We had reservations about visiting India for a few reasons, but food wasn’t one of them! We eagerly anticipated the rich spicy flavours, the soft warm breads and the tender slow roasted vegetables and pulses. And we weren’t disappointed!
India is one of the easiest countries we’ve travelled as vegans. With a small amount of enquiry (English is very common in the bigger cities and tourist routes), one can efficiently bypass the elements in a typical Indian restaurant menu that don’t fit within a vegan framework. The most common items are ghee (clarified butter) and paneer (soft white cheese). These ingredients show up quite frequently on any self respecting Indian vegetarian menu, but there are also many other options such as vegetable, lentil and chickpea dishes that can be made (and are often readily offered) without ghee or paneer.
As food is generally very inexpensive in India, and as our self-catering accommodation options were very limited in this part of the world, we were able to try many different restaurants and flavourful dishes which took on a new character in each region we visited. For breakfast we ate muesli and soy milk, with generous helpings of fresh fruit such as banana, papaya and mangoes. Lunch and dinner were usually restaurant based and depending on the location, included thalis (a platter with small servings of various dishes), dosas (wafer thin lentil crepe often filled with vegetables and potatoes), and other regional fare with the odd western style meal to change the flavour a bit.
We drank only bottled water while in India. Bottled water is cheap and available everywhere. This, along with a strict hygiene regimen (including frequent hand washing followed by hand sanitizer), and very selective eating choices (picking slightly upmarket restaurants with good local patronage, not eating from street carts and vendors, washing fruit well, and packing food for travel days) allowed us to travel through India for over a month without having any stomach or other ailments.
Here is a summary of the regions we visited, the typical food we discovered and some of our favourite dining and grocery shopping experiences:
Our brief stay in Mumbai did not give us a lot of time to explore the local cuisine. We had a few excellent light meals at pure vegetarian restaurants close to and recommended by our accommodation. We also had a terrific pizza (no cheese!) and very cold Kingfisher beer at Pizza by the Bay on Mumbai’s famous Marine Drive in Churchgate. We found an excellent whole/natural foods store near Churchgate called Nature’s Basket which stocks a wide range of locally produced and imported food items including soy milk. This is a great reference to other natural food stockists and resources in Mumbai, including a number of vegan resources. We’re sure there are many wonderful culinary delights to be discovered in Mumbai, our two-day stopover simply didn’t allow for too much exploration – especially since it was our first introduction to India and we were feeling a little cautious and a bit overwhelmed!
We chose to stay in north Goa on Mandrem Beach at a quiet laid-back beach resort called Dunes Holiday Village. There is a fantastic restaurant on the premises at Dunes, offering an extensive selection of Indian as well as western choices, along with juices and smoothies. We ate most of our meals here as we found it to be very affordable, excellent in quality and a very comfortable place to while away the time while looking at the gorgeous ocean view. Another favourite spot was Lamuella Cafe, just across the road from Dunes. The freshly ground coffee, homemade rice milk, oatmeal, and granola hit the spot on more than one occasion! We visited once for dinner and found their food portions, while very tasty and plentiful in vegan options, to be quite small and overpriced.
North Goa is well known for its beautiful beaches, yoga retreats, and bohemian lifestyle. There is an abundance of restaurants from Arambol Beach down the coast to Anjuna Beach with vegan options, from local flavours through to fresh salads, falafel, veggie burgers, raw delights, and more. Most of the yoga retreats cater to alternative lifestyle and dietary choices, and offer enticing menus with vegan options. There is also an amazing and plentiful collection of fresh fruit stands, along with well stocked grocery stores. Come with a good appetite as you’ll be a well fed vegan in these parts!
Oh Darjeeling, how we miss you! In this high Himalayan mountain station we discovered a delightful assortment of cultures and flavours due to Tibetan, Nepalese, Indian, and English influences. Over our 10 day stay we feasted on a wonderful range of excellent food with vegan options galore. Here are a few of our favourite eating experiences:
Glenary’s Cafe and Bakery is a Darjeeling institution. The wonderful enclosed porch with amazing views over the town and mountains is the best spot to sit on a sunny morning with a cup of tea. The cafe menu offers fairly standard fare, with options like oatmeal, wholegrain toast, veggie burgers and other snack items. The bakery has a wide range of breads and some sweet and savoury vegan baked goods.
Kunga is a tiny family-run restaurant that makes the best vegetarian momos (tibetan dumplings) in town! With seating for roughly 20 people, it’s not easy to get a table, so come ready to wait or arrive before peak meal times.
Lunar is an Indian restaurant under the Dekeling Hotel (where we stayed in Darjeeling). It’s a more upmarket option, but still within a reasonable price range. We liked the clean, smart dining room with lovely views and enjoyed the vegetable pakoras, chana masala, and naan bread a few times during our stay.
Sonam’s Kitchen is a small hole in the wall that is mostly frequented by travellers. Known for its coffee and chunky toasted wholemeal bread (from Glenary’s of course!), it’s a lovely spot to sit for a while. We dropped by a few times for a late breakfast. We’d hoped to try the dinner options as they came highly recommended, but the restaurant was closed in the evenings during our stay in Darjeeling.
Foodsteps offers a number of healthier options like smoothies, granola, wraps, and homebaked vegan cookies. Friendly staff and lovely views from the upstairs dining room make this another sweet spot to while away some time.
Nathmulls Tea Shop is one of the nicest locales in Darjeeling to experience tea culture. As a purveyor of fine teas from across the Darjeeling region, the range and quality of teas is outstanding. A small cafe attached to the tea sales room offers a full range of tea tasting as well as a food menu with one or two suitable vegan options.
Hasty Tasty is the best spot for cheap and fast Indian food. The masala dosa and vegetarian thali are a must!
Our one day hike across the border into Nepal included lunch in a mountain refuge. We were treated to an amazing range of lentil and vegetable dishes, rice, papadums and the potent tongba – a millet-based fermented alcoholic beverage that is served warm.
Jaipur is the capital city of the state of Rajasthan, located in northwest India. We spent two nights here as part of a “golden triangle” tour which included a visit to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal). On our first night we discovered a wonderful rooftop restaurant called the Peacock on the top floor of the Hotel Pearl Palace. We returned here on our second night too as we enjoyed our first visit so much! Our favourite dish was the Dhal Makani enjoyed with ice cold Kingfisher beer.
The sprawling and congested city of Delhi crams in every conceivable restaurant, street vendor, kiosk and food cart. It’s a full frontal sensory overload! Our three days in Delhi gave us a very quick glimpse of what the city has to offer, with most of our exploration on the food front centered on Connaught Place. We had two really amazing meals at Saravanaa Bahvan – well worth the wait in the long line up. Here the specialty is a variety of dosas, and their excellent thali – beautiful flavours and a fun hands on food experience.
We were surprised that grocery stores were limited in the city. There were a few convenience stores selling the typical range of supplies like bottled water, candy and toiletries, but we couldn’t find a supermarket in the area that we were staying near the main railway station. We were able to find soy milk and muesli at the TwentyFourSeven convenience store in Connaught Place to meet our breakfast needs.