This street vendor has it right: vegetarian food in India is the real taste of life.
As someone who has traveled to sixty-five countries as a vegetarian, I am confident in saying that no other country on earth has a diverse, vibrant, entrenched culture of vegetarian eating that could ever compare to that of India.
I spent two months as a solo traveler in India, and every day I woke up excited to sample all of the delicious vegetarian foods on offer. I loved starting my day with a cup of masala chai, tangy yogurt, fresh fruits and, if I had a big day ahead, some flatbread dipped in a lentil or chickpea curry. For lunch and dinner I’d follow the crowds in the streets to the busiest vendors or duck into one of the restaurants proudly advertising their “Pure Veg” status to try dishes that I’d never heard of back home in Canada… often that left my mouth on fire!
Don’t take my word for it, though. I reached out to ten of my travel blogger friends and asked them about their favorite vegetarian food in India. Their recommendations run the gamut from curries to drinks to desserts, and have origins spanning from the far north of India all the way to the south. Have a read, and then let me know in the comments which Indian vegetarian food you’re going to try first on your next trip to India!
A Vegetarian Indian Food From Mumbai
This delectable street food can be found all over India, but stalls are slinging this dish on every street corner in Mumbai. Just look for the tell-tale flat top (and massive line) and it’s likely you’ll find a mean pav bahji.
What exactly is pav bahji? It’s a spiced vegetable curry, usually deep red to orange in color. Traditionally it’s made with potatoes, onions, carrots, chilies, peas, and tomatoes. It’s piping hot, perfectly spicy and served with a pav ( a warm buttery soft bun) for dipping. Every vendor has their own slight variation on this dish. Some will cover it in cheese to your liking or add a heaping pile of coriander. It’s delicious in all forms and worth the $0.75 price tag.
One of my favorite pav bahji’s was at the street food stalls on Juhu Beach. They heat the curry on a massive flat top, scraping it back and forth with clanking metal paddles. Then it’s poured onto a signature silver dish, piled with cheese and coriander, and paired with two steamy buns. Perfection.
Recommended by Geena Truman from Beyond the Bucketlist
A Vegetarian Indian Food from North India
Although I’d never tried malai kofta before I visited India, it quickly became one of my favorite indulgent dishes to order for lunch or dinner. One of the most popular vegetarian foods in India, malai kofta is made from kofta, which are deep-fried balls, and malai, or clotted cream. In the case of malai kofta, the kofta are formed from potatoes and paneer (no meat here!), and the malai is combined with tomatoes, cashews and spices to make a deliciously rich, creamy, spicy sauce.
Although the malai kofta I’ve shown above consist of two large kofta, it’s more common for the dish to consist of six or eight golf ball-sized kofta, which makes it a great dish to share along with something a bit lighter (perhaps a vegetable or lentil curry?). You’re more likely to find malai kofta in a restaurant, rather than on the street, and you can always let your server know if you’d prefer it to be mild, medium or spicy (personally, I like creamy dishes to be on the milder side). I had this at Joney’s Place, a popular 100% vegetarian restaurant just two blocks away from the South Gate of the Taj Mahal in Agra. My advice? Get up early and see the Taj Mahal at sunrise, then when the heat kicks in head to Joney’s Place for lunch.
Recommended by Carly, creator of Fearless Female Travels
A Vegetarian Indian Food from South India
One of the quintessential south Indian breakfasts, you’ll find idli and sambar (also spelt idly sambar) all around south India, at simple Indian street food stalls, in homes, at local eateries and restaurants. Not only is it super tasty and filling, it’s also healthy and nutritious!
Idli sambar is made up of two main elements. The first is idli, which are savoury steamed rice cakes. Made from a fermented batter consisting of urid dal and either idli rawa (semolina) or rice, the batter has to be left for several hours to ferment. The idli are then steamed in special moulds within a pressure cooker or idli maker for ten minutes or so before serving. Sambar is a south Indian dal variant which uses tamarind, tomatoes, locally grown drumsticks (green bean type vegetables which are soft on the inside) and, commonly, other vegetables such as pumpkin or carrot. It has a thin, watery consistency and contains toor dal lentils (or if you’re making it outside of India, you can use red lentils as an easy substitute). Sambar is typically spicy, so if you prefer less chilli, ask ahead of time! You can also put some dahi or yoghurt on the side to ease the spice. Idli sambar is commonly served with freshly made coconut chutney, or occasionally tomato chutney.
Idli sambar is a common, staple dish, and it doesn’t really matter how much you pay for it or where you eat it – a simple side of the road idli sambar can be better than at a mid-scale restaurant. Our advice is to follow your nose and the street food crowds, and choose the one that everyone else is going for! Idli sambar can either be served separately, or the idli are put in a bowl and the sambar poured over – so if you want to have your sambar separately to ‘dunk’ in your sambar – ask before they serve. Enjoy!
Recommended by Ellie & Ravi of Soul Travel India
Indian Vegetarian Food from South India
A staple dish in most South Indian hotels and households, dosa is a savoury Indian crepe that is commonly found throughout the country. Made using rice and black lentils that are grounded together to make a runny batter that is then left to ferment, dosas are cooked and served in many variations. Plain dosas are just the batter spread on a hot griddle and cooked with oil or clarified butter until the crepe becomes golden and crispy. Masala dosas are similar, but also include a mild masala (filling) of turmeric-spiced potatoes, onions and mustard seeds inside.
Regardless of which one you opt for, dosas are often served folded and are accompanied by a South Indian lentil-curry called sambar and/or a variety of chutneys for dipping. A dish that is loved across India, dosas are readily available in most hotel breakfast buffets and South Indian restaurants (including those in Kerala). A lot of multi-cuisine restaurants also have them on the menu, so you have a great chance of enjoying them whilst traveling in India. If you are unsure of whether you would like a plain or a masala dosa, you can always ask them to bring your masala (potato filling) on the side instead.
Recommended by Charu Goyal from Travel with CG
Indian Vegetarian Food from Northern India
Palak paneer is a Northern Indian dish that can be found all over the north of the country and has even spread to the south of India and Pakistan. Since palak means spinach and paneer is a type of cheese, you can easily work out that palak paneer is a dish of spinach-based curry with cubes of paneer cheese. It’s one of the most popular dishes in India with vegetarian travellers and can be found in countless restaurants in Pushkar, Delhi, Jaipur, Rishikesh and other north indian towns and cities.
Palak paneer has been popular for at least 400 years since the Moghul Empire ruled India. It’s thought to have evolved from the traditional dish saag paneer which is a spinach based dish minus the paneer cheese. To make it, cooks curdle the milk with lemon juice and other acids. Unlike some cheeses, paneer doesn’t melt when heated and stays firm within the dish. Since it’s a curry, you’ll want to order it with rice or chapati to soak up the sauce.
Recommended by Rose from Where Goes Rose?
A Vegetarian Indian Food from North India
Panipuri is a street side snack said to have originated from North India 125 years back. Also popularly known as golgappa, gupchup, pani ke batashe, or phuchka in different regions of India, panipuri is one of the favourite street snacks of people all over India. A familiar and repetitive sight that you can find in the buzzing towns and cities is a corner side panipuri shop, surrounded by handful of people stuffing the puris into their mouths and gobbling them up.
Panipuri is nothing but a ball-shaped deep fried puri filled with a combination of mashed potato, boiled black chickpea, onion, and topped with spicy and tangy water (made with tamarind, green chillies and mint). The trickiest part is how to eat this snack. The puri has stuffing and water inside. You cannot keep it in your hand or plate for too long, since it will become soggy. You can’t break it or eat it with fork or spoon, since the entire stuffing and liquid runs off. The only way to eat it is stuff the entire puri into the mouth, and struggle to munch on it! Eating panipuri is an art by itself!
Vegetable Biryani from Hyderabad
An Indian Vegetarian Food from South India
Biryani is a rice and curry casserole. The curry can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian. This curry is layered with semi-cooked rice, and is later slow cooked until the rice is completely done and the curry absorbed by the rice. Vegetables are added to the curry, and a variety of spices are added for aroma and taste. Biryani masala is a special blend of spices that is mixed to the curry.
Biryani is prepared in both North and South India. It’s origins are traced back to Persia and is believed that Mughals brought it to northern India in their royal kitchen. The traditional biryani is made with the dum pukht method of slow cooking in clay pots, which is Persian method. The slow cooking allows the food to be well cooked, with all the aromas sealed in.
Just like the north, the southern Indian style of preparing biryani is also unique. It is especially associated with the city of Hyderabad, and involves addition of curry leaves, black pepper and coconut milk. In a dish of vegetable dum pukht biryani, other than rice, you can add potatoes, carrots, french beans, pepper, carrots, and green peas. Some also like to add cabbage, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and kale.
When you order a plate of biryani in India, do let them know about your spice level (mild, medium or hot). Biryani is served with a side of raita (made of yogurt), which helps to balance the spice while you savour the curried rice.
Recommended by Mayuri from ToSomePlaceNew
Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti
An Indian Vegetarian Dish from Punjab in North India
As winter descends on North India, the days grow cooler and the fog rolls in. The locals call these misty, grey days “smoky” and delight in donning wool sweaters and wrapping up in shawls. It’s a great respite from the long, hot days that prevail from March to October. There are many charming winter traditions in North India, but for me, none equal the annual arrival of sarson ka saag and makki ki roti.
This popular dish hails from the rich, fertile lands of Punjab, a large state in North India. Sarson is made from mustard greens, and in winter the landscape fills with these tall grasses topped with bright yellow flowers. In fact, these fields of mustard are popular in Bollywood romances (and especially a scene from the classic Indian film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge). The greens are cooked with spices, especially garlic, until rich and creamy, and served with a roti made from corn flour. Both are topped with heaps of white butter. It is hearty food to feed your soul as well as your body on chilly winter days.
Sarson ka saag and makki ki roti is best eaten at home, so snagging an invite to a Punjabi home is your best bet. Alternatively, you can find it in many restaurants and Punjabi dhabas (roadside eateries), and it will be worth a try. Sarson ka saag and makki ki roti is one of the most famous foods of Delhi, so you will not have a difficult time finding it in India’s capital city in winter. Order a thick lassi (yogurt drink) to go with it, and be prepared to feel very full and very satisfied.
Recommended by Mariellen Ward from BreatheDreamGo
A Vegetarian Indian Drink from North India
Lassi are a popular yogurt-based drink that originated in India, in the Punjab state. It is most popular as a summer cooler and it can also be referred as desi smoothie. The lassi is made with yogurt, water, some spices like cardamom and saffron, and added sugar or other sweeteners. Lassi is popularly served with paratha and other North Indian dishes. If you are not a sweet lover, you can try salted lassi.
You can find many flavors of lassi in India but nothing can beat the lassi of Varanasi. If you are visiting Varanasi, must take a street food tour of Varanasi. You will come across the famous Blue Lassi Shop near Manikarnika Ghat, where you can try so many flavored lassi, but don’t forget to taste their pomegranate lassi.
If you are visiting India, don’t miss visiting Varanasi for its yummy lassi- it’s completely safe to drink for foreigners. The lassi is said to have healing properties for the stomach and a soothing effect in the body during the scorching heat of summer.
Recommended by Mayuri Patel from fernwehrahee blog
A Vegetarian Indian Food from North India
Ram ladoo is a popular and delicious street food that can be found all over North India. While ladoos have been eaten all over the Subcontinent for centuries, this particular version is specifically beloved in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Personally, I tried this dish in Amritsar at a small roadside shop that I quickly returned to for seconds!
While other forms of ladoo tend to be sweet, ram ladoo is akin to pakora (another fried Indian treat.) The major ingredients in this vegetarian Indian dish include moong dal (mung beans) and bengal gram (which is similar to chickpeas), as well as ginger, chili and cumin. The preparation process is fairly simple. First, the moong dal and bengal gram soak for several hours before the spices are added. Then, the mixture is blended or ground into a semi-fine paste. After the batter is ready to go, the ram ladoos are fried in oil until golden and slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. While they might look like just another fried snack, the taste is stands out due to being made from dal.
Your best bet for finding ram ladoo is to simply wander around a major North Indian city, such as New Delhi or Amritsar. Ram ladoo is served with a green chutney, which I recommend skipping if you hate cilantro as it’s the chutney’s main ingredient.
Recommended by Samantha from Intentional Detours
A Vegetarian Indian Dessert from North India
Ghewar is a disk-shaped dessert. It’s usually about an inch high and of various diameters, from 1” to 8”. It’s airy, light, crisp and filled with air pockets, somewhat like a honeycomb. Ghewar can be found pretty much anywhere in Rajasthan or in places that make Rajasthani delicacies and desserts. The best ghewar are from the colorful town of Sardarshahr near Bikaner, Rajasthan in India. But, you can also find quite good ones in bigger touristy towns like Jaipur and Jaisalmer, with its large Jain influence.
The ingredients are simple: flour-based batter, fried in oil. When serving it is dressed with sugar syrup, heavy cream or saffron and nuts. It can be decorated so fancily that it fits an emperor’s plate or simply for a family wedding, festival or restaurant. One can get as creative as one wants to be with the presentation.
The ingredients are simple but the process needs precision. It’s typically made by a halwaai who has decades of experience making the dessert. It’s simple enough that people also make it at home, although I personally haven’t seen anything close to the ones made in Sardarshahr by the master halwai. One has to eat ghewar to believe it.
Recommended by Jyoti from Story at Every Corner with a photo from Rajesh Pamnami
An Indian Vegetarian Dessert from North India
Jalebi is a crispy sweet snack that is quite popular in Northern India. The main ingredients needed to make jalebi include all-purpose flour, hung curd (thick yogurt), desi ghee (pure oil), sugar, and water. Jalebi is made by deep-frying the batter of all-purpose flour and hung curd in circular shapes (pretzel-shaped) in desi ghee, which is then soaked in the sugar syrup.
Jalebi is served warm or cold, depending upon which North Indian state you are in. It is eaten with curd and rabri (sweet condensed milk) in Uttar Pradesh, hot milk (doodh jalebi) in Rajasthan, and in combination with kachori (spicy deep-fried snack) in Punjab. If you’re in Delhi, head to Jalebi Wala in Chandni Chowk to taste the best jalebi in North India. Other places to eat yummy jalebi in North India are Rawat Mishtahna Bhandar in Jaipur, Motu Jalebi Wala in Jodhpur, Gurdas Ram Jalebi Wala in Amritsar, The Ram Bhandar in Varanasi, and Tripathi Mishthan Bhandar in Lucknow.
Recommended by Anjali from Travel Melodies
Or, How to Try All the Vegetarian Food in India
So you’ve made it this far and you’re already thinking, “There is so much amazing vegetarian food in India! How will I ever have time to eat it all?”
Fortunately, India’s got your back. The easiest way to sample all of the most amazing vegetarian Indian dishes that you see above, plus literally hundreds more that I couldn’t squeeze into one post, is to order a vegetarian thali (sometimes abbreviated as “veg thali”) whenever you’ve got the opportunity… and the appetite! The word thali has a double meaning here: it refers both to the iconic circular plate and to the typically Indian meal that consists of many different dishes scooped and spooned onto said plate (and/or into little bowls, called katori). In South India, you’re more likely to receive a thali served on a banana leaf than a metal plate, but the concept is still the same.
I can’t tell you what will be on your thali, because it will vary depending on the season, the restaurant (or family, if you’re eating in a local Indian home) and the whims of the chef. If there’s a dish you particularly enjoy, make sure to ask someone what it so that you can seek it out later (as chances are good it won’t be on your thali next time!). Often, thalis are regional, so you’ll get an assortment of dishes that are typically from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal or any other Indian state. Even better, many restaurants offer unlimited thalis, where servers walk though the dining room, scooping more and more rice and curry onto your plate! Don’t plan anything too important after an unlimited thali meal as you’ll probably need to nap it off when you’re finished!
Recommended by Carly, the vegetarian traveler behind Fearless Female Travels
(Thalis are one of my favorite ways to experience a wide variety of new dishes as a solo traveler, without blowing my entire budget on enough food to feed an entire family. Scroll down for a link to many more of my expert vegetarian travel tips)
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