sure you ask for your dish to be cooked in coconut oil instead of ghee to be sure. Also, look for small pieces of paneer (Cottage cheese) because some restaurants add these in chickpeas curry. This is one of those dishes that are available all day from breakfast until dinner.
Sarso da Saag
by On My Canvas
Sarso da saag and makki di roti, roughly translated into English as mustard curry with corn chapati, is one of the most popular home-made dishes of North India, especially of Punjab and Himachal. It’s made with spinach and mustard leaves, occasionally mixed with other leafy vegetables such as fenugreek and radish leaves.
Cooking sarso da saag is as simple as heating up some asafetida in a teaspoon of oil, adding the paste, and then pouring in some whole wheat flour paste to bring the gravy to a consistency. Eaten together with freshly-made crispy corn rotis, sarso da saag is a dish of the winter. Originally from Punjab, farmers have been eating this dish for centuries to keep them warm during the freezing winters.
You can easily find this spinach and mustard leaf gravy in most of the restaurants throughout India. Small roadside dhabas or shacks are though the best places to get a taste of this Indian delicacy if you want to try its local style. Winter is the best season to try this dish. Make sure you mention that you don’t need any added ghee on top and the curry shouldn’t also be cooked in ghee. Some people tend to put ghee on the corn roti as well and a precautionary message to the servers would be enough to get a vegan option of this delicious and healthy meal.
Dosa is a southern Indian speciality that comes in many different forms and is most often eaten for breakfast or lunch. It’s a very thin and crispy savoury pancake made from a batter of fermented rice and lentils.
To make masala dosa, one of the most popular types of dosa, the pancake is rolled up and stuffed with a potato and onion mixture flavoured with curry leaves, turmeric and other Indian seasonings. Traditionally, it’s accompanied by two side helpings of coconut chutney and sambar.
Masala dosa is most common in the very vegan-friendly city of Bangalore and other southern cities, but nowadays you can find it pretty easily in the north as well. It’s one of the cheapest meals available in India, and at street food stalls it goes for between 20 and 50 rupees. In a sit-down restaurant, it costs only slightly more.
While the dish is usually vegan, there are so many variations these days that it’s a good idea to check and make sure that no butter or cheese has been added. Another thing to keep in mind is that a bit of curd (yoghurt) is sometimes used as an active culture to ferment the batter.
Bombay aloo, also known as Bombay potatoes, is an excellent vegan potato dish, originating from the Indian sub-continent. It’s one of the most popular recipes in Indian cuisine and it’s also very often served on the streets.
In essence, it is a dry potato curry, or Indian spiced potatoes. Generally speaking, it is served as a side dish to other Indian recipes, however, it’s not uncommon to find it being served as a main dish (doubled in portion size). The hero ingredient is the potato. Nevertheless, it also includes spices such as cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ground coriander, turmeric, garam masala and chilli powder in combination with garlic, onions and fresh ginger. It is best enjoyed hot with fresh sliced red chillies and topped with fresh coriander leaves.
Overall, it is an explosion of spices and flavours. To make a milder version, you can simply omit the chilli element. Bombay aloo should always be vegan. However, there might be versions in some part of India which contains cream or yoghurt, so always keep a lookout if the Bombay aloo looks creamy. If it does, it’s better to ask in advance what the ingredients are.
I’ve spent my entire life in India and one of my favourite food items to eat is a dish called idli. Idlis are popular in the south of the country and are one of the items that I highly recommend tasting if you are vegan and want to try some of the famous Indian street food. Idlis are a kind of rice cake that is made of fermented batter and then steamed. Which makes it really healthy. It is also bland so it makes a great place to start if your stomach is not used to the Indian spice.
Idlis are often served with sambhar and chutney which are also vegan, so you are safe there. One thing that I should add however is that some restaurants may serve a small serving of ghee on the side. A great tip that I like to offer people is to try and mix it up is to pair idlis with some of the Indian curries. The spicier the better. The combination is something that my husband and I love. In fact, if we could get away with eating idlis every day of the week we would!
Is Indian food vegan? Yes, India really can be a haven for vegans, a country where you’ll find exciting new cuisines, specialities and variations around every corner. Such a huge part of the vibrant Indian cuisine is the street food, and, if you travel in the South, you won’t able to miss vada! To explain them simply, they’re small, savoury fried bread which is fragrantly spiced and resemble a doughnut. But, they are so, so much more!
Though there are a number of vada variations, most are made from either lentils or chickpeas, rolled into disk shapes and fried. To the recipe, people add strong spices, sometimes ginger, chilli and onion, then, once fried, they become beautifully crispy on the outside but fluffy on the inside – delicious.
Normally, vada is eaten as breakfast or a short eat, served on the street, at tiffin trucks or restaurants. They often come served with delicious chutneys and sambals, or even accompanying bigger dishes. We found it to be one of our favourite transport snacks, as they’re often sold near bus or train stations and good to eat on the go. You’ll probably have local sellers coming into trains/buses and singing ‘vada vada vada vada!!’ to sell to the passengers.
Chana Masala or chole masala is a vegan dish from North India, especially popular in the Punjab region where it is a staple dish. This comfort food is enjoyed at any time of the day or night, as breakfast, lunch or dinner – or simply as a snack. It has gained popularity in the past few years because it’s vegan, rich in protein, and simple to cook.
This one-pot wonder typically includes dry chickpeas and tomatoes stewed in an Indian curry paste and a wide array of seasonings and spices. Creamy chickpea masala curry is the base of many Indian dishes, from traditional Indian chicken curry to chole masala like this one.
Even if you’re not a foodie, you can simplify the process of cooking your own chana masala. Use canned tomatoes, turmeric, curry and amchoor powder for the spice blend and add a mixture of ground spices to give the dish an extra kick. Soak black chickpeas overnight and slowly cook in a mild, fragrantly spiced onion gravy before you add onions, ginger, garlic and curry paste. Of course, you can easily substitute dried chickpeas with canned ones. That will definitely make the process faster, however, their texture won’t as soft and tender as those in the best restaurant chana masala. To harmonize the spices you may want to use plenty of oil and sugar.
Ready to add some flare to this Indian food vegan recipe? Consider adding coconut or almond milk for a creamier curry. Spinach, turmeric and kale are also great sources of nutrition you can add to chana masala. Serve the dish with a side of roti (chapati) or rice, an Indian flatbread, or, if you are in the mood for something healthier, go for whole grains like wild rice or soy yoghurt.
During my time travelling through India, I got to try so much much interesting and delicious food never seen before. Puttu was one such dish. Highly popular in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, as well as in parts of Sri Lanka, it consists of steamed cylinders of ground rice flour that have been layered with freshly grated coconut. I found it served mostly at breakfast time, but I was told that puttu can be eaten at any time throughout the day, both in its sweet and savoury variety. There are a variety of ways to eat puttu and it is usually served alongside curries, the likes of kadala chickpeas or similar vegetables while the sweet version comes with steamed banana, plantain or even palm sugar. No matter the variance, a big positive for me is that it is vegan and healthy. When trying it for the first time, you need to keep in mind that it is not meant to be served dry nor as a sticky dough. The perfect consistency is slightly moist. The simplicity and taste of puttu make this hearty dish the best way to start the day and a sure way to put a smile on your face.