Guide to surviving India as a Vegan

This is a guest post by Sunny Jain an MBA Candidate who is a leader in US Young Jain Professionals

I’ve heard the story one too many times of my vegan friends abandoning their diet while visiting India either due to misinformation or perceived difficulty. Some would say it’s too difficult and would rather just enjoy food there, and others falsely believe that the dairy industry in India is humane (would be interested in educating you if you’re one of those people spreading fake news).

Before my trip to India, I decided that I would be the one to break this mold and wouldn’t give in like everyone else does, and I readied my battle armor as I boarded my flight.

10 days in, I found being vegan in India extremely reasonable and not as awful as I originally thought it would be. In addition to eating lavishly and trying almost any and every street food I laid my eyes on, I had the opportunity to attend Mumbai’s first and largest vegan food festival.

Here are a few tips I want to share with those who plan to remain vegan while in India:

Dealing with Aunties and Uncles

  • Don’t hesitate to speak up and tell them in advance what you can and can’t eat. To them, it’s like some unusual variation of the Jain diet that they may not entirely comprehend
  • Aunties are notorious for being pushy and persistent when it comes to eating home-cooked food, but they’ll respect your dietary restrictions without question (at the end of the day, you’re the guest and they want to cater to you!)
  • Just say: “no doodh (milk) and no ghee (butter)”
    • By default, food labeled “vegetarian” in India doesn’t have eggs in it, so it’s just a matter of avoiding butter and milk

The Plane Ride to India

  • When purchasing to your flight, you’ll have an option to request a vegan meal. Depending on the airlines, you may have to do some digging and click the “Extras” tab to select a special meal type, ask for VGML, this is an international airline code for vegan meals.
  • Important: You must request a vegan meal 24 hours in advance before the flight or you will be out of luck
    • If that happens, just let the flight attendant know (they’re usually super accommodating and will find something for you – even if it’s as little as providing you with snacks and fruits/vegetables during the flight)
  • The vegan meal I received was delicious: quinoa rice with tofu and red sauce, a fruit cup, salad with vegan ranch dressing, bread, and vegan butter
    • It was so fire that I took a photo of it just to share on social media
  • If you’re able to survive the first connecting flight, the airport in Amsterdam has great vegan options

Soy Milk (“Soya Milk” in India)

  • The first thing you’ll want to do when you reach in India is get a hold of soy milk wherever you’re staying
    • This is important because you’re going to be offered chai multiple times a day so it’s good to let them know in advance to make it with soy milk
  • One option is to either ask your family in India to get some in advance before you arrive, or you can buy some yourself
  • Soy milk is very accessible and readily available
    • Can be found at almost any decently big grocery store. If you can’t find it at a location, just walk next door because all the grocery stores tend to be next door to each other
    • I found regular unsweetened soy milk, chocolate soy milk, hazelnut milk, and rice milk
    • When converted to USD, you’ll spend about 6 bucks a box
  • I would recommend getting a few extra boxes to last your time there. Vegan milk doesn’t spoil so it makes sense to stock up
  • SoFit Soya Milk is a famous Indian soymilk brand endorsed by John Abraham

Pau Bhaji

  • Pau Bhaji is a staple street food you’re going to want to indulge in. However, it’s usually served drowning in butter
    • I watched in disgust as a street vendor tossed entire slabs of butter (un-human amounts) into the Pau Bhaji, and used another slab of butter to wipe down with pau
    • There’s legit more butter swimming in it than actual bhaji
  • Fortunately, there’s an easy workaround which will allow you to enjoy street Pau Bhaji without the animal cruelty. It is completely acceptable to demand Pau Bhaji with no butter (remember: they’re catering to you, not vice versa). Tell them what you want, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll deliver
  • In their continuous process of making and replenishing bhaji, they’ll just serve you bhaji from the batch they cook before adding butter. This goes for pau as well.

Indian McDonald’s and Burger King

  • Request any veggie burger or wrap and subtract the cheese and mayonnaise
  • I would choose a food item that comes with other stuff like tomatoes and lettuce so you don’t end up with a plain burger with just the patty and onions (those burgers are already pretty simple as is)
  • If you’re a daring and adventurous foodie like I am, try out the Maharaja Mac

Mitthai (Sweets)

  • Ask a nearby Aunty about which desserts have ghee or made with milk. Should knock out about 75 percent of your options, but you’ll always find something worthwhile
    • For me, it was Kaju Katri and fresh Jalebi cooked in oil
  • Avoid sweets with Warakh (the silver coating on top) because it’s associated with animal cruelty

Vegan Friendly Indian food

Below are some great food items I tried in India which are vegan friendly:

  • South Indian food
  • Vada Pau
  • Pani Puri
  • Sev Puri
  • Samosas
  • Chole Bhatura
  • Home Food (Moong, Daal, Sabji)
  • Frankies
  • McDonald’s Burgers
  • Burger King Burgers
  • Fries
  • Paan
  • Pau Bhaji (without Butter)

Feeding Biscuits to Stray Dogs

  • This is something I wish I realized early in my trip and recommend to all my friends
  • Purchase a few packs of biscuits and carry it around wherever you go
    • Comes at about 10 rupees at any stall or store (converts to mere pennies in USD)
  • As you travel and explore the city, hand biscuits to any stray dogs you encounter
  • These poor dogs on the streets are malnourished and hungry/thirsty, and will gladly accept any food you give them
  • You can just place them on the floor and make a kissing sound to get their attention

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