This is one trend that we started in India. Before the virtues of vegetarianism were better known around the world, they were already mainstream here. Hey, we even got McDonald’s to put potatoes to (other) good use. And while our food preferences in India are geographically diverse, our religious customs—for those who go that way— are clearly defined. While beef and pork are, not surprisingly, considered off-limits for all vegetarians, here even egg, onion, and garlic are fair game for questioning, depending on your spiritual inclination. Either way, there is a really generous percentage of everyday food in India that does not involve meat. That’s actually a pretty important divide: vegetarian food usually means lack of meat rather than a heavy focus on vegetables per se. (See? We knew all along that paneer isn’t a vegetable!) To find vegetarian options that will broaden your view of the term, try some of these Delhi gems.
If you’re the kind who always likes to get just a taste of what’s on your companion’s plate, you’ll love thalis. These are the plates we would’ve had at home if our grannies had their way—with a little bit of everything. They’re perfectly balanced meals that include dal (lentils), salad, yogurt-dip raita, rice, roti, cracker-like papad and pickle. Usually, that is. Suruchi also does great thalis reflecting different local cuisines.
It’s so difficult to choose a champion among all the brilliant South Indian specialists, but I’ll give this round to Sagar Ratna for its number of locations and the variety of dishes on its menu. Buttery dosas, tangy rasams, fluffy idlis—yum. The Ashoka Hotel branch is a pretty scenic spot for eating with your fingers—and the food is pretty great too.
Moving up from the South and stopping somewhere before Delhi—that’s where one would pinpoint the geographic heart of this elegant eatery, which specializes in Marwari cuisine. It also pleases vegetarians who want no foods that come from underground—as in no onion, no garlic. Rajasthan has the unique distinction of making some of the country’s best vegetarian dishes, as well as superb non-vegetarian cuisine.
Even if you consider Indian vegetarian cuisine to be pretty traditional, that doesn’t mean that the menu must be conventional. Sattvik does its fair share of paneer cheese dishes, but also adds interesting options such as badam-and-tulsi soup (almond and holy basil), and piri piri made of bhindi (okra). Vegan options are available, too.
The Piano Man Art Café
If you learn toward ‘50s jazz music and frothy cappuccinos, you’ll want to check out this spot in the Vasant Vihar area. It has a contemporary menu of Western favorites— lovely soups, salads, pasta, pizzas, tarts, quiches and baked goods—and a beloved local-hero owner who can’t be dragged away from his piano.