Vegetarians in Nepal have it good! Unlike in many other part of Asia. Why is this? Because there are many Nepali citizens who are vegetarian. And many more who are vegetarian part of the time for religious reasons. And if you are anywhere where you are served meat, simply saying you are vegetarian or you are on a fasting day will bring understanding. No one will be offended, no one will say “there is just a little chicken in the soup” as a friend has experienced in Thailand, for example!
The basis of Nepali food is rice, dal soup, vegetable curry and pickle. Perfect vegetarian fare! But of course you probably don’t want to eat dal bhat for the whole of your stay in Nepal. So what else is available?
This post will help vegetarians pinpoint the best things to eat which are both Nepali cuisine and vegetarian as well.
Note: It is harder for vegans as many items have dairy products in them. And probably harder for the locals to understand why you do not eat these.
What To Eat As A Vegetarian In Nepal?
Definitely you will be eating dal bhat. Which is dal soup, rice and vegetable curry. You can change this up by having roti or nan (Both flatbreads) instead of rice. This is the staple food of the country. So you can find it everywhere from tourist restaurants, upmarket hotel restaurants, local restaurants and teashops along trekking routes.
Another staple of the country is momo. Just like dal bhat, you can find momo on pretty much every menu in the country! What is it? Momo is little flour parcels with vegetables (And often meat so do ask for vegetable ones) stuffed inside, and steamed. Variations include being fried or coming in a bowl of soup. The pickle with comes with the momo is delicious! Since momo is mainly a snack for Nepali people, if you are on a budget, you will find very inexpensive momo in local restaurants.
In the Kathmandu Valley, the main ethnic group are Newari. So obviously there is a lot of Newari food around. Since traditionally nothing was wasted, Newari food has a lot of meat and animal products in it. But, there are some very tasty vegetarian dishes! Here are a few of these you should sample.
1. Samay Baji
A traditional Newari food usually eaten during festivals and family gatherings. Consists of a plate of different items including beaten rice, smoked meat, marinated potatoes, a lentil pancake, and pickles.
A rice flour pancake served at festivals. It has a variety of toppings such as egg, minced meat and vegetables on the basic pancake. A Nepali pizza perhaps?
Another pancake like dish made from lentil flour. It comes plain or with egg. (Vegan friendly without the egg!) It comes with a spicy sauce and is a very popular Newari dish.
A soup made of nine different beans, sprouted. Again it is Newari and eaten mainly at certain festivals. It is considered a healthy food, to cure coughs and colds. And it is packed with protein. Great for when trekking! Warms the body too on these chilly nights!
This is a bit of an acquired taste and not really available in Kathmandu. But you might find it on your trek. Dhendo is essentially porridge of millet, buckwheat or barley. This very thick porridge like substance is then scooped up and used to soak up curry in the place of rice.
6. Puri Tarkari
This is pretty much a breakfast item. Puri is a small flat bread which is deep fried making it airy and light. Served with curry, you then scoop up the curry with the puri.
7. Pani Puri
This is a street food loved by the locals. Small puri filled with a liquid like a vegetable stock. Please do not try this from a street cart as the liquid can be made of untreated water!
8. Sel Roti
This large thin donut like bread is fantastic with your morning tea, or with curry. Made of sweetish (How sweet varies from maker to maker) rice flour and sugar. Deep fried. Not available in most restaurants, you might see in a local tea shop.
This is a confectionary like items of a unique shape! Made out of rice dough the inside is filled with sesame paste and molasses. It is steamed and served mainly in the winter. You might see this is the shops near the bread section.
Who doesn’t love rice pudding! This rice pudding is cooked on the stove top and served mainly during festivals and special occasions. You will most likely find on your trek and in road-side restaurants when you are travelling by intercity bus. Usually it is served in the mornings alongside curry. The spicy curry and sweet rice pudding are a great combination believe me!
Another acquired taste! This is fermented green leaf vegetable. Made into a pickle or a soup. Nepalis love this and it is full of good nutrients! Being green!
12. Tibetan Tea
If you think of this as a soup rather than a tea it is easier to drink! Very salty tea blended with (Pretty much rancid) butter. It is a traditional Tibetan drink which you can find around Boudha and in certain trekking areas.
13. Jerry Swari
A sort of orange colour sticky sweet, with a liquid filling of basically sugar. Deep fried and usually eaten for breakfast. Different kinds of sweets are also found along side jerry in the many sweet shops you will find round town (Not in Thamel).
A drink made with yogurt and water. Sometimes banana or other fruits are added. Please be careful where you drink this due to the added water.
15. Jhu Jhu Dhau
A speciality of Bhaktapur, this is known as King of Curds. A lovely, sweet yogurt.
Where To Find The Best Vegetarian Food In Nepal?
As far as the tourist hub, Thamel, is concerned, the most famous vegetarian restaurants, and which also have vegan options are Places and OR2K. But as I mentioned earlier, vegetarian options are pretty much available throughout the country. And certainly there are plenty of other vegetarian restaurants in Thamel and in Lakeside in Pokhara.
Will Vegetarian Food Be Available On The Trek?
You will find vegetarian food dominates the menus on treks! Particularly since in the more remote the area like Kanchenjunga, the harder it is keep meat fresh. And lodge owners have learnt that there are a lot of trekkers who are vegetarians. Either because it is their lifestyle or because for the duration of their trek they do not want to risk eating meat.
If you are going on a camping trek, do mention to the trekking agency that you are vegetarian so they know they don’t need to try to take along any non vegetarian foods. Also mention if you are vegan and probably give them a list of things you don’t eat such as eggs and milk!