Indian cuisine is the vegan’s friend. An extremely popular choice in the UK, your familiar curry house need not become a ‘no-go zone’ now you are vegan. In fact, you may find that Indian restaurants are some of the best places to dine with non-vegan friends and family, as well as other vegans of course.
In this guide we’re using Indian as a general term – if you are lucky enough to live somewhere like Birmingham or Leicester (UK) then you will know that we’re only scratching the surface of what’s on offer from various regions, as well as neighbouring countries.
The most important thing to check is whether the restaurant you are visiting uses ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil. Traditionally, most curries were cooked in ghee, however, vegetable oil is far more cost effective and, more often than not, you will find it is the preferred choice. Don’t panic if you are visiting a place that still uses ghee; they should have some vegetable oil in the kitchen so you will just need to ask whether your dish can be cooked freshly. In situations like this it is advisable to avoid any buffet set-up and order straight from the menu.
When you know that vegetable oil is used for cooking then you can order pretty confidently off any menu, and pick from the majority of dishes marked Vegetarian. There are a few ingredients you will need to watch out for and avoid, the main ones being yogurt, cream and paneer cheese. Typically you should find these listed in the ingredients below the name of the dish, but it is wise to always double check with your server if it doesn’t seem obvious.
Naan bread in restaurants is likely be made with yogurt, and therefore no longer an option. There are some tasty vegan naan options starting to appear in the marketplace, however, so you can still have them with curries at home. Poppadom/papadum, chapatti, puri/poori and rotti are all vegan, so you can order as many of those as you like. Chapatti are often brushed with butter, and although your server should give you the option, it is always a good idea to say you want them ‘plain’. Equally poppadoms are usually served with an array of sauces and chutneys, most of which are all vegan. Raita is a sauce made from yogurt, so that is one to forgo.
In terms of starters, onion, cauliflower and okra bhajis, vegetable samosas and vegetable pakoras are all vegan. And there’s a heap of mains and sides to choose from! Vegetable curry, veggie vindaloo, chana masala/chole (chickpea curry) sambar, vegetable biryani and balti are all great main options. And the majority of the sides tend to be veggie-packed; saag aloo, aloo gobi, tarka daal, daal, chana saag and Bombay potato are all filling and flavourful dishes. One member of the Veganuary team frequently skips the main altogether, opting for sides only as she thinks they’re so delicious!
Hopefully you’ll now feel a little more confident walking through the doors of your local Indian restaurant, and we’d love for you to leave your feedback below. Some of the best meals and experiences might be missed, however, if you don’t ever chat to the restaurant staff. Often they’ll point out something on the menu that you never would have noticed, and a quick word in the chef’s ear can result in some amazing food arriving at your table. So go out there, experience and enjoy!
And, why not check out our range of Indian Vegan Recipes!