India by Liz Gear
Karpathos | Ascension Island | Venice | Disneyland Paris | Faroe Islands | Umbria | India | Prague | Zakynthos
For the past two years my family has visited India in central Asia. It is such a culturally diverse country, its population consisting of hindus, buddhists, muslims, christians, sikhs, atheists, and other religions. Its landscape is also particularly varied; from the sprawling plains and hills on the Himalayas in the North, to the desserts of Rajastan and the beautiful palm beaches and tropical rainforests of the south.
Whether you enjoy beach holidays, getting particularly active (skiing, kayaking, walking and climbing), or culture, exploring temples in ancient cities and meeting new people, India has it all. And as well as offering so much in terms of beauty, leisure, nature and architecture, India is a refreshingly accommodating option for vegetarians.
During my travels across India, I have for the first time in my life felt able to order everything on a menu in the pure vegetarian restaurants, or at least half of the menu in Veggie and Non Veggie restaurants. Vegetarianism isn't considered abnormal or uncommon. Due to the religious and moral beliefs that many Indians share, vegetarianism has become a part of every day life in India, and those who don't eat meat or eggs are given an approving nod.
It was amazing to not have to worry about going out to eat and having so much varied and delicious choice. Even McDonalds had more vegetarian food on its menu than meat, and workers wore red or green, depending on whether they cooked meat or veg.
A particularly common alternative to meat was paneer, a cubed and nutritious cottage cheese. I had paneer many times cooked in curry-like spicey gravies or dry dishes, alongside vegetables like the flavoursome okra, cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and peas.
In the North dishes comprised mainly of paneer of vegetable kofta balls. These types of meals are cooked in ghee (clarified butter) alongside basmati rice prepared by steaming, or frying to produce a puloa or biryani, often accompanied by a type of unleavened bread such as naan, chapatti or roti. The southern cuisine was lighter, and the basis for most dishes was lentils and rice, though these were often cooked in such a way that you couldn't tell what they were, and the oil used was predominantly coconut oil.
The best food I ate in India?... Now that's very difficult! Having a sweet tooth, I must say I loved saffron, cardamom and pistachio flavoured creamy 'kulfi' ice-cream, the indulgent and satisfying carrot pudding infused with spices 'gajar ka halwa', and the Southern delight that is Kheer, a cold rice or vermicelli pudding made with milk, cashews, raisins, sultanas and spices.
Savoury wise, after the long train ride from Mumbai to Goa I appreciated the 'dahi vadas', lentil and rice based savoury donuts, soaked in a mixture of yogurt, tamarind chutney, and spices such as coriander, ginger, cinnamon and pepper. In the south I also loved the incredibly long 'masala dosas', crisp, crepe like creations stuffed with spiced potatoes or paneer, and served with coconut chutney and spicy sambar (lentil stew).
I never passed up a delicious sweet or mango lassie either! These were yogurt, smoothie like drinks that were very refreshing in India's warm climate, and oftened flavoured with spices and rose syrup and sprinkled with pistachios.
India truly is a culinary discovery for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Whilst my dad and I relished in being offered so much choice as vegetarians, my mum picked the vegetarian choice over the meat in most cases as it was always the most tempting and delicious!