Friday, September 14, 2012

15 Reasons Why Being Vegan in India ROCKS

Okay, okay... so I might occasionally gripe about a lack of Whole Foods here, or my lack of access to decent avocados year-round. But on the whole? Being vegan in India rocks! Here are just a few of the reasons why I love this country as a pure vegetarian:

1) People are more defensive about eating meat in this country than being vegetarian. No Indian will be concerned about you refusing to eat meat. Though kids aren't in the cards right now, I could raise vegan children without eyebrows going up and people freaking out about the kid's development.

2) Produce is dirt-cheap. Giant papaya? 60 cents. 3 pineapples? $1.20. Fresh coconut water... from the nut itself? $.80.

3) Pomegranates are available year-round. For only 50 cents per fruit, might I add.

4) India has hundreds of varieties of mangoes. Okay, only a handful of them are commercially relevant. But I've tasted about 8 different mangos, all of which were distinct yet delicious. Just like Americans know the difference between a granny smith and a fuji, Indians can tell you the difference between an alphonso and a mulgoa.

5) Finding vegan options on the menu is never a problem. I remember in the US, I'd only have about 2 choices, maybe 3 if I asked for the waiter to sub something. Here? Menus have little stickers next to every item--a red one for meat, a green one for veg. And the green sticker almost always means it's vegan. Considering the menu tends to be divided pretty easily with half being vegetarian, I invariably have a ton of choices.

6) They don't call them "meat eaters" here, they're called "non-veg." That's right. As in, the emphasis is on a person choosing not to be vegetarian. As if it's vegetarianism that's the norm.

7) Indians can create magical bliss from coconuts. Especially south Indians. They make creamy concoctions using the most interesting cooking techniques and by using the strongest blender/grinders I've ever witnessed. They put American blenders to shame.

8) India has rare fruit you've probably never heard of. It's like a treasure hunt... all the time. Have you ever heard of a tree tomato, for example? No? Didn't think so. Neither had I until I went to a humble produce store here and saw it sitting in a bin for dirt cheap.

Tree tomato--crazy, no?

9) This country has a lot of vegan hippie communities. I know when I was in the US, I had the fleeting thought of going off the grid, packing a bag and heading for a fruit farm somewhere with like-minded souls. Here, I can dabble in that reality by visiting one for a weekend. Or a week. Or a month. If you happen to be in India, check out Auroville near Pondicherry or Arambol in Goa.

10) The clothes here are colorful and gorgeous. I know this may or may not be related to veganism (though the loose-fitting kurtas hide my food babies beautifully), but the style here is so much more relaxed and feminine. It's like wearing comfy peasant blouses all the time. Comfortable, loose-fitting, breathable, one-of-a-kind colorful shirts.

11) Traditionally, Indians wear flowers in their hair in lieu of perfume. Of course, the younger generation is more eager to go out and buy some Burberry Brit... but aromatic strands of jasmine flowers are still sold on street corners for 40 cents and worn often amongst the older generation and the working class. I personally choose this vegan-friendly option and get mine delivered every day.

A small part of my bangle collection

12) The norm is fresh cooking with locally-grown ingredients. This, too, is slowly fading as more women enter the working world and therefore don't have time to cook. But as is, if a meal's to be made, it won't be with things from a jar. The fast food restaurants here still have bags of flour next to the stand to whip up the dough quickly. They chop the tomatoes and add the vinegar. It's... fresh.

13) You're always supporting a local business. Chains here just aren't common yet. Most stores are small, family-owned establishments. You get to know the owners; they get to know you and what you like. They'll add a banana to your bag as a nice, friendly thing to do. It's also easy to know where your food's coming from--it's very safe to assume the coconuts were hacked off within a small radius, and the transport of the tomatoes didn't go a long distance.

VERY local business

14) Indians are amazing at making spices sing. I joke that French food relies on meat, fat and sugar to make the cuisine appealing. Indian cooking, however, has been refined over the course of thousands of years. Because of the abundance of spices (which remember, the Europeans sought to pillage and take for their own country), Indians learned how to make veg-based dishes taste ridiculously amazing quite some time ago. Western chefs still view vegetable-based dishes as a nuisance, something to learn to placate whiny vegetarians (I'm looking at you, Anthony Bourdain). Indians have so much more respect for the mighty yet humble vegetable.

15) Vegan desserts are par for the course here. Yeah, Indians loooove their milk and butter desserts. No doubt. But with so many Jains eating non-dairy, almost every dessert shop has rich yet simple sweets made from nothing but nuts and sugar.

BONUS reason: almost every restaurant sells fresh-squeezed juice on the cheap. I've sat in restaurants and ordered 3 juices as my meal. Watermelon, sweet lime (sort of like grapefruit, orange and lime all in one fruit), pineapple, orange, carrot... so good!

There are dark sides to each and every one of these reasons, I'll add. Like, selling fresh juice: might cause you to get sick to your stomach, if you buy it from a street vendor. That local business? The sweet owner might throw in a banana, but mark up your bill by 20 percent knowing you're foreign and not likely to notice. So, there's good and bad--but overwhelmingly, there's no other place I'd rather be vegan. 

3 comments:

  1. Reading your list makes me want to pack up and move to India ASAP! I just have to convince the Hubs ;)

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  2. We were in Kerala a few years back and discovered so much great vegan food. I love how being "non veg" is the exception....here in the US it's opposite.....the veggie restaurants are announced and niched....it's the opposite in India. Enjoying your blog....thanks. David Lee - Seattle

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  3. Haha, I agree with no one disagreeing with you to eat meat. But I think you still need protein and energy that you get from eating meat. Being a vegetarian is still healthy.

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