A Vegan Guide to Nepal

An abundance of vegan food and gorgeous scenery makes this Asian country a must-visit.

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For such a small country, Nepal is a surprising destination in its wide variety of things to do and see. This tiny nation between China and India has long been considered a trekker’s paradise, containing some of the world’s most beautiful high-altitude trails that wind through the peaks and valleys of the Himalaya range. Kathmandu and Pokhara offer fun city activities, and the gorgeous Kathmandu Valley is perfect for seclusion in nature and total relaxation. Whether you’re there for a leg-busting multi-day trek or to immerse yourself in the culture of Nepal’s vibrant urban centers, you’ll want to enjoy the incredible Nepalese cuisine without scrambling to find options that work with your vegan diet. Luckily, vegan travelers will find that Nepal has plenty of animal-free fare, along with a number of dishes that can easily be modified.

Veganism is popular
Many Nepali people eat meat, but vegetarianism has long been a familiar concept given Nepal’s large Hindu population and cross-cultural culinary influence from India and Tibet. Visitors on the Everest, Annapurna, and Upper Mustang routes will find this to be especially true in Nepal’s high mountain communities, where Buddhism is common. Vegetarian curries, soups, breads, and dumplings abound. Though veganism is not as widespread as vegetarianism, quite a few staple Nepalese dishes are free of animal products, and many are served at tea houses along the trekking routes. Dal bhat, a fragrant lentil stew with rice (or another grain), is the national dish—many Nepali people eat this at least once per day. Momos—dumplings made of flour and water, stuffed with a mix of vegetables, and often served with tangy achaar (chopped, pickled vegetables)—are another favorite. Roti—a flatbread that commonly accompanies curry—is also a good choice, and it’s especially fun to eat after trekking through pink fields of buckwheat (roti’s main ingredient).

Tea time
In Nepal, tea is ubiquitous. Found everywhere and all the time, Nepalese tea often comes with milk or butter (and plenty of sugar), so be sure to ask for yours to served black. The same goes for coffee. Luckily, in the Thamel district, you’ll find soy milk as a dairy alternative at Himalayan Java, a popular café, as well as at Shop Right supermarket (look for the imported Lactasoy brand). No matter where you’re drinking (or what it says on the menu), double-checking your beverage’s ingredients is always important, as language barriers and differing cultural ideas regarding veganism can lead to unintentionally misleading descriptions. Dairy is the main ingredient to ask about and look for—ghee (clarified butter), yak’s milk, and milk curd are all often used to cook, ferment, or mix with other ingredients.

Snack away
With so many vegan-friendly Nepalese options, travelers will be able to enjoy many of the tea-houses at meal stops along the trail. But what about snacks? Packaged vegan products are hard to find, so be sure to pack some of your favorites, as items such as plant-based protein bars, vegan jerky, and freeze-dried fruit won’t take up much space in your backpack. Last-minute snack shopping in Nepal means dried fruit, nuts, muesli—and bhuteko makai (popcorn), which you can make at guesthouses along the way. In Kathmandu, try the weekly farmers’ market at 1905 restaurant, where you can pick up organic fruit and toasted soybeans. If you need to stock up on the trail, there are also vegan-friendly shops at Namche Bazaar—a historic trading post on the way to Everest Base Camp.

Where to go after the trail
Once you’ve conquered the trail, you’ll be ready to celebrate with a hearty meal in town. Head to Green Organic Café in Kathmandu’s lively Thamel district, where you’ll find a menu full of vegan specialties such as curries, roasted-vegetable sandwiches, and vegetable thukpa (noodle soup). If you’d like a change of pace from Nepalese cuisine, grab a meal at Or2K instead, the popular Israeli eatery with locations in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Kick off your shoes, have a seat on a floor pillow, and dig into your requisite plate of fresh hummus and pillowy falafel with a side of excellent fattoush salad. For after-dinner drinks or a late-night snack, walk down the street from Green Organic and pop into Reggae Bar, where nightly live music and vegan-friendly finger foods such as momos and pakodas (deep-fried vegetable patties) abound.

Jennifer Kotlewski is a writer for kimkim.com, an online travel booking resource that specializes in many international destinations, including Nepal.