Many people go vegan for health benefits, because they’re opposed to animal cruelty, or for environmental reasons. Like any other dietary restriction, though, veganism can make traveling and eating out more complicated. While veganism shouldn’t prevent people from traveling to Nepal or enjoying Nepali cuisine, it definitely helps to be educated on the country’s vegan options.
Before you even arrive in Nepal, it helps to temper your expectations regarding its vegan-friendliness – both in its cuisine and its animal welfare.
A lot of travelers arrive in Nepal assuming that it is a vegan-friendly country due to the prevalence of Hinduism and Buddhism, two religions that are often associated with vegetarianism. However, for nuanced cultural reasons, this isn’t necessarily the case. Nepali cuisine is fairly heavy on meat options, especially buffalo meat, and this will be very obvious as you travel throughout the country. Additionally, ghee (clarified butter) is a relatively common ingredient, meaning that even most vegetarian dishes won’t be appropriate for vegans.
Secondly, you should be aware that Nepali cuisine is very different from Indian cuisine in taste, texture, flavors, and preparation. Many travelers just assume that because of its proximity to India, Nepal’s food will be the same, but this is incorrect. Nepali cuisine, although influenced by its neighbors of India, China, and Tibet, is unique. In one instance, this benefits vegans: although ghee is definitely used, Nepali cuisine tends to have less cream and ghee than Indian food. Soups and noodles are also more popular in Nepal, many of which are appropriate for vegans.
Apart from the cuisine, vegans should also be prepared for some of the situations they will encounter regarding animal welfare in Nepal. You will undoubtedly encounter working animals and animal tourism. Donkeys, yaks, and dzhos are often used as working animals, particularly on mountainous trails to transport materials, goods, and even trekkers. You may not always approve of the treatment of these animals but please keep in mind that Nepal is a developing country, and working animals are essential to the functioning economy and society. Like many other countries, you may also find unethical animal tourism operations. Where possible, invest your tourism dollars in companies and endeavors with humane animal treatment policies.
Dishes to Enjoy
Despite these warnings to manage your expectations, there are really plenty of Nepali dishes that are appropriate for vegans. Dal Bhat, the country’s de facto national dish, is almost always vegan. This dish is usually served as a platter of rice, lentils, and curry. As long as you ensure the curry is vegetarian, dal bhat should be appropriate. It is eaten by Nepali families once and sometimes twice per day, and is also extremely energy efficient as it’s made in large batches in pressure cookers.
Momos are the other go-to vegan dish in Nepal. Momos are essentially dumplings, and can be prepared steamed or fried, and sometimes in a soup. There are many different fillings for momo, so ensure that a vegetable filling is used.
There are many other delicious Nepali dishes that are naturally vegan. You should try a vegetable chatamari, which is essentially a thin rice-based pancake topped with various cooked vegetables. Roti is a popular wheat-based bread in Nepal that is usually vegan. Sel roti, a sweet, fried, and donut-shaped bread, is also vegan. Just ensure that no eggs or ghee are used in the batter, which is sometimes the case. Another popular and uniquely Nepali dish is masyoura, made from sundried vegetables. This is typically vegan but has a filling, meaty texture and flavor.
Finally, thukpa is a Nepali noodle soup. Order a vegetable thukpa instead of the typical chicken thukpa and it is typically vegan. Other noodle-based dishes and soups are usually vegan. Some examples include rara noodles, which are popular in trekking regions, garlic soup, and more.
Things to Look Out For
Obviously meat-based curries or meat-filled momos are not appropriate for vegans. However, there are also some less obvious places animal products can be found in Nepali cuisine.
Paneer, or cheese, is a common ingredient in many vegetable-based dishes. Vegans should especially look out for this when ordering vegetable momos, as spinach and paneer-filled momos are extremely common.
Many breads and snacks, such as bara (called wo in Newari) and sometimes even roti, contain eggs and ghee in the batter. Ask about this when you order. Perhaps the sneakiest source of animal products in Nepali cuisine is curd, which is often used to ferment bread batters. You should also ask about this when you order.
Most cooking and frying oils are vegan appropriate, but sometimes ghee is used, so you should ask about this, too.
If you’re a vegan traveling in Nepal, you will benefit from a translation card. Although vegetarianism is well recognized, this is not the case for veganism. Trying to communicate the philosophy and rules of veganism while combatting a language barrier can be frustrating and ineffective. Instead, avoid frustration and use a vegan translation card like this one. The translation card will help you communicate your need to avoid meat, eggs, milk, dairy products, fish, shellfish, and poultry.
As you can see, it is entirely possible to follow a vegan diet in Nepal. It might be a little more complicated than you would expect at first. However, by managing your expectations and educating yourself on the local cuisine, you will be prepared for the trip of a lifetime in one of the world’s most beautiful and friendly regions.
Article by Sarah Bence