Sunday 5 July 2015

Being vegetarian in India

I considered leaving this blog post blank, as its so easy to be veggie in India that unlike some of our other posts on eating as a veggie (particularly in South America), I wasn't sure what I'd actually say, other than 'go forth and eat'.

However, I did really enjoy the food we ate for our two weeks in Bangalore and Tamil Nadu and so I didn't want to miss the opportunity to talk food! So, without further ado, here's a selection of some delicious foods that we'd recommend you try on a trip to India.

1) Masala Dosa
A staple of South India, dosas are a type of pancake made from a fermented rice and lentil batter. They are served filled with vegetables and/or alongside various chutneys or sauces. Commonly, they are served stuffed with a mix of potatoes, onions and spices. This is known as a masala dosa. It's really very tasty and became a firm favourite of ours, while on the road in India.

Masala dosa
If you want to spice it up a bit, try an onion dosa, which is a dosa pancake with a mix of onions and chilli in the batter itself, but be warned it is hot!

2) Idli-sambhar
Mostly served at breakfast time or perhaps as a mid morning snack, idli looks like a disk of white rice stuck together. Its made by steaming a batter made from a mix of lentils and rice. The accompanying sauces really make the dish. Where we were, idli seemed to regularly come served with a delicious sambhar - a lentil and vegetable curry.

3) Dals (and especially black dal)
I eat a lot of curry in the UK, but have never paid that much attention to dal. Lentil curry just didn't ever sound that exciting. How wrong I was! We had a range of different dals while we were in India and even tried our hand at making a dal fry - a yellow dal. 

Dal fry on the hob
However, we also discovered that we really really loved black dal or dal makhani. We could not get enough of this rich dish, which has such a depth of flavour. We have since discovered that it is jam packed with butter and cream in it. No wonder it tastes so good!

Delicious black dal (with a side of paneer!)

4) Paneer dishes

Our cookery teacher tried to tell us that it was very easy to make this Indian style cottage cheese, even though we used a shop bought cheese for our lesson. I am not yet convinced!

Making a spinach and paneer dish: Palak Paneer
I eat a lot of paneer curries at home and so while not particularly a novelty, we really enjoyed the range of paneer dishes on the menus in India.

5) Street food or chaat
'Chaat' which just means savoury snack is sold from food carts or kiosks across India. We particularly, noticed 'chaat' stands near the beach in Pondicherry, but they were dotted about elsewhere too. We enjoyed the bhel puri, which is a cereal dish, mixed with vegetables and tamarind. 

Bhel puri
Pani puri is another good bet. They are fried pastry balls, filled with tamarind water, vegetables and spices. Be warned though - the watery nature of this dish means it gets messy!

6) Halwa
For those with a bit of a sweet tooth, it's worth seeking out halwa, while in India. We made some semolina halwa during our cookery class. It was really simple. We just warmed up our ghee (clarified butter) with semolina in a pan. Once it was a golden brown, we added sugar and nuts, plus some other flavourings and then poured it out to let it cool and set - yum!

Smoothing out the halwa
The other main type of halwa is made with a carrot base rather than semolina and uses lots of milk. If in Pondicherry, go along to Villa Shanti to try their 'trio of halwa', which is layered dessert of beetroot, carrot and pumpkin halwas - delicious.

Trio of halwa
Verdict: Aside from these six foodstuffs, we also tried lots of different types of curry as we travelled around Bangalore and Tamil Nadu. We didn't have one disappointing meal. Unless you find the food too spicy, I really don't think you can go wrong as a vegetarian in India. My main challenge was having so much choice when the menu arrived - something I'm not so used to.

Travelling as a vegan would be harder though. Milk based dishes are very popular. There is also a tendency to put 'ghee' (clarified butter) in lots of the food, often where you wouldn't expect it (e.g in a dal!). Dosas and idli are generally vegan though as are the 'chaats' mentioned above, so get stuck in!

Have you travelled to India? How did you find the food? Any other dishes that we missed out on?


  1. Fantastic post and totally making me hungry right now... :-)

  2. Thanks Jennifer ... the SBTC chat has got me feeling peckish now too! India has to be one of the best places in the world for veggie food, such amazing flavours. I could really eat a dal right now!

  3. I think that even if I wasn't a vegetarian, I'd eat only vegetarian food in India. I think eating meat there it's too risky.