Why Indian food is very veggie

Why Indian food is very veggie

No cuisine is so closely associated with vegetarianism as Indian. From amazing tropical vegetables and comforting dahls, to tangy street food and fragrant dishes like Mangalorean potatoes, the choice is truly mind-boggling.

It’s a common assumption that most Indians are vegetarian, but their eating habits vary according to community and region, so you can’t generalise. According to the 2006 Hindu-CNN-!BN State of the Nation Survey, 60 percent of Indians are omnivore.

This means only 40 percent are vegetarian, out of which almost a quarter are ‘pure vegetarians’ who don’t eat eggs. That is still a higher figure, I suspect, than any other nation, and there are several reasons why vegetarianism is so central to Indian cuisine.

The cost of meat

Meat eating in India is seen as aspirational and glamorous, and is associated with wealth and luxury. As it's so expensive there, many eat it only on special occasions, add it sparingly to side dishes, or may cook one or two items as part of an otherwise vegetable-centric spread.

The geographical factor

Vegetables, grains and beans have been growing in abundance in India since 1000 BC – more than anywhere else in the world, according to some historians. It’s a densely populated country, so it makes sense to use every bit of valuable land to grow food crops, rather than use it as pasture.

The role of religion

Hinduism and its off-shoots, Buddhism and Jainism, advocate 'ahimsa' or non-violence. The three religions believe in the underlying unity of all beings and the notion of reincarnation. The concept of 'karma' states that if a living being lives its life ‘correctly’ – such as by eating vegetarian food – it will be reincarnated at a higher level (i.e. as an upper caste human); and at a lower level, such as an insect, if it lives its life ‘incorrectly.’ So even insects are seen as capable of possessing the human soul.

Jains have an extremely strict dietary code that involves, among other things, not eating root vegetables, as roots and bulbs are essential for keeping plants alive, and pulling them from earth may kill insects that live in soil. Most Buddhists are not vegetarian, but they believe it is wrong to kill animals.

Cows, in particular, are revered by Hindus because they efficiently turn fodder into milk, produce dung for manure and fuel, and pull plough and carts. This is why many omnivore Indians have traditionally shunned beef.

Throughout history, highly respected figures ranging from Emperor Ashoka and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to Mahatma Gandhi actively promoted a meat-free diet. The infamous incident of tallow-greased cartridges, a factor in the Great Mutiny of 1857, shows that vegetarianism in India is a culturally sensitive issue.

Here in the UK

Ashok Modi, the Director of Malabar Junction restaurant in central London even has separate kitchens for cooking vegetables: “Being a fussy vegetarian, the idea of meat cooking along with vegetarian food didn’t appeal to me. I wanted fellow vegetarians to feel at ease, and to enjoy the food… knowing (that it) is cooked separately from the meat.” Back in India there have even been calls for separate supermarkets, apartment blocks and neighbourhoods.

It must be emphasised that not all Indians are vegetarian because of religious reasons. In a culture where many have grown up in meat-free households, they have simply never acquired the taste or enthusiasm for meat.

Which are your favourite Indian vegetarian dishes? Let us know in the comments box.

Also worth your attention

Nicola Graimes' Indian-style panzanella recipe

Aktar Islam's spiced pumpkin

Everything you need to know about... coriander

Follow @YahooMalaysia on LINE for daily entertainment updates.

Loading...
  • Kebaikan air kacang soya
    Azwa Iela - Tupai
    Kebaikan air kacang soya Sat, Apr 19, 2014 12:18 AM MYT
    Kebaikan air kacang soya

    Ramai yang mungkin suka minum air kacang soya, namun ramaikah yang tahu akan khasiat atau kebaikan kacang soya ini? …

  • Tips penjagaan bawah lengan
    Azwa Iela - Tupai
    Tips penjagaan bawah lengan Fri, Apr 18, 2014 11:20 AM MYT
    Tips penjagaan bawah lengan

    Di sini kami ingin berkongsi dengan golongan wanita di luar sana beberapa tips berguna untuk mendapatkan bawah lengan yang cerah. …

  • Ketahui kesalahan ketika bersolek
    Azwa Iela - Tupai
    Ketahui kesalahan ketika bersolek Thu, Apr 17, 2014 11:43 AM MYT
    Ketahui kesalahan ketika bersolek

    Di sini kami ingin berkongsi dengan anda tentang beberapa kesalahan ketika anda bersolek. …

  • Historic mass in Turkish-held north Cyprus 'like a miracle'
    Tom Little - AFP News
    Historic mass in Turkish-held north Cyprus 'like a miracle' 2 hours 39 minutes ago
    Historic mass in Turkish-held north Cyprus 'like a miracle'

    With a nighttime procession lit by the glimmer of devotional candles and the flash of smartphone cameras, a church in Turkish-held northern Cyprus hosted its first Easter mass in nearly 60 years. Hundreds of Greek Cypriots crossed the Green Line to attend the ceremony at Famagusta's church of St George Exorinos, in the part of the Mediterranean island occupied by Turkish forces since 1974. Bishop Vassilis, wearing robes embroidered with gold and white and accompanied by a top Muslim cleric …

  • Dapatkah Pelat Dipulihkan?
    Yahoo Newsroom
    Dapatkah Pelat Dipulihkan? Thu, Sep 19, 2013 1:54 PM MYT
    Dapatkah Pelat Dipulihkan?

    Pelat bukanlah disebabkan oleh lidah yang pendek. Apakah punca pelat? …

Comments on Yahoo pages are subject to our link to Comments Guidelines. You are responsible for any content that you post. Yahoo is not responsible or liable in any way for comments posted by its users. Yahoo does not in any way endorse or support comments made by its users.