How to Order Vegan at an Indian Restaurant

So you’re going out to eat at an Indian restaurant. While you might know that many Indian dishes are vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, there are some dishes that might seem vegan at first glance but actually aren’t.

If you follow a plant-based diet or just want to be more informed about the different components that make up your coveted Indian feasts, here are some tips about how to order a vegan meal at an Indian restaurant.

Map of India

Learn the Difference Between Northern and Southern Indian Cuisines

When most people in the West think of an Indian restaurant, they are likely thinking about a restaurant that serves North Indian cuisine, with a menu full of different breads (such as naan, and roti) and dishes like aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes), palak paneer (spinach and cheese), or tandoori chicken.

North Indian cuisine, while extremely diverse, often features yogurts, creams and meats.

South Indian restaurants are less prominent in the West—although its popularity is happily on the rise—but actually tend to be more naturally vegan-friendl. Dishes such as dosas (a type of savory pancake), idlis (savory rice cakes) and sambar (a spicy lentil-based vegetable stew) can be vegan by default.

How to Order Vegan at an Indian Restaurant

How to Spot Dairy Products in Indian Food

The main non-vegan terms to look out for on Indian menus are: paneer, cream, raita and ghee. Ghee can be tricky, because it might not be included in the ingredients list.

Ghee

Ghee is to Indian cuisine as olive oil is to Italian cuisine. A clarified butter, ghee doesn’t spoil easily and makes its way into a wide array of different Indian cuisines.

The best way to avoid ghee is to request that it’s excluded when you order your meal. You can also ask whether it’s possible to swap out ghee for another oil. It is not uncommon for restaurants to throw a pat of ghee into staples that would otherwise be vegan, like basmati rice, soups (like dal) or breads (like crunchy, delicious chapati), so make sure to clarify.

Paneer

Paneer is a fresh cheese that you’ll find in many different sections of Indian menus. Sometimes it comes stuffed in bread, sometimes it’s in curries and other times it’s deep-fried and served as its own appetizer. Either way, it’s never vegan.

Raita

Raita is a yogurt-based sauce that’s often served alongside different main dishes or breads.

If a dish is described as being made with a “creamy” sauce, the menu may be referring to a dairy-based cream. Request to swap it with coconut milk, if possible, or choose another dish.

Swap Naan for Roti or Puri

Naan is a popular type of bread in North Indian cuisine that is typically made with yogurt. If you’re someone who derives half of their enjoyment at an Indian restaurant by sopping up sauce with a side of bread, no worries. Roti and puri, two whole-wheat breads, can be found on most menus and are naturally vegan.

Indian vegan thali  with rice, different snacks and dips

Now Explore Your Options!

Here are some common vegan-friendly dishes you can order at an Indian restaurant:

When it comes to appetizers, things like papadum (ordered “plain), samosas (fried savory pastries), vegetable pakora (battered and fried snacks) and bhaji are all great options.

Sides and mains such as veggie vindaloo (a tangy, spicy curry), aloo gobi, chana masala (made with chickpeas), sambar, tarka daal (a hearty lentil dish), masala dosa (a potato-stuffed dosa), baingan bharta (eggplant and tomato stew) and Bombay potatoes are all filling, flavorful, and delicious.

Related at Care2

Images via Getty

59 comments

Val P
Val P7 days ago

thanks

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Paula A
Paula A7 days ago

Thank you

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Angela K
Angela K7 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Mia B
Mia B8 days ago

thanks

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R8 days ago

Vegan recipes are marked as such.

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Mike R
Mike R8 days ago

Thanks

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Marc P
Marc P9 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Madison I
Madison Idso9 days ago

Oh my, I try to eat vegan but had no idea naan contains dairy! It is so much better to cook at home.

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Tabot T
Tabot T9 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Glennis W
Glennis W9 days ago

Thank you for caring and sharing

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