“One aloo tikki burger large meal please,” may be something your distant cousin from Bangalore might order on their first visit to a local McDonalds. Back in Bangalore, their McDonalds have complete vegetarian menus, including aloo (potato patty) burgers, in order to accommodate the up to half a billion vegetarians who live in India.
Kind of blows away the predominant Western perception that vegetarians are on the fringe, a tiny minority of weirdos. How is it even possible for one country to have so many vegetarians? Quite simple actually. India has a cultural and religious history dating back many centuries with vegetarianism celebrated as an ideal of purity and morality – to live your life free from the pollutants associated with meat and free from the violence imposed on the animals used for eating. Given recent movies like Food Inc. (which includes a look at the meat industry that will turn stomachs), it’s not surprising. Many Indians and the Indian diaspora have been raised from birth as vegetarians, a lifestyle that has always been associated with tradition, power, spirituality and status.
None of those social and cultural associations apply to the Western vegetarian, who has been raised from birth with meat being a part of virtually every meal they have ever eaten. The Western vegetarian has in most cases made a conscious decision to go against the grain of their society, and become non-meat eaters.
The Western vegetarian has a strong sense of universal values, and contrary to the Indian vegetarian, is less conservative and much less accepting of authoritarianism.
One thing that is undeniable is that Indian culture and Indian cuisine has embraced vegetarianism for centuries, resulting in the most sophisticated and ancient vegetarian cuisine of any country. Perfected over many generations, Indian cooking has become famous for its use of spices to exploit the flavour of vegetables and grains. The colour, taste and intrigue of Indian food is so diverse that you could spend many lifetimes eating your way through different Indian cookbooks.
Indian food is known as being the ultimate comfort food that is hearty and satisfying at the same time. Whether it is palak paneer, gulab jamun, all-pleasing crisp samosas, aloo tikki, lentil soup or Besan Paratha (flatbread), Indian cuisine is devoured and cherished all along.