A Vegetarian's Guide to Eating in Nepal
Nepal is an absolute paradise for vegetarians. I have been nowhere else on Earth so far that rivals Nepal for variety of choices and genuinely good vegetarian cuisine. It is so good that even omnivores will be excited about it. So, about being a vegetarian traveler in Nepal…
Is it Easy?
Yes! See above, re: vegetarian paradise. Being a vegetarian is not a new concept to the Nepalese. Hindu and Buddhist culture often dictates that people either be strict vegetarians or have a mostly meat-free diet. Basically, you’re not going to get many surprised looks when expressing your preference. Vegans, on the other hand, are mostly unheard of and would probably struggle in Nepal. Most vegetable dishes are cooked with ghee (un-clarified butter).
Letting People Know That You Are Vegetarian
Nearly every place we visited, there were either people who spoke English or there was a menu with English translations. However, it certainly would not hurt to brush up on some basic Nepali in case you find yourself in a remote area. According to Wikivoyage, there is only one phrase you need to know how to say: I'm a vegetarian. Ma masu kandina. (Ma-ma-SU Kan-DIE-nah)
Types of Vegetarian Food to Expect in Nepal
The Big Two: Dal Bhat & Momos
Dal Bhat is the official dish of Nepal. From the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu to the most distant mountain village, you are likely to find some version of dal bhat. Dal is a savory lentil soup, bhat is rice. Dal bhat is typically plated alongside pickled veg, flatbread, and a yogurt sauce - or some combination of the three. You can eat each of the plated foods alone, but I personally think they taste best all mixed together.
Momos seem to be nearly as ubiquitous as dal bhat. It’s almost as if every other restaurant is serving their own version of these Tibetan-style dumplings. You can find cheese momos, potato momos, veggie momos, and many more vegetarian combinations. Momos will typically be served steamed - though they are also fried - and accompanied by a tomato-based curry dipping sauce.
Vegetarian Breakfast Options
The most common (and most tasty!) Nepalese breakfast that we found were parathas (flatbreads) served with a yogurt sauce. Some of these parathas were plain flatbread, though they most often came stuffed with potatoes (aloo paratha).
Hotel & Guesthouse Breakfast Specials
The standard breakfast special that every guesthouse or hotel seemed to be serving in Nepal was the following: sauteed veg, fried egg, and toast with yak butter & jam on the side. Alongside Nepali Chai, they were the most common morning menu finds. Generally they are just alright as far as taste goes. In my opinion, the ratio of yak butter to toast was never enough. Yak butter is SO yum - it’s a thick butter with an almost cheesy flavor.
In the bigger cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara, there is nearly every type of Western breakfast you could imagine. Big cinnamon rolls, waffles & pancakes, crepes, eggs benedict, omelettes, we had ‘em all at some point.
Indian Meals & Street Food
Nepal being a border country with India means that a lot of cuisine is shared between the two nations. Standard vegetarian Indian dishes can be found all across Nepal. Curries, paneers, dals, naan… You name it, you can find it.
The Street Food
Most of the street food we encountered in Nepal was Indian in origin. Pakoras, jalebi, samosas, katti rolls, and more. All delicious and all prepared on street-side carts or hole-in-the-wall shops.
Pakora = stuffed fried bread, orange in color. Jalebi = syrupy fried swirls of dough. Samosas: fried chickpea-dough dumplings filled with curried mashed veg. Katti rolls = Indian burritos.
Due to Nepal’s proximity to Tibet, and the fact that thousands of Tibetan refugees reside there, Tibetan food frequently makes an appearance on menus. Besides momos, the two next most common Tibetan dishes to be found in Nepal are Gurung Bread and Thukpa.
Gurung bread (also called sherpa bread) is a fried, flattened dough served with honey or jam. Thukpa are thick hand-pulled noodles in a vegetable broth.
Where to Find the Best Vegetarian Food
Get Outside of the Tourist Districts
If you want cheap & authentic Nepalese food, this is your best option. Even if you’re not that obsessed with the “local” experience, you should probably try this at least once. Ask your guesthouse managers & staff, ask your taxi & tuktuk drivers - they will know where to eat. That being said, do still go check out the tourist districts.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Thamel, Kathmandu
This place is a tourist’s dream. French-inspired baked goods, tasty Nepali foods, delicious hot beverages, and decent WiFi. This place was always poppin’ in the mornings.
For a Snack When You Take a Side Trip to Bhaktapur…
Bhaktapur is Kathmandu’s Old City and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Please do me a favor and don’t leave Nepal without a visit to Bhaktapur! The reason I mention Bhaktapur here in this post is because it is home to a delicious and unique treat called juju dhau. Also known as the King’s Curd, Juju dhau is a thick sweetened yogurt made out of water buffalo milk. It is killer. Especially if you get it topped with cut fruit. Just look:
For Lunch or Dinner in Thamel
Little Buddha Restaurant & Bar
This cute little restaurant overlooks one of the main thoroughfares in Thamel, which makes it perfect for people-watching. Not only that, but the food is very good. I recommend their dal bhat or a paneer “steak.”
Himali Kitchen is a no-frills, back alley establishment serving up traditional Nepali cuisine. This is the best place for an affordable and heaping plate of dal bhat.
I am obsessed with OR2K! I wish there was a location here in the U.S.! Emmett and I must have eaten at OR2K in Kathmandu at least four times. They are an Israeli-owned all-vegetarian restaurant. Though quite a bit pricey compared to most places, OR2K makes up for that with quality food, a killer atmosphere, and the best vegetarian menu I have ever seen. Name a vegetarian food from anywhere in the world and they probably make it at OR2K. I recommend their house-made hummus, any of their salads, all of their desserts, all of their cocktails… Really order whatever you want from OR2K and I doubt you will be disappointed.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Lakeside, Pokhara
Perky Beans Cafe
Perky Beans is a cute little cafe with a plethora of baked goods and very thick milkshakes. Get a cinnamon bun & a masala chai latte for breakfast. Come back in the afternoon for a milkshake. Overload on sugar.
This place has fancy, ‘instagrammable’ Western breakfasts. But they even taste good, too.
Rosemary Kitchen is also home to one of the best cups of Masala Chai that I had on our whole trip.
David’s Restaurant is a small place with good, affordable food. They’ve got tasty versions of all of the Nepali classics (please order the potato momos) and some of the crispiest, most savory paratha.
For Lunch & Dinner in Lakeside
This is an all-vegetarian Indian establishment with an extensive menu. Their malai kofta is unreal & their naan is excellent, too. This is the perfect place to have a post-trek feast!
The Maya Pub & Restaurant
Maya has a good mix of Nepalese cuisine and weird Western items like pastas that aren’t quite the kind you’d have anywhere else. If you’re craving a cheesy pasta dish that tastes like a talented but confused college student made it - sometimes you just are, you know? - go here.
Just as good as the Thamel location, (see description above) but with the bonus of incredible views. Check ‘em:
Finding Vegetarian Food at Teahouses While Trekking
Conclusion: It is Very Easy & Safer Than Eating Meat
That pretty much sums it up! Momos abound. Dal bhat is the perfect meal to fuel up mid-trek. Teahouses will also have weird Western items like pizza, except topped with yak cheese. Or a couple of deep fried Snickers bars. Whatever you choose, enjoy your smorgasbord at the teahouses at night, cause you deserve it. Don’t forget to have a hot pot of tea with that view.
Why is it safer than eating meat? It’s easier to avoid stomach illnesses if you avoid meat and raw produce.
That’s it! That’s all I have to say about navigating travel in Nepal as a vegetarian. If you have anything to say or any questions about veggie food in Nepal, hit me up in the comments below!