The Flaming Vegan

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Vegan in India
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Vegan in India

India. Colourful, chaotic and utterly charming. Most of the time, anyway. India is one of those places that's hard to describe to anyone who hasn't been there, and for those who have, no words are necessary. I recently returned from a two month stay in Bangalore, located in the South, and did a fair amount of travelling when I was not doing volunteer work in one of the slum areas of Bangalore.

Indian cuisine is perhaps best known for the copious amounts of spices, the dahl (lentils), the curries, and the wonderful breads. Many Indians are vegetarians, a fact that is reflected in the many vegetarian option or even veg-only restaurants.

Veganism, however, is nearly unheard of.

Cheese as we in the Western world know it is more or less unheard of (unless you find yourself in a place which caters to tourists), but the Indians are fond of paneer, a type of cheese which actually looks similar to tofu. Paneer is easily avoided, along with eggs, as these two are usually part of the dish's name.

Sadly, dairy is somewhat harder to avoid. Indians are fond of putting cream and milk into many things, and so you will rarely see tea or coffee served without milk, and curries will either contain cream or gravy.

As such, this would not pose a great problem, as one could just ask whether or not animal products are included in the meal.

That's where the language barrier comes in. While Hindi and English are the two official languages of India, most Indians don't speak either of those languages. Instead, every state has its own language. Only people with a relatively high level of education will be able to converse with you in English, though most Indians are able to speak a few basic words and phrases.

The problems a vegan can encounter are therefore either that the people do not understand your request (if you ask them to make the dish with gravy instead of cream, for example) because they do not understand English well enough, or they don't understand it because they do not comprehend why someone would not eat cream. In that case, make it clear that it is either part of your religion, or that you have a severe lactose intolerance.

One time I ordered a wrap without cheese. I received the wrap and saw it was filled with paneer. I told the waiter that I could not eat it. He took the wrap away. Half an hour later I asked whether I would get a new one. He said they could not make it without paneer.

As strange as it sounds, these kind of conversations are not necessarily unusual. Another time I bought an eggless cake, after asking the waiter whether it's made with milk and he replied no. Once he cut a slice it became clear that there was a thick layer of cream in the middle of it.

By now it should be clear that it's not always easy being vegan in India. If you plan on going, I would strongly suggest learning the right phrases in the language of the area you wish to travel, and perhaps accepting the fact that you will probably (and unknowingly) ingest some animal products while you are there. It's also useful to know the names of some dishes and their usual ingredients (dahl, biryani, etc).

India is an amazing country though, and soy milk is available in supermarket chains.


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  1. kristo
    Namaskar! I found similar problems in a lot of Asia. Fish sauce, dairy, eggs as binding agents... I hope you found some amazing fruit markets :) great blog, voted!
  2. MissDelight
    Yeah, the fruit was amazing! And soo cheap :) mangos, watermelons, coconuts :) sadly the veggies weren't as varied. Whereabouts did you go in Asia?
    1. kristo
      that's great! fresh fruit is a life saver :) I've been living in Bali for 2 years and have been to many countries in Asia, not India yet though! I recently spent a month in Nepal which, like India, uses a lot of paneer, ghee and curd (yogurt). It is difficult to make special requests in a restaurant, like you mentioned, and I also sent a few items back to the kitchen and never saw them again, just like you described :)
  3. Veganara
    Voted. Great blog. India is one of the places I would love to visit. Thanks for alerting me to these problems I am likely to encounter! I have heard very similar things from others who have visited there.
  4. Veghead
    Great expressive blog. Voted.
  5. LiveHealthyNow
    Wow! Love this thank you. I hope my piece makes you want to see RI


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