Try these vegetarian dishes for a quick snapshot of India’s enormously varied cuisine the next time you’re travelling around the country.
India has innumerable cuisines, and flavours vary from state to state—and often within states. Here are 12 vegetarian dishes, from 12 different states, that we’ve eaten and loved during our travels.
Of course, there are many more states and many more dishes, but one has to start somewhere!
Andhra Pradesh: Ulavacharu
This thick, dark-brown curry is made from horse gram and has an earthy, sweet-sour taste. It’s often made during special occasions, served with a dollop of cream and eaten with rice. It looks almost exactly like chocolate sauce, so you might want to make sure before you dig in. You also might take some time to get used to the flavour. If you’re in Hyderabad, The Spicy Venue—an unexpectedly good restaurant for vegetarians—does a great ulavacharu.
Check out this great ulavacharu recipe from Foodvedam.
Earthy, chocolate-brown uluvacharu (image courtesy Foodvedam)
Goa: Amado curry
Amado, also called amade or ambade, and called hog plum in English, is a sour, spongy fruit that looks a little like a small unripe mango. This fruit is cooked in a light and tangy curry, which is usually made only at home. At least, when we visited Goa, it was only the family with whom we were staying who made it for us. Don’t be surprised if you can’t bite through the whole fruit, though. Only the outer flesh is edible, even though the whole fruit is cooked in the curry. The rest is a bit like a hard sponge, which you can chew if you want more of its sour juice.
Big Fat Tummy has a recipe for amado curry that you should take a look at.
The light and tangy amado curry (image courtesy Big Fat Tummy)
These popular sweet, crunchy spirals are, of course, available all over India. But in Gujarat, where they’re traditionally eaten for breakfast, they’ve been taken to a different level. They’re usually paired with the savoury fafda, which balances the extreme sweetness of the jalebis. The best jalebis we’ve ever eaten were in Bhuj during our visit to Gujarat’s Kutch district, in the upmarket Hotel Prince as part of their lavish dinner thali. But if you’re pinched for time, you can get your jalebi fix at any time of day, anywhere in Gujarat.
Crunchy, super-sweet jalebis (image courtesy Lion.harvinder via Wikimedia Commons)
Jammu and Kashmir: Thukpa
This dish is actually from the Ladakh region of this state, which—since it’s on the border with Tibet—is probably why this Tibetan dish is so popular. Thukpa is a warm, satisfying soupy dish of broth, noodles and vegetables, and is a meal on its own—which we found perfect for the cold summers and freezing winters of Ladakh. Beware, though: Thukpa has many non-vegetarian versions as well, so be careful when you order. It’s also a little messy to eat, so don’t worry if you’re splashing soup all over while slurping your noodles.
A steaming bowl of thukpa is perfect for the cold (image courtesy Lillottama via Wikimedia Commons)
This is a popular dish served during weddings and other occasions in the coastal Mangalore region of the state. It’s a spicy sweet-and-sour dish that can be made with different kinds of vegetables. The most popular version, though, is made with pineapple, which makes the dish even sweeter and richer than otherwise. This was the stand-out dish for us during our day in Mangalore at the end of our recent trip to Coorg—one bite and we understood why it’s served on special occasions.
Spicy, sweet-and-sour menaskai (image courtesy Kart217 via Wikimedia Commons)
This is a lightly flavoured dish of mixed vegetables cooked with curd and coconut, and is made either with a thin or thick gravy. Avial is one of the dishes served as part of the traditional Kerala ‘sadhya’ or vegetarian banquet, and is eaten with rice. Fresh and light, this is the perfect dish to eat in the hot and humid Kerala climate. Definitely one of my favourites dishes from ‘God’s own country’.
Light avial is perfect for the hot, humid Kerala weather (image courtesy Samphotography via Wikimedia Commons)
The cuisine in the island state of Lakshadweep is heavily influenced by that of Kerala, the nearest state on the mainland. It’s no surprise, then, that the layered, delightfully flaky parotta is found wherever you go on these islands. When we were there, we ate parottas with anda burji (Indian-style scrambled eggs), but they’re usually eaten with a gravy of meat or vegetables.
The flaky layered parotta is great with gravy (image courtesy Charles Haynes via Wikimedia Commons)
Maharashtra: Misal pav
Technically, misal pav is a really a snack and not a meal. But it’s satisfying enough for there not to be much difference. A popular street food across Maharashtra, missal is a mixture of bean sprout curry, spiced boiled potatoes and any number of crunchy fried snacks covered with thin, spicy gravy and sprinkled with chopped onions. It is served with pav—small square loaves of bread.
Spicy misal pav is great as a filling snack or light meal (image courtesy The Uncomplicated Cook)
Rajasthan: Dal baati
One of the main staples of Rajasthani cuisine, dal baati is a simple dish of baked wholewheat dough balls served with yellow dal (lentils). The fresh baati are broken into small pieces before being mixed with ghee and dal and then eaten. Even though this is a simple dish, it is very satisfying, with the ghee giving it an extra dose of richness—something we experienced a lot during our trip to Rajasthan.
Simple, yet rich and satisfying (image courtesy Sumit Surai via Wikimedia Commons)
Tamil Nadu: Kootu
Kootu is a lightly-flavoured dish of vegetables and lentils, and is one of the main dishes served as part of the Tamil ‘virundhu saappadu’ or vegetarian banquet. Different variations of kootu can be made with different vegetables and types of lentils, but all are served with rice. We had the opportunity to try lots of different variants of this tasty dish during our trip through southern Tamil Nadu.
Kootu made with vallarai keerai, a leafy vegetable (image courtesy Kalaiselvi Murugesan via Wikimedia Commons)
Telangana: Pachi pulusu
Roughly translated as ‘uncooked curry’, pachi pulusu is a sweet-and-sour variant of the South Indian rasam. It is made with tamarind water and jaggery, and flavoured with onions, chillies and tempered spices. It isn’t heated during preparation, and is served cold with rice. This makes it perfect during the hot summer months. If you’re looking for great pachi pulusu in Hyderabad, try The Spicy Venue.
Head over to Foodvedam for a nice pachi pulusu recipe.
Cool, sweet, sour and spicy pachi pulusu is great during the hot summer (image courtesy Foodvedam)
West Bengal: Momo
These delicate little parcels of dough stuffed with minced vegetables are a staple in the northern parts of West Bengal, and are very popular in the rest of the state too. Light but still satisfying, a plate of steaming hot bite-sized momos served with their typical spicy sauce make for either a tasty snack or a filling meal, regardless of the weather. Make sure you ask for the vegetarian version when you order, though. We had a very pleasant lunch one day during our time in Kalimpong, which we spent eating plate after plate of fresh vegetable momos at a tiny shack overlooking a valley.
Steaming momos are perfect as snack or main meal (image courtesy RMT via Wikimedia Commons)
Bonus! Bhutan: Ema datse
Here’s an extra tip, in case you want to hop over India’s northeastern border.
The tiny little Himalayan country of Bhutan is known for its spectacular natural beauty, imposing Buddhist architecture—and its fiery national dish, ema datse. Literally translated as ‘chillies and cheese’, this simple but incredibly spicy dish uses green chillies as its main vegetable component, paired with onions and yak cheese. We were curious during our visit to Bhutan, so we decided to try it at a restaurant, and found it too spicy even for our experienced tastes. Maybe the spiciness of their cuisine is a way for the Bhutanese to deal with the Himalayan cold…
Spicy enough to blow the top of your head off! (image courtesy Sunkissedguy via Wikimedia Commons)